How The Braves Stock The Minors Part III - Reviewing Past Drafts

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(I updated on 3/19/12 to reflect pre-draft rankings I received today that changed prior information I was scraped from the net. Thanks to Jim Callis (@jimcallisBA on twitter) Executive Editor of Baseball America for his help with this and the rest of the series.)

Part II of this series is finally here. I spent at well over 30 hours looking at the details of the players taken in the Rule 4 (Amateur) Draft and trying to decide what the Braves strategy has been since 2000. This part focuses on more background numbers and detailed look at the 2000, 2001 and 2003 draft.

Recap and Update

In part II I provided a lot of information about the Braves draft history from 1965-2011. I found while looking at the data again that even who did not sign during a draft year but later signed anywhere were marked as having played affiliated ball. While that changes a few totals, the positional percentages remain accurate as the decision to draft a player of that type at a point in the draft remains the same.

In that post I provided a draft philosophy expressed by Paul Snyder. Snyder played an integral role in stocking the Braves system during the 15 year post season run. He was the amateur scouting director (1981–1990; 1999–2000), director of player development (1996–1998) and assistant to GM john Schuerholz 1991–1995; 2001–2006).  In “Scout”  Snyder said essentially that all things being equal drafting a pitcher was his first choice. Over the long haul the Braves has followed this philosophy and hovered around the 50% mark during the draft. Between 2000 and 2009 that percentage shot up to 58% raising questions about it’s validity. Simply put, was reliance of pitching and the ability to trade from a surplus a contributing factor to the current lack of everyday player depth in the Braves minor league system? The only way to decide was to dig deeper into the numbers and I was marginally surprised when I filtered out duplicate records and looked at the visible results of that draft period.

What We Drafted, How Many Signed, How Many Made It

During that 10 year span the Braves selected 521 people in the draft.  This is the positional breakout percentage wise.
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When it came down to signing then getting them to Atlanta the numbers look like this

 

Position Drafted Signed Sign % ATL % of Sgn @ ATL
1B 24 17 3.26% 3 12.50%
2B 13 7 1.34% 0 0.00%
SS 39 33 6.33% 2 5.13%
3B 17 16 3.07% 1 5.88%
C 44 25 4.80% 3 6.82%
P 267 191 36.66% 27 10.11%
OF 80 48 9.21% 6 7.50%
  521 337 64.68% 42 9.98%

If you prefer pictures here are the graphs.

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We sign players at about a 65% rate. That’s pretty good considering that many of the late round picks are what we used to call a SWAG (scientific wild ass guess). The next step is really the hardest.

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About 10% of those we sign have made the trip to Atlanta for anything but lunch and as you can see just over 3% of our signings made their debut with other big league clubs. Remember that these numbers are through the 2009 draft. Many players drafted between 2007 and 2009 will get to the majors this year so the numbers will go up.  Now lets see if we’ve drafted any pitchers over everyday players we should have drafted.

20/20 Hindsight

Please remember than Hindsight is perfect. If this was a perfect science Albert Pujols wouldn’t have been the Cardinals 13th pick and the 402 overall in 1999. That in mind lets look.

In order to keep this reasonable I’m only looking at data through 2007, the last year that has at least 40 alumni reach the majors. Here’s a look a MLB level players by round. The 2007 number in particular will change of course but this is where it stands today.

The first 20 rounds of the draft produce about 3/4 of the MLB level players and while teams have much longer draft lists, the best players will be in the top 100 to 125. That’s about the number of players drafted at the end of round three so that’s where I stop looking. Here’s how the firs three rounds look from 2000 to 2007.

Here’s the way I’m going to look at the data. I’ll list the Braves draft picks that fall in the top 100 each year then see who they passed by (those still undrafted between each pick. If it’s noteworthy – an above average everyday player – I’ll list them. I obviously won’t look at players that were taken ahead of the Braves first pick, they weren’t an option.

(Note: When I talk about ratings from here forward I’m referring to Baseball America’s ratings either pre-draft or prospect. If I say unrated it’s because the BA rankings I have do not mention the player and the  Baseball-Reference page doesn’t show a prospect ranking. If you know differently source it and let me know and I”ll try to reconcile it. For 2000, 2001 and 2002 BA ranked only the 100. players, from 2003 forward they include the  top 200 players. Therefore a player could have been #101 in 2000 and be listed here as unranked. )

The 2000 Draft

Note for the 2000 draft only, the top of the BA pre-draft ranks reflected how Allan Simpson projected the first round go. That of course is not always – if ever – in strict order of talent.  For instance the rankings have catcher Scott Heard shown as the number one because Mr Simpson projected that the Marlins would choose him. Instead they chose Adrian Gonzales. So at least the first60 picks are affected by Mr Simpson’s projections and the whole ranking is more relative to that than talent based.

Round Pick Pre-Draft Rank
2000-1 29 Adam Wainwright P 50
2000-1 30 Scott Thorman 3B 96
2000-1 38 Kelly Johnson P No
2000-1 40 Aaron Herr IF 97
2000-2 70 Bryan Diggby P 65
2000-3 100 Blaine Boyer P Not ranked

There’s nothing between the Wainwright/Thorman and Kelly Johnson except pitchers.  After Kelly Johnson who became BAs #47 prospect entering 2002,  the first player of note is  Xavier Nady.

Xavier Nady was Baseball America’s #3 ranked candidate prior to the draft and projected to be a top five pick.  He slipped to the second round however and the Padres took him as their second pick and the 43rd overall, signing him to a $2.43M major league contract. According to a report by John Sickles on ESPN.com  the reason he slipped was money not talent, “. . . (Nady) dropped to the second round because of his bonus demands as well as concerns about a mediocre junior season.”   It’s a pretty safe bet that the Braves passed because they expected terms like those. This is a situation where a policy of not paying big bonuses or giving major league contracts might have best been ignored.

 Throughout his minor league career Nady was a ranked prospect ;  #82 in 2001, #39 in 2002 and #44 in 2003. When he graduated to the big leagues he continued to produce and was a sought after player until he reinjured his elbow in the spring of 2009.

 2003 to 2008              
Teams HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
SDP,NYM,PIT,NYY 87 323 143 443 .280 .335 .458 .792 108
      BAbip lgBA lgOBP lgSLG lgOPS ISO
      .314 .265 .335 .424 .759 .178

Stats from Baseball-Reference.com

On the whole, the 2000 draft was notably missing significant bats. With 20/20 hindsight, not reaching for the checkbook to land Nady was probably an error. Considering who we the Braves ended up throwing out there at first in 2005 and in the outfield when Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur left he would have been very handy.

Players you’ll recognize who were available taken after Nady in the draft were:

Grady Sizemore taken at 75 by the Expos

David DeJesus ranked #98 was taken at 104 by the Royals

Cliff Lee ranked #56 was taken at 105 by the Expos (I know he’s not a bat but slipping to #105 in a draft this weak? Really?)

The players taken instead – Aaron Herr (son of former Cardinal Tommy Herr) and Bryan Digby never reached the majors.

The 2001 Draft

2001-1 24    Macay McBride P 27
2001-1 29    Josh Burrus 3B 42
2001-1 40   Richard Lewis IF 84
2001-2 73    Cole Barthel 3B Not ranked
2001-3 105   Adam Stern OF Not ranked

The 2001 draft was as bereft of bats as the year before. The only everyday player of note available before the Braves chose McBride is David Wright.

Everyone knows Wright now but saying this was an obvious error would be a harsh judgment.  I found nothing indicating he was ranked predraft  though scouts did say he was a very good hitter who spent every free moment in the batting cage or taking batting practice. Wright was ranked #45 prior to the draft so the Braves choice of Georgia native Josh Burrus instead follows the Braves philosophy of drafting home grown talent where possible as a way of growing the fan base. That’s a philosophy I think for a team like the Braves in an area that values that kind of commitment. Burrus received about $700K more than Wright so I suspect they ranked him higher . We know now Wright would have been a better choice and it would have been nice to have him on the roster.  But this isn’t a miss due to money or bad information; Wright made it Burrus fell short. It happens.

The 2002 Draft

 

1 23 Jeff Francoeur 22
1 34 Dan Meyer 28
2 64 Brian McCann 44
2 65 James (Tyler) Greene Not ranked
3 95 Charles Morton 99

Initially this was the Francoeur draft of course. A projected top 5 pick  Frenchy told every team who contacted him except the Braves he was going to college instead. So there he was, still hanging around at #23 and the Braves were happy to get him. Frenchy floundered and left, now its become the McCann draft.

Since Frenchy was a lock to be the Braves #1 choice I’ll start with folks available when we picked Dan Meyer. Taken immediately after Meyer were Matt Cain (ranked #37) and Joe Blanton (ranked #18) but the bat that stands out as the oversight is Joey Votto.

We know about NL MVP Votto but as a high school player he was largely anonymous, in part because he called Toronto home. Even Baseball American didn’t rank him in the top 100 pre-draft players.  An article over on Bearcat Banter points out that only the Reds and the Yankees scouted him in depth and quotes John Castleberry, the scout told the Reds to grab him. 

“I saw him in the cage hitting, and he was literally ripping the net off it,” says Castleberry, now with the San Francisco Giants. “I just went, oh my God!” Worried that other teams would clue in, the Reds kept things quiet, waiting until just days before the 2002 draft to fly in their scouting director for a first-hand look. In the end, they made Votto their second-round pick, 44th overall, beating the Yankees, the only other club with any interest, to the punch.”

I know the Braves can’t be everywhere watching everyone and it seems they weren’t alone in  missing out. Yet I can’t give them a pass on this. Yes we have Freddie Freeman now but imagine having Votto at first since 2007- he was according to reports ready then but the Reds chose to use others instead; silly people. There would have been no Mark Teixiera trade, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison would still in the fold, no one would have been learning to play first base at the big league level; it could all have been so different. Note to scouts, pay attention to Canada too, you blew this one.

Intermission

I’m going to break the review here so I can get it posted today. So far we’ve covered more background data and the first three years of our draft review. The score so far is 1-1-1; one clear miss – Votto –, one passed because of cost and terms the Braves couldn’t accept and one that just happened. Next time we’ll look at 2003 through 2007. I know it’s taking longer between posts than either you or I like. I apologize for that but I want to get it right.  Let me know what you think about the series or anything else Braves related. I’m on twitter @fredeowens and you may email [email protected]

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Tags: Braves BrianMcCann David Wright Draft Favorite Jeff Francouer

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