With the MLB first-year player draft beginning Thursday, it’s easy to get caught up in the luxury of the big-name players that make up many of the early round projections. For Braves fans, it’s even easier to slip into the mold. Take for instance, the success that Atlanta has seen from its recent first-rounders: Lucas Sims (2012), Sean Gilmartin (2011), Mike Minor (2009), Jason Heyward (2007).
But in the 2013 draft, just like many of the drafts before it, there are almost certainly going to be the late-round picks that make lasting impressions in the big leagues while the highly touted signees flounder on the farm. The Braves are certainly seeing the fruits of some of those labors in 2013, as 23rd rounder Evan Gattis is putting together one of the move impressive rookie seasons of anyone in the league. It’s these unexpected stories, like the one of Gattis, that have netted MLB franchises some of the game’s best performers, for penny-on-the-dime discounts.
In 1988, when the Dodgers put the finishing touches on the draft with their 62nd round choice, very few could have predicted that they had just chosen a future hall of fame candidate with the 1309th overall pick. Of course, Mike Piazza is the very rare extreme in late-round success stories, but it is not all that rare that players selected in the 20th-30th rounds go on to have All Star caliber careers.
In the 2000 draft, 598 players were selected before the Pirates took a chance on Jose Bautista. Now ten years into his career, Bautista has emerged as one of the elite power hitters in the league, including leading the league in homeruns in 2010 and 2011. In 1998, the White Sox drafted little-known left-hander Mark Buehrle in the 38th round. Buehrle has since gone on to win 176 career games along with 4 All Star game selections. Yankees cornerstone lefty Andy Pettitte waited 21 ½ rounds in 1990 before he heard his named called. All he has done since is tally 249 career wins between his time in Houston and New York.
The Braves have long been known to prefer players in the Atlanta area over the less scouted regions of the country, and with so many options for elite baseball around Georgia, there’s no reason to doubt that Atlanta will pull a hidden star out of their hat in the next three days. For the sake of both the players and the franchise, it’s worth every bit of effort to uncover this season’s draft day gem. Here’s to hoping he makes a home in Atlanta for years to come.