Hindsight 20/20: 2003 Draft
1. 1st Round Compensation (#35): RHP Luis Atilano- Atilano was selected by the Braves out of a high school in Puerto Rico. He had a great pitcher's body at 6'3" with room to grow and plenty of room to fill out as he got older. He had a nice fastball-changeup combination with plenty of movement and command of both pitches to go along with great composure on the mound. He signed pretty quickly and started off his pro career with the GCL Braves and had a pretty good season. However, besides his control, Atilano's peripherals didn't exactly blow anyone away. The next three years between Danville, Rome, and Myrtle Beach were more of the same. He was pretty good overall, but didn't have the hit prevention or strikeout numbers to really stand out. He more or less fell of the prospect map and last year was traded mid-season to the Nationals for utility man Daryle Ward. At least he provided some to the Braves, which is more than you can say for a lot of first-round pitchers but the performance isn't what you'd expect from someone picked that high. I'd chalk this up as a bad choice for the Braves, especially when Adam Jones was selected two players later.
2. 1st Round Compensation (#36): C Jarrod Saltalamacchia- I think we can all agree before I even start that the Braves did pretty well for themselves here. Scouts knew that 'Salty' was a polished all-around catcher coming out of high school, but I don't think anyone expected him to be this good. He was compared to then current-Brave Javy Lopez when he was drafted. There were some questions about his glove, but most expected him to outgrow the position and move to either first or third in the pros. He had a fairly mundane first two seasons of pro ball, but it is when he got to Myrtle Beach in 2005 that he really started to be taken seriously. After hitting .314/.394/.519 for the Pelicans that year, Saltalamacchia solidified himself as one of the top catching prospects in the game. The next year was a disappointment at the plate while suffering through a wrist injury, but the 21-year old catcher drastically improved his defensive play, leading people to believe he would be able to stay at the position. He rebounded in a big way this season, earning his major league debut after Brayan Pena was disabled earlier this year. The rest, as they say, is history. He was traded to the Rangers in a blockbuster deal, netting the Braves superstar first baseman Mark Teixeira.
3, 2nd Round (#43): LHP Jo-Jo Reyes- Reyes was selected from a high school in California. He had some big positives and big negatives attached to his name around the draft. On the plus side, he had pretty good size and velocity for a lefty with a four-pitch mix of usable pitches along with a nice, fluid delivery. The down-side to him were possible weight issues and a need for much-improved control. Reyes had mixed results his first couple of years in the minors, but never really got to show himself over a full season. The second half of '04 and the first half of '05, Reyes was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and then in 2005, the left-hander tore his ACL after he came back. Starting 2007 in Mississippi, Reyes enjoyed the breakout season the Braves had hoped to see from him and became even more dominant once he got the promotion to Richmond. However, once he got the call to Atlanta, the same questions arose that were there when he was drafted. Miserable control has gotten the 22-year old shelled so far, although he has shown flashes of brilliance. I'm going to defer judgement on this until a later date. He has the talent, but if his command doesn't improve, Reyes just will never be effective at the major league level.
4. 2nd Round (#67): RHP Paul Bacot- Bacot was one of the home-grown movement that the team started in the early 2000's. He was a big right-hander (6'6") out of Lakeside High School in Atlanta. Most of his value come out of projection when he was drafted. He had a hard fastball with some movement, but because he had just started to really focus on baseball, the rest of his pitches lagged well behind. He signed with Atlanta and started his career with the GCL Braves in 2003. In 38 innings that season, Bacot had incredible results. The 19-year old went 4-0 with a 0.95 ERA and a 26/4 K/BB. The next two seasons with Danville and Rome were not so kind however as he compiled ERA's of 4.70 and 5.53 respectively. acot did not show up for spring training in 2006, citing personal reasons and was eventually placed on the minor-league reserve list. He is now out of baseball. He showed some promise but obviously had personal issues that he couldn't overcome. Let's call this a bust.
5. 3rd Round (#97): LHP Matt Harrison- Harrison was one of the most polished high school pitchers in the 2003 draft. He had a 6'3" frame with plenty of room for growth at only 17-years old and possessed a plus fastball and borderline dominant curveball. He signed with the Braves and for four-and-a-half seasons was one of the most consistent Braves pitching prospects. He was never dominant, but the addition of a very impressive changeup allowed him to have his ERA sit between three and four every year. Harrison struggled with a shoulder injury this season and ended up being traded to Texas as part of the Mark Teixeira deal. Let's call this one a win.
6. 24th Round (#727): OF Brandon Jones- The Braves took Jones out of Tallahassee Community College in 2003. He was the prototypical "tools" player. He had scouts drooling with a great over-all package of tools and athleticism but was still very much a raw package. He signed in May of 2004 as a draft-and-follow and immediately started showing off his ability, hitting close to .300 in 2004 with Danville. Jones had another strong year in 2005, but 2006 between Myrtle Beach was a real struggle for Jones, who was recovering from a hand injury. That year he hit only .264 in over 4oo at bats and people again began to question if he was polished enough to make a difference in the big leagues. 2007 is the year that the Braves have been waiting for, where he turns all his raw talent and athleticism into on-field performance. The 23-year old outfielder hit close to .300 between Mississippi and Richmond with 19 home runs and 100 RBI's. The questions about his defense when he was drafted have been answered and he is turning his power potential into home runs. Now he has a chance to compete for a starting or platoon job in the Atlanta outfield next year. For a 24th round pick, the Braves ended up with what looks like a pretty nice package. I'd definitely call this a win.
Yet another pretty impressive draft, at least so far. Definitely not to the caliber of 2002 but drafts like that come around once in a decade for a team. The Braves based the Teixeira deal mainly around players selected in this deal and both Reyes and Jones could have significant impacts on this team down the road and as early as next year.
Continuing in our five-part series looking back on previous MLB Drafts, we come to the 2003 draft. 2002 was an enormous success, producing both Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann in the first round, and Chuck James in the 20th round. It would be hard to follow up that draft, but looking at 2003, you start to get a feel for just how good the Braves' scouts are.