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Stephen Keck: 2009 Draft Preview

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Baseball's 2009 amateur draft is coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday. In his second guest post in as many days, our minor league analyst Stephen Keck offers a preview of what is to come.

Who will the Braves draft? Will the draft be fruitful for the organization? As the annual Major League Player Draft approaches, these and related questions are of interest to Braves' fans.

The Braves have the #7 pick, the highest they have drafted since 1991, but since the Dodgers own our second round pick, the Braves' next selection will be at the 87th overall pick. Therefore, they will be able to select one of the most valuable players in the draft and then will have to wait to see what is left before they choose again. The key for the Braves will be their first and then much later selections: in recent years they overcome early round disappointments (of which their have been more than a few) with some excellent picks in lower rounds.

We won't know until Tuesday, but my guess is that the Braves will choose a large number of junior college players. In fact, despite the high pick, it is precisely these less-publicized players who may hold the key to the eventual success or failure of the draft.

There are a number of considerations which will guide the organization's thinking. The Braves will probably want to improve their stock of quality position players. The 2008 draft was like the 2003 draft in that the Braves collected arms. In 2004 the Braves then moved to take position players, taking only two pitchers in with their first 7 picks. All things being equal, the Braves would love to restock their supply of infielders and outfielders.

Another factor is the quality of this year's draft class. While it may take half a dozen years to determine just how talented this class is, many scouts have seen the players available as a relatively weak bunch. Unfortunately for the Braves, the strength of this year's draftees is among starting pitchers and possibly catchers, two areas the Braves don't much need to improve.

Nonetheless, with a little luck, the Braves ought to be able to get an impact player with the #7 pick. Earlier #7s tell the story: 2001, Chris Smith (an exception, he never got to AA); 2002, Prince Fielder; 2003, Nick Markarkis; 2004, Homer Bailey; 2005, Troy Tulowitzki; 2006, Clayton Kershaw. (For more recent years, it's too soon to assess.)

The Braves will look for an impact player, and will probably take one of the following: OF Donavan Tate, RHP Zack Wheeler, LHP Tyler Matzek, RHP Alex White, RHP Shelby Miller, or 3B Bobby Borchering, though he's a real long shot.

One of the things which makes draft day interesting, of course, is that teams make picks which are not always foreseen. The Braves cannot know who will be available at #7, but it seems clear that the most interesting (and risky) choice would be Tate, who is the consensus best high school position player available. On the surface, Tate is a good fit for Atlanta: the son of Lars Tate (former University of Georgia and NFL running back), he grew up in Georgia and projects out to be a productive outfielder with All Star potential. However, he has already committed to playing football at UNC and, possibly more important, Scott Boras is his agent. To sign Tate, then, would almost certainly require a massive bonus -- which is more than some teams believe he is worth.

If the Braves were to draft Tate and but could not sign him, they would get the #8 pick next year. Since the 2010 class might be superior, the #8 might be worth more than 2009's #7. However, since the Braves don't have a second round pick, it would mean, however, that the organization might not gain much from this year's draft.

The safer pick, then, would be to choose one of the pitchers, Wheeler, White or Miller (Matzek will probably not be available) with the #7 pick. The Braves can almost certainly sign any one of these players, and they would be an asset to any organization. The Braves may not believe that they are good value for a #7, and they would probably prefer to find a position player, but in this draft (with the exception of Tate) it is not likely. 3B Bobby Borchering may be the closest thing available, but most scouts do not see him as a top 10 pick.

The good news for Braves' fans is that Atlanta will almost certainly draft a healthy range of undervalued junior college players that they can develop. There are many of these players out there so it is hard to know who the organization has its eyes on, but it is entirely possible that the Braves will select one or more of the following: RHP Devin Fuller, RHP Randy Henry, RHP Kendall Korbal, RHP Jake Cowan, OF Evan Chambers, and OF Jabari Blash.

In short, the Braves have some interesting decisions to make in the next 72 hours. Braves fans should enjoy this draft this week; in any event, they will experience the impact of the organization's choices for a much longer time.


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