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Braves looking to pick young arms

Braves looking to pick young arms

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ATLANTA -- As Roy Clark, the Braves' director of scouting, prepares for the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, he and all of his scouts are taking the same approach that has brought their organization so much success for so many years.

While some teams have utilized the free agent market to find immediate, quick-fix success, the Braves would not be competing for a 14th consecutive division title if they hadn't so adeptly utilized the draft over the past 20 years.

Clark's predecessor, Paul Snyder, the original architect for what has become the Braves' long run of success, always focused on finding the best available high school pitchers and loading his Minor League teams with as many as possible. As a result, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Kevin Millwood, Horacio Ramirez, Kyle Davies and many other talented arms have found themselves as key members of a pitching-rich organization.

"I think this is an excellent year across the country," Clark said. "There's a good mix of college and high school guys. There are a lot of good arms and a lot of good position players. So I think it's a real deep draft."

While there might be a good mix, the Braves are once again expected to compile a number of high school pitchers. Over the past two years, they've used their great pitching depth to help fill needs at the Major League level. As a result, they've said goodbye to the likes of Jason Marquis, Jose Capellan, Bubba Nelson and Adam Wainwright, all of whom were once considered one of the organization's top pitching prospects.

"It's no secret that we've lost a lot of pitchers over the past few years," Clark said. "We're going to look to reload. But if the right position player is there, we're not going to pass him up."

The Braves won't make their first pick until the 27th selection in this year's draft on June 7. Thus, some of the nation's most desired players could be gone. But if Chaz Roe, a lanky right-hander from Lexington, Ky., is still available, he might find himself as the club's top selection.

Roe, who attends Lafayette High School, is a 6-foot-6, 175-pound hurler, whose fastball was clocked at 95 mph during a showcase last summer. He has signed a letter of intent to continue his career at the University of Kentucky. But his desire to play professionally makes him to appear signable.

Some organizations, which might have lost the number of pitchers the Braves have in the recent past, might look to draft college pitchers, who might be closer to being Major League-ready. But it appears there's still plenty of pitching in Atlanta to allow for some patience with high school draftees.

Tim Hudson's contract could keep him in Atlanta through 2010 and Mike Hampton will be around through 2008, the same year in which Horacio Ramirez will be eligible for free agency for the first time. If he continues his current pace, John Smoltz could be a Brave through 2007 and have the chance to further help in the nurturing of Davies, who at 21 years old has become Atlanta's latest new phenom.

If the Braves surprise and don't take a pitcher with their top selection in this year's draft, they might look to grab Yuniel Escobar, a 22-year-old shortstop, who defected from Cuba to the United States earlier this year. He was a childhood friend and teammate of Brayan Pena, the Braves' current backup catcher.

Clark flew to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to see Escobar this past weekend. The Red Sox, who draft two slots ahead of the Braves, are also believed to have some interest in the shortstop.

"We're going to go wherever the talent takes us and wherever the draft falls," Clark said. "When you're picking 27th, it's not like you're picking first and you can handpick your top guy. We'll take the best available player there at 27 and hopefully, he has the type of makeup we're looking for."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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