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Braves snag prep star with first pick

Braves snag prep star with first pick

PHOENIX -- Exactly 20 years after being credited with the signing of a young multi-sport high school start named Chipper Jones, Tony DeMacio began his first Draft as the Braves' scouting director by taking a Texas prep football star whose versatile athletic skills allow him to project to be a future leadoff hitter in Atlanta.

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DeMacio, a former high school football coach, and Jones talked a few months ago about the benefits of playing multiple sports and avoiding the specialized route many high school athletes currently choose by playing just one sport.

"I love to see kids who have played everything," DeMacio said. "I just think they become much better competitively."

When DeMacio went to suburban Dallas' McKinney High School last month, he was thoroughly impressed with the cerebral approach taken by an athletic shortstop whose will to win complimented the speed that had made him such a threat as a leadoff hitter and two-time Class 4-A All-State wide receiver in the football hotbed of Texas.

Thus when it came time for the Braves to make their first selection, the 35th overall, in this year's First Year Player Draft on Monday night, DeMacio confidently selected Matt Lipka, the 18-year-old shortstop who had developed into one of the two multi-sport superstars that made McKinney High a popular destination this past year for college-football recruiters and baseball scouts.

"He's a kid that's going to show up for you every day," DeMacio said. "He's going to make everybody else better around him. He's a winning-type guy. He's just a great, great young man and we're just very pleased to have him."

Regarded as the third-fastest high school prospect by Baseball America, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Lipka has clocked an impressive 6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash. This speed helped him haul in more than 50 career touchdown passes thrown by Zach Lee, his high school teammate who must decide whether to pursue a two-sport career at LSU or sign with the Dodgers, who took him with this year's 28th overall selection.

DeMacio envisions that this speed will help Lipka develop into a productive leadoff hitter who could eventually find himself patrolling the outfield grass as a center fielder.

"We needed some speed in the organization, plus he plays in the middle of the diamond," DeMacio said. "He's got a plus arm. He's a plus fielder. He's got makeup off the chart. He's just a winning type of player."

While attending a graduation party on Sunday night, Lipka and Lee wished each other good luck and moved further past a relationship that continued to blossom after they hooked up for a touchdown pass during their first varsity game as sophomores.

"I would venture to say that we hooked up for about 50-60 more after that," Lipka said. "We have a lot of mutual respect for each other."

Before his father was relocated to Dallas, Lipka actually spent the first eight years of his life in suburban Atlanta. Born in Snellville, he began playing youth baseball in the Cumming/Alpharetta area around the time the Braves notched the last of the five National League pennants that they won during the 1990s.

Though the Rangers became his favorite team over the course of the past decade, Lipka said that he has always remained fond of the Braves' organization that many of his Atlanta-area relatives still call their hometown team.

"When you see your name called, you've got chills running down your spine," Lipka said, explaining the sensation he felt when he saw MLB.com post his name as a the Braves' first selection.

Although he has already committed to playing college baseball for the University of Alabama, Lipka said he's quite confident that he will sign long before the Aug. 16 deadline set for all draftees who are still eligible to play collegiately.

"It's an ideal situation," said an excited Lipka. "It's a picture-perfect situation."

Like Jones, Lipka will begin his professional career as a shortstop and then possibly find himself learning a new position.

"We think he can play shortstop, but we don't think he would have any problem adjusting to center field because he can really go," DeMacio said. "We feel like we got a really good player in the middle of the diamond and we think he's advanced mentally because he has played in front of a lot of big crowds. The pressure doesn't seem to bother him."

Admittedly somewhat raw because he spent much of his time playing football, Lipka is confident that he can prove to the Braves that he is best-suited to remain in the infield. But at the same time, he said he's willing to do whatever it takes to reach Atlanta as soon as possible.

"I do want to stay in the [infield] dirt as long as I can," Lipka said. "I think second base would be a piece of cake as well if shortstop doesn't work out. But I'm pretty confident that I will stay around shortstop or second base."

Had Lipka chosen to attend Alabama, there was a chance that he was going to attempt to also start playing football during his sophomore season. But now that he approaches being officially introduced into the Braves' family, he's ready to say goodbye to a football experience that he and DeMacio believe will only benefit his development as a baseball player.

"He hasn't specialized, so we feel like there is a lot of upside here," DeMacio said. "The fact that he's played other sports, we think that's a good thing."

Because they signed free-agent closer Billy Wagner in December, the Braves lost their first-round selection (20th overall) in this year's Draft. The sandwich pick used to acquire Lipka was obtained as compensation after their former left-handed reliever, Mike Gonzalez, signed with the Orioles.

Monday's portion of the Draft included the first 50 selections -- first round and compensatory sandwich selections. When the Draft resumes at noon ET on Tuesday, the Braves will have two second-round picks, the 53rd (also obtained via Gonzalez's signing) and 70th overall selections, and a third-round pick, the 101st overall.

"We have some guys sitting there tomorrow that we'd really like to have and hopefully we can get a couple of them," DeMacio said. "It's been a really unusual Draft. There were guys coming from all over the place. There were some names coming out that half the people had never even heard of. It's just that type of a year."

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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{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }
{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }