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Pitching remains Braves' draft focus

Pitching remains Braves' draft focus

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SAN DIEGO -- When the Braves took North Carolina State's Joey Devine with their top selection in last year's draft, it was a bit of a surprise. But their decision to take a collegiate player simply proved director of scouting Roy Clark and his staff truly are just looking for the best available players.

Sticking to their tradition of finding the best arms, the Braves utilized 14 of their first 20 selections last year to grab pitchers. While that might not have come as a surprise, the fact that seven of them were collegiate hurlers somewhat went against the Braves' long-standing tradition of stockpiling high school pitchers. 

"We have taken a lot of high school players in the past," Clark said. "But every year we go into that draft room, it's the same thing. We just want to find the best players who we believe will best represent the organization on and off the field."

This year, Clark and his staff will have a number of early selections. The loss of Rafael Furcal and Kyle Farnsworth through free agency has allowed them to stockpile four extra picks. Thus, they'll have six of the draft's first 72 selections.

Their first pick will come with the 24th selection in the draft. Last year, they owned four of the first 75 selections and used three of those to take pitchers.

With pitching appearing to be the strength of this year's draft, the Braves will likely once again look to strengthen their organization with a number of arms. With many top-flight collegiate pitchers available, they may also provide some surprises like they did when they selected Devine last year.

As for position players, the Braves seem to be pretty well stocked at the catching and middle infield positions. Some of their early selections may be used to improve their stock of outfielders.

Here is a look at how the Braves' past three top selections are faring:

RHP Luis Atilano -- first round, 2003 (35th overall)
The Braves are impressed with the makeup of Atliano, who has an above-average changeup at this point of his career. The 21-year-old hurler from Puerto Rico has struggled during his first two months in the Carolina League with Class A Myrtle Beach, but the club still believes he could be something special.

3B Eric Campbell -- second round, 2004
Campbell has great power, as evidenced by the numbers he's put up at Class A Rome this year. With Chipper Jones in place through at least the 2009 season, the Braves feel Campbell -- who has been compared to Jeff Kent -- is athletic enough to move to second base.

RHP Joey Devine -- first round, 2005 (27th overall)
Devine was rushed to the Majors last year and found immediate struggles. He surrendered a grand slam in his first two big league appearances and then allowed the season-ending walk-off homer in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. A lower back problem has hampered him this year and he's currently at the club's headquarters in Florida, getting healthy and regaining his mechanics.

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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