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Braves again load up with pitching

Braves again load up with pitching

ATLANTA -- Going into this year's First-Year Player Draft, there were many people indicating there wasn't a very deep talent pool. But it was certainly vast enough for Braves director of scouting Roy Clark to emerge from the first day with a big smile.

It was business as usual for Clark and his staff during the draft's first day. By the time selections had concluded Tuesday, they'd selected 22 players, and 17 of them were pitchers.

"People say it was a bad year," Clark said. "Not for the Atlanta Braves. I'm very, very proud of our scouts. Now we've got to get them signed. It doesn't count until you get them signed."

Like they've had a tradition of selecting a plethora of pitchers, the Braves have also prided themselves on being able to sign a large majority of their early selections. Clark feels good about the chances of signing each of the players they took in the first 14 rounds.

Their top priority is signing Cody Johnson, an outfielder that they selected with their first pick, the draft's 24th selection. Baseball America had indicated the 17-year-old out of A. Crawford Mosley High School in Lynn Haven, Fla., has a hole in his left-handed swing. But the Braves simply saw power.

After working him out a few weeks ago, Braves Hall of Fame scout Paul Snyder told Johnson, "I'm not walking out there to get those balls. You're getting in your car and going to get them."

"I probably saw him 75 to 100 at-bats with [a wooden bat] against the best competition," Clark said. "Just trust us. I think we know what we're looking at. We're pretty good."

The Braves' continued success over the past 15 seasons is a credit to the fruitful Minor League system that Clark and his staff continue to stock.

Because of the free-agent departures of Rafael Furcal and Kyle Farnsworth, the Braves had six of the draft's first 72 selections and seven of the first 100. Other than Johnson, the only other position player they took during that span was Robert Fontaine, a talented shortstop from Daytona Beach Community College.

"The position players with the system that we have, they have to get their at-bats," Clark said. "I think we are more selective with position players because you have to keep pounding the pitching."

Because there wasn't a wide array of talent available, the Braves broke their recent tradition of taking some of Georgia's top high school players. But they still found some local talent from Russell County High School, which is located near Tim Hudson's hometown of Phenix City, Ala. The small town sits on the Georgia border.

With their second pick, a sandwich pick, they took right-handed pitcher Cory Rasmus, who helped Russell County win a mythical national championship last year. His high school teammate, third baseman Adam Coe, was taken with the Braves' 11th selection.

While the high school talent pool in Georgia wasn't as attractive as it has been in recent years, the Braves found some talent in the Peach State's colleges. They took Georgia Southern right-hander Dustin Evans and Georgia first baseman Josh Morris. From Georgia Tech, they took left-hander Gary Hyde and right-hander Tim Gustafson.

The Braves took three players, right-handed pitcher Jack Tilghman, third baseman Stephen Shults and catcher Joseph Paxson, out of Walters State Community College, which just won the junior college national championship. Clark's son will play there next year.

Capsules of the Braves' first-day selections through Round 12:

Cody Johnson, OF, first round: The youngest of the draft's first 125 selections, Johnson was named Florida's 5A state Player of the Year this year and last summer was named the MVP. He hit .525 with 15 homers during his senior season at A. Crawford Mosley High School.

Cory Rasmus, RHP, sandwich pick, 38th selection: Although his fastball has touched 97 mph, Clark thinks his slider and changeup make him more than just a power pitcher. A competitive athlete, he was Phenix City's catcher when it advanced to the 1999 Little League World Series. His brother was selected in the first round by the Cardinals last year.

Steven Evarts, LHP, sandwich pick, 43rd selection: His 6-foot-4 frame has allowed him to draw comparisons to Steve Avery. The 18-year-old from Tampa's Robinson High has a fastball has been clocked at 93 and he has shown some improvement with his curveball.

Jeffrey Locke, LHP, second round: Pitching in New Hampshire, Locke isn't as advanced as many other high school pitchers. But his 94 mph fastball has led some to compare him to Billy Wagner. The Braves believe he has a real high ceiling.

Dustin Evans, RHP, second round: He overcame arm problems during his senior season at Georgia Southern, and there are some who compare his lively fastball to Blaine Boyer's. "Moneyball" guys would shy away from his stats. But the Braves love his stuff.

Chase Fontaine, SS, second round Not the picture-perfect shortstop. But the Braves will keep him there and have said that he reminds them of a young Chase Utley. Clark said Fontaine was the best offensive player at the junior-college level this year.

Chad Rodgers, LHP, third round: He wrapped an undefeated scholastic career at Walsh Jesuit High with a state championship in Ohio on Monday. The Braves love his competitive makeup and were surprised to see him available with the draft's 100th selection.

Lee Hyde, LHP, fourth round: This past weekend, Clark saw Hyde outpitch David Price, the possible top overall selection in next year's draft. The Braves believe this Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket was the top relief prospect available at the collegiate level.

Kevin Gunderson, LHP, fifth round: Clark believes Gunderson has a chance to be a top left-handed setup man for many years at the big-league level. He has had an impressive career at Oregon State.

Steven Figueroa, RHP, sixth round: This high school product has been targeted as a reliever. He caught the Braves' attention with his aggressive style and lively fastball.

Adam Coe, 3B, seventh round: He possesses top-notch power, which he displayed a few weeks ago during a workout at Turner Field.

Casey Beck, RHP, eighth round: He displayed a 97 mph fastball at San Jacinto and was thought to be the best reliever at the junior-college level.

Timothy Gustafson, RHP, ninth round: Shoulder problems plagued him at Georgia Tech this year. But the Braves believe he's healthy and has the chance to be a top-notch reliever.

Josh Morris, 1B, 12th round: He is in his junior season at Georgia and already owns the school's all-time home run record. The Braves feel good about their chances of signing him.

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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