Nearly three hours after this year's First-Year Player Draft began, Clark had the opportunity to add to the organization's tradition of putting an emphasis on high school pitchers. With the 40th overall selection, the Braves chose left-handed pitcher Brett DeVall of Florida's Niceville High School.
"Of the guys we were hoping for, he was definitely at the top of the wish list," said Clark, who felt fortunate that the 6-foot-4, 215-pound DeVall was available. "He's everything we were looking for."
DeVall celebrated the selection with his family and then attended his high school graduation.
"I was pretty pumped (about being taken by the Braves), DeVall said. "My family was real happy and a little emotional. I was numb at first. I was sitting there at graduation and thinking about how amazing it was to think I am almost officially a Brave." The only left-handed high school pitcher taken ahead of DeVall in the Draft was Michael Montgomery, who was taken by the Royals with the 36th overall selection. DeVall's selection provided a glimpse of Clark's focus entering this Draft. With each of the four picks that he had in the Draft's first 96 selections, he selected pitchers. Robert Stovall, a left-handed pitcher from Alabama's Hokes Bluff High School, was taken by the Braves with the 64th overall selection.
While helping Niceville reach the state tournament semifinals this year, DeVall went 12-1 with a 0.41 ERA. He had 140 strikeouts in just 86 innings. He was named an Aflac All-American after his junior season.
Although he went to high school in Florida, DeVall has regularly competed in the talent-laden East Cobb Baseball program in suburban Atlanta. Clark and many of the other Braves scouts have watched the 18-year-old pitcher develop over the past couple of years.
"Against the best competition, our scouts have seen him over and over and over again," Clark said. "Our scouts really like him a lot. He's got a power arm, a good breaking ball and a very good changeup."
While playing in the East Cobb system, DeVall played with Jason Heyward and Cody Johnson, a pair of outfielders who were the first selections for the Braves in the past two Drafts.
DeVall has committed to play collegiately at the University of Georgia. But Clark has had some discussions with the pitcher's father and is hopeful that a deal will be completed soon.
"Hopefully, we'll get him signed and get him down to the Gulf Coast League as soon as possible," said Clark, who will entertain DeVall and right-handed pitcher Ezekiel Spruill, a second-round selection, at Turner Field during Friday's series opener against the Phillies.
Because they signed Tom Glavine in November as a Type A free agent, the Braves lost their first-round selection to the Mets. The 40th selection was a compensatory pick that they gained after left-handed reliever Ron Mahay signed with the Royals.
Braves' top five selections
|40.||LHP||Brett DeVall||Niceville HS (Fla.)|
|64.||LHP||Robert Stovall||Hokes Bluff HS (Ala.)|
|70.||RHP||Ezekiel Spruill||Kell HS (Ga.)|
|96.||RHP||Craig Kimbrel||Wallace State CC|
|130.||C||Braeden Schlehuber||Col of S. Nevada|
|Complete Braves Draft results >|
Because they weren't able to sign University of Georgia reliever Josh Fields after taking him in the second round last year, the Braves were compensated with the 70th overall selection this year. Fields was taken by the Mariners with this year's 20th overall selection.
Before this year's Draft began, each Major League organization selected a former Negro League player who never had a chance to play in the Majors in a special ceremony. With their honorary selection, the Braves chose James "Red" Moore.
Here is a look at the Braves' other Day 1 selections in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft:
Round 2, 64th overall: Robert Stovall, LHP, Hokes Bluff HS (Ala.)
Stovall was named Mr. Baseball by the Alabama Sports Writers Association and was also the valedictorian of his graduating class last week. The 18-year-old southpaw went 14-1 with a 1.00 ERA this past season. Along the way, he threw three no-hitters, collected six shutouts and recorded 187 strikeouts in 84 innings.
"He's just a tremendous guy," Clark said. "I think we had somebody watch every one of his starts this year. That tells you what we think about him."
Armed with a fastball that has been clocked in the mid-90's and a curveball that Clark considers to be his best pitch, Stovall set state career records with 54 wins and 683 strikeouts. Stovall signed with Auburn University, but his high school coach, Mike Estes, told the Associated Press last week that there was hope the Braves would make this selection.
"He's going to make it big some day," Estes told the AP. "He's going to keep working hard, and I guarantee you he will make it big. We're going to get used to seeing him on some Saturdays and Sundays. Hopefully with the [Atlanta] Braves, maybe."
Round 2, 70th overall: Ezekiel Spruill, RHP, Kell HS (Ga.)
Termed a hurler with a projectable right arm, Spruill has also shown some impressive power, with a fastball that has been clocked in the low 90s. At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, this suburban Atlanta athlete has the frame that catches scouts' eyes. But other than his fastball, which has inconsistent velocity, the 18-year-old hurler doesn't have pitches that impress.
MLB.com's scouting report indicates he has an average slider and a below-average changeup.
"He's a tall, lean and projectable right-hander that we like a lot," Clark said.
Round 3, 96th overall: Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Wallace State CC (Ala.)
While going 9-3 with a 2.88 ERA this season, Kimbrel limited opponents to a .140 batting average. The Braves took him in the 33rd round in 2007, and then grew to like him more when he recorded 123 strikeouts in 81 innings this year.
When he came to work out for the Braves at Turner Field this past weekend, he showed a live fastball and sharp breaking ball that brought back memories of Joey Devine, who the Braves took with their first selection in the 2005 Draft and then promoted to the Majors two months later.
"When he was throwing, I said, 'That's Joey Devine," Clark said of the hard-throwing right-hander, whose fastball has been clocked at 96 mph.
Round 4, 130th overall: Braeden Schlehuber, C, College of Southern Nevada
Clark said he considered Schlehuber to be one of the most polished catchers in the Draft. The 20-year-old catcher, who has signed to play for the University of Arkansas, also worked out at Turner Field this past weekend.
"He was just very impressive in a lot of areas," Clark said.
Round 5, 160th overall: Jacob Thompson, RHP, University of Virginia
An All-American last year, Thompson struggled through some mechanical flaws this season and saw his stock drop quick. But Clark believes the 21-year-old right-hander can regain his form with some assistance from the Braves' Minor League coaches and instructors.
"I think we might have gotten a steal there," Clark said.
Round 6, 190th overall: Adam Milligan, RHP, Walters State (Tenn.)
This is the third time the Braves have drafted this strong outfielder. They took him in the 27th round last year and in the 28th round in 2006. Although Milligan has committed to play at Vanderbilt University next year, Clark is hopeful that he'll be able to sign the 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder.