Draft Preview: Braves looking at arms

Braves look for pitching prospects

ATLANTA -- History shows Braves director of scouting Roy Clark has shown a preference toward filling his early selections in the First-Year Player Draft with high school pitchers and top players from Georgia. The home-state approach garnered the tremendous talents possessed by Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. As for the pitching perspective, the most recent results will be judged by the likes of Jeff Locke and Brett DeVall, who was the first of the five pitchers the Braves selected with their top six picks last year.

With the seventh pick in this year's Draft, the Braves have their earliest selection since 1991, when they took outfielder Mike Kelly with the second overall pick. This spot puts them in position to potentially grab Zack Wheeler, an 18-year-old from East Paulding (Ga.) High School, which is located approximately 30 minutes from Turner Field. Having lost their second-round pick because of the signing of Derek Lowe, the Braves' second selection will be the 87th overall.

MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft on June 9-11. MLB Network will broadcast the first round at 6 p.m. ET on June 9 from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., and those 32 selections also will be simulcast live on MLB.com.

Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds will shift exclusively to MLB.com/Live, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos.

Once the first night is done, the Draft will continue with rounds 4-30, via conference call from MLB headquarters in New York, at noon on June 10. Rounds 31-50 will be on June 11, starting at 11:30 a.m. Here's a glance at what the Braves have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:

In about 50 words
With just one Stephen Strasburg available, the Braves and 28 other teams will likely find the first round to be more challenging than usual. But beyond Strasburg, who is expected to be tabbed by the Nationals with the first pick, Clark believes there are a handful of other appealing prospects for Atlanta to grab in the first round.

The scoop
"I think we're in pretty good shape where we're picking," said Clark. "But once you get past the 10th pick, it seems like you could find the same kind of talent if you were picking 30th. There will be some real good players available when it comes time for us to pick. With the seventh pick, we'll just take the best available player. You never know who will be available when we pick again in the 87th spot."

First-round buzz
There's obvious reason to believe the Braves will select Wheeler, a hard-throwing right-hander whose 6-foot-4 frame and easy delivery has drawn wide attention. The Orioles and Giants have definite interest and they could choose to take him with the fifth or sixth overall selections. If both Wheeler and Alex White, a top right-hander from the University of North Carolina, are both unavailable, it will be interesting to see if the Braves select Donovan Tate, an athletic outfielder from suburban Atlanta. Tate's association with Scott Boras combined with the leverage he possesses from the opportunity to play both baseball and football at UNC, could lead the Braves to pass on the son of former University of Georgia running back, Lars Tate.

A fellow Tar Heel, Clark also has some interest in White and there is a growing belief the Braves will grab him if Wheeler is unavailable. If White and Wheeler are unavailable, a likely selection could be Shelby Miller, a right-handed high school pitcher from Brownwood, Texas.

Shopping list
Beyond pitching, the Braves have a need to improve their crop of corner infielders. While Freddie Freeman stands as the club's first baseman of the future, there isn't a clear replacement for third baseman Chipper Jones, who is signed through 2012. There also seems to be fortify the organization's depth at the middle infield and catching positions.

Trend watch
Last year, the Braves took pitchers with 11 of their first 13 selections and the final eight members of this group were collegiate products. Just one year earlier, they took just two pitchers with their first 10 selections. Over the course of the past seven years, Atlanta has grabbed four position players with their first pick. Right-handed pitcher Joey Devine (2005) was the only collegiate player the Braves have taken with their first pick during this decade.

Recent top picks
2008: Taken with the 40th overall selection, DeVall posted a 2.43 ERA in five May starts with Class A Rome. Second-round selection, Zeke Spruill has gone 7-2 with a 3.27 ERA in the nine starts he's made for Rome. Once a highly-touted collegiate player, Jacob Thompson's initial year with Rome has been a continuation of his disappointing senior season at the University of Virginia.
2007: Three of the top five selections from this Draft have already gained manager Bobby Cox's attention. First-round pick Jason Heyward and second-round selection Freddie Freeman thrived during their first big league camp at the ripe age of 19. Both are currently enjoying strong seasons with advanced Class A Myrtle Beach. Third-round selection Brandon Hicks' long swing is slowing his progress toward the big leagues. From a defensive perspective, Cox says Hicks is already a Major League shortstop.
2006: When the Braves took Johnson with the 24th overall selection, they knew they were getting one of the Draft's top pure power hitters. With 17 homers already for Myrtle Beach, the 20-year-old outfielder has shown that power. But with 71 strikeouts in his first 49 games, he's also in position to top the alarming total of 177 that he registered with Rome last year. Taken in the second round, Jeff Locke continues to draw wide attention from scouts. But the 5.52 ERA the 21-year-old left-hander has produced in 10 starts for Myrtle Beach proves he's still enduring some growing pains.

Cinderella story
Considering that Tommy Hanson is widely regarded as the game's top right-handed prospect, it's hard to imagine him as a Cinderella figure. But when the Braves took him in the 22nd round of the 2005 Draft, they certainly didn't envision that just four years later, he'd be considered a key piece to their long-term future.

In The Show
Kris Medlen, who notched his first Major League victory on Sunday, is the only member of the past three Draft classes to thus far make it to the Majors. Taken in the 10th round of the 2006 Draft, Medlen has developed into a respectable prospect whose command and pitch variety could make him asset as a starter or reliever.

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