If left-hander Alex Wood’s rise to the major leagues is any indication, the choices the Braves make in the amateur draft that begins Thursday night can make a big impact in a short amount of time.
The Braves don’t pick until 31st overall, which keeps them out of the running for the cream of this year’s crop, but Wood was a second-round pick out of the University of Georgia last year, selected 85th overall, and he’s already pitching in the Braves bullpen.
Around this time last year, Wood was packing his belongings at the University of Georgia before the Braves drafted him. He was packing again a week ago, to make the jump from Double-A Mississippi to Atlanta. He pitched impressively in his first two major league appearances over the past week.
“I think our guys have done a great job recommending the right guys — look at Alex,” Braves scouting director Tony DeMacio said. “We’re sitting there this time last year, (and) he was still up on the board. I said to (regional scout Brian) Bridges, Wood is still on the board. You better get on the phone. Guys have done a great job.”
The first two rounds of the draft will be held Thursday night, beginning at 7 p.m., and will be broadcast on MLB Network and MLB.com.
The Braves lost their first-round pick to the Tampa Bay Rays when they signed free-agent center fielder B.J. Upton in November, but they picked up the 31st pick in the supplemental round as compensation for Michael Bourn, who signed with the Cleveland Indians.
The Braves also pick in the second round Thursday night, 65th overall. They’ve used the second round to find the likes of Andrelton Simmons (70th pick in 2010), Freddie Freeman (78th in 2007), and Brian McCann (64th in 2002).
The draft will continue Friday and Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m. each day and going through 40 rounds total.
The Braves have drafted pitchers with the top picks in four of the past five drafts, and took two power arms last year in Wood (second round) and Brookwood High product Lucas Sims (first round, now in Single-A Rome).
The Braves have drafted college pitchers with their first overall pick in two of the past four seasons — one of them (Mike Minor) is pitching like an All-Star and the other (Sean Gilmartin) is knocking on the door from Triple-A Gwinnett. Baseball America suggested DeMacio has a thing for drafting left-handed pitchers and originally suggested the Braves could go with a left-hander from the group of Rob Kaminsky, Marco Gonzales, Hunter Green and Matt Krook. But editor Jim Callis’ most recent mock draft has the Braves leaning toward going with a bat, like outfielder Billy McKinney from Plano West High School in Texas.
DeMacio said the Braves wouldn’t go into the draft looking to fill a specific need with that top pick.
“What we think is the best available is the way we’re going to go,” DeMacio said. “If it’s a pitcher, it’s a pitcher. If it’s a player, it’s a player. … You’ve just got to keep trying to take the best guys that you can for the organization. You don’t worry about needs. You just keep taking them, and you hope there’s enough there to fill the needs for the major league club year after year after year. That’s all you can do.”
The challenge comes in that this draft is considered to be thin in both the high school and college ranks. Pitchers Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray are projected to go in the first two spots, to the Astros and Cubs, and standout local outfielders Clint Frazier (Loganville High) and Austin Meadows (Grayson High) could both go among the top 15 picks, well before the Braves select at No. 31.
“I think the draft as a whole is below average than what it’s been,” DeMacio said. “The overall talent throughout the country, as far as depth, is not as deep as it’s been in the last couple years. But you’ve still got to pick them, and somebody is going to play in the big leagues.”