For years, the Braves built their farm system on high school talent but it got more difficult as draft spending skyrocketed. So they’ve been pleased to get back to their old ways in the past two drafts, with a bonus pool system implemented under the collective bargaining agreement to limit spending.
For the second consecutive year, the Braves took five high school players with their first 10 picks. That includes three pitchers, led by third-round pick Carlos Salazar from Kerman, Calif. and two power-hitting third basemen, ninth-rounder Dylan Manwaring (son of former Giants catcher Kirt Manwaring) and 10th-rounder Ian Hagenmiller of West Palm Beach, Fla.
The Braves took 17 high school players in 40 rounds this year and 15 last year, including Brookwood right-hander Lucas Sims in the first round. They drafted only nine high school players in 50 rounds in 2011, under the old rules.
“The new draft rules enable you to move some money around now where you can actually take more high school guys,” Braves scouting director Tony DeMacio said. “Plus the kids that we took wanted to sign, and that’s important. That worked out good both ways for us.”
The top high schooler the Braves drafted Saturday was 11th-rounder Alec Prosser, a 6-foot-4 right-hander with a low to mid-90s fastball. He signed with George Mason.
“He was a guy that we had targeted from the beginning, and signability came into play a little bit,” DeMacio said. “But we were able to work that out.”
The Braves might have a tougher time convincing center fielder Stephen Wrenn of Walton High, who signed with Georgia.
High school players have a higher ceiling but also the leverage of a college scholarship, so they’re typically more costly to sign. But they are also considered higher-reward players who can be shaped and molded in a farm system. And in the past two years they’ve proved easier to sign.
Drafting Heyward: Jacob Heyward, younger brother of Braves right fielder Jason Heyward, notified teams earlier this week that he would forgo the draft and attend the University of Miami, but the Braves drafted the Eagle’s Landing Christian right fielder in the 38th round Saturday as a courtesy.
“We thought it was the right thing to do,” DeMacio said.
The move was appreciated by the Heywards.
“This was totally unexpected,” said Eugene Heyward, Jacob and Jason’s father. “I think the Braves are just being considerate, and I thank them for that. Jacob is good. He’ll do his thing. We’re very happy.”
Eugene said Jacob was projected to go higher, but when they learned it wouldn’t be in the top two rounds, they thought his best route would be college.
“Being at Miami will give him more exposure in the game of baseball, as well as his education,” Eugene said.
Heyward, 6-1, 195, hit .333 with nine home runs and a team-high 42 RBIs his senior season.
“Go down and play some baseball, mature as baseball player, and we’ll see what happens in three years,” Jason Heyward said. “He’s got some growing to do. I don’t know if he’s going to be as tall as me, but as far as athleticism, he’s right up there with the next guy.”
Tommy John draftees: The Braves did not hesitate to draft pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery, including right-handers Jason Hursh, their top pick, and Stephen Janas, their sixth-round choice. On Saturday the Braves drafted a pair of college left-handers who’ve had Tommy John in Matt Marksberry (15th round, Campbell) and Chuck Buchanan (18th round, Cal State-Bakersfield).
“Everybody is medically cleared first before we take them,” DeMacio said. “If they’re not a high-risk type of pitcher, we feel like we can take them.”
Up the middle: The Braves drafted pitchers with four of their first seven picks, and 14 of their first 22, but when they went with position players, they largely went up the middle. The Braves took catchers with two of their first four picks and in the fifth round took Texas A&M shortstop Mikey Reynolds.
“You’ve got to be strong (up the middle),” DeMacio said.
Reynolds is only 5-9, 160 pounds, but scouts like his aggressiveness. DeMacio compared him with Nick Ahmed, the shortstop prospect the Braves traded to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal.
“He’s a high-energy, leadership-type guy that can play all the infield positions,” DeMacio said.
Reynolds hit .342 (77-for-225) in 61 games for the Aggies, with 15 doubles, one triple, one home run and 25 RBIs. He also was 19-for-26 in stolen bases.
Staff writer David O’Brien contributed to this article.