The Braves will always be able to point to veteran third baseman Chipper Jones as the No. 1 draft pick who really turned out to be something. Not many organizations can say that, and the Braves nearly couldn't, either; they actually wanted Todd Van Poppel but were told he wouldn't sign. Jones was the safer choice. Now he's a legendary one.
The Braves were looking for middle infielders in 2010, choosing shortstop Mike Lipka with their initial pick. Last year, looking for pitching, they took left-hander Sean Gilmartin in the first round. This year, picking 21st in what was generally acknowledged to be a thin draft, they wanted the best player available.
That turned out to be right-handed pitcher Lucas Sims, a local kid who's the Georgia Region 8-AAAAA Pitcher of the Year. Sims, 6-2, 195, had an 8-1 record while leading Brookwood High School, Lawrenceville, Georgia, to the state championship.
"We think we have a top of the rotation type of player," says Tony DeMacio, the Braves' director of scouting.
And he started at shortstop for three years, too. DeMacio calls Sims a "great athlete with a great arm and great makeup."
Some of the Braves' notable first-round picks: Adam Wainwright, drafted 29th in 2000; Jeff Francoeur, 23rd in 2002; current right fielder Jason Heyward, 14th in 2007; and their current fifth starter, left-hander Mike Minor, seventh in 2009.
Wainwright was part of the trade package sent to the Cardinals in 2003 for outfielder J.D. Drew and infielder/outfielder Eli Marrero -- how'd that work out? -- and Francoeur was basically dumped, sent to the Mets in 2009 for outfielder Ryan Church because he didn't think he needed to make adjustments on offense. Minor's halting progress this season is being chalked up to the normal arc of a young pitcher.
One wonders, though, what might be in store for Heyward. Yes, he drove in the winning run in Sunday's 3-2 win over the Nationals with a big two-out hit in the fifth inning, going the opposite way, no less. But his hits are few and far between; he hasn't had a multi-hit game since May 12, when he went only 2-for-6 in a game that went 12 innings.
The drought is mostly because Heyward's still being stung by pitches inside, something every opposing team knows. Would general manager Frank Wren send Heyward down to Triple-A Gwinnett to work on his hitting? Unless he isn't paying attention to hitting coach tandem Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher, it's hard to see how that would help. So what if he murdered International League pitching?
With the National League East bunched so closely, it's more likely that Heyward will be allowed to improve his offense with the Braves. But it isn't set in stone.
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