The Atlanta Braves have built their franchise through the draft for as long as we can remember, and they've had mixed results with their first round picks in recent years. In this edition of the Braves Minor League Report, we'll take an in-depth look at the first players taken each year by Atlanta, and just how they've turned out thus far.
2002 - Jeff Francoeur, OF
MLB Debut: July 7, 2005
Francoeur got off to a magical start with the Braves in '05, belting a home run over the center field wall in front of a packed Turner Field. His wild start to the big leagues even got him labeled as 'The Natural' on the front of a Sports Illustrated magazine, but things quickly went down hill from there.
The fan base eventually grew tired of Francoeur's aggressive approach at the plate, and he was eventually dealt to the Mets in June of '09. He's bounced around since then and is now a starter with the Kansas City Royals, although he's likely headed for a bench role if his poor numbers keep up.
Frenchy had quite the ride in Atlanta and has lived up to being a first round pick, but fans can only look back and wonder what would have happened should he have been a bit more patient at the plate.
2003, 2004 - The Braves did not select anyone in the first round.
2005 - Joey Devine, RHP
MLB Debut: August 20, 2005
Devine will always be remembered for surrendering the game-winning home run to Chris Burke in the 18th inning of the 2005 NLDS, and a streak of bad luck and injury issues have seemed to follow him ever since. There was never any doubting his ability on the mound, but Devine simply could not keep his arm and shoulder healthy when he was with the Braves.
He was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in early 2008 for Mark Kotsay. Devine pitched very well in '08, but then missed all of 2009 and 2010 with even more injuries. He made a brief return to the mound in 2011 and pitched pretty well, but arm troubles arose once again and have shut him down ever since.
It appears that Devine will be out of baseball for good in the very near future, which is a real shame given his talent level.
2006 - Cody Johnson, OF
MLB Debut: TBD
Johnson, 22 in August, has more raw power than most major leaguers today, but he was never quite able to figure out the strike zone in the minors and is now playing for the Yankees. Johnson has struck out in about 33% of his at-bats in the Minor Leagues, and while scouts once hoped this would improve as he developed and got older, he's never managed to cut down on his whiffs.
Other than maybe a job as a bench bat for a couple of years, it doesn't seem likely that Johnson will see much playing time in the big leagues. A career outside of baseball seems likely at this point.
2007 - Jason Heyward, OF
MLB Debut: April 5, 2010
Heyward has been a star for the Braves when healthy, and now we're seeing why he was just so highly regarded by scouts as he was coming through the Minor Leagues. His first at-bat home run on Opening Day will never be forgotten in the city of Atlanta, and now he's cemented himself as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup.
The sky is the limit for Heyward moving forward. Assuming he can stay healthy, he's looking like a huge steal with the No. 14 overall pick.
2008 - The Braves did not select anyone in the first round.
2009 - Mike Minor, LHP
MLB Debut: August 9, 2010
Minor was really the first player to be taken from the Braves' new drafting philosophy of taking signable, college pitchers who would move quickly through the system. While he'll likely have a long career in the big leagues, Minor will never become more than a back-end option due to his lack of stuff on the mound. This is hardly a bad thing, but you'd typically like to see a club aim for upside with the 8th overall pick than a safe college guy.
2010 - Matt Lipka, SS/2B
MLB Debut: TBD
Lipka has yet to show any of the tools that made him a first round pick in '10, and he's now moved to center field to try and become a defensive asset. He's still young and has time to develop, but he's produced very little thus far in his professional career.
2011 - Sean Gilmartin, LHP
MLB Debut: TBD
Gilmartin, like Minor, was viewed as a singable college pitcher who could move quickly through the system. He's now at Double-A Mississippi and pitching well, and a promotion to Atlanta could come as early as mid-2013. He lacks the stuff to become a front-end starter, but he, also like Minor, will likely have a long career as a solid No. 4 or 5 starter. As of right now he ranks as the third or fourth best prospect in the system.
2012 - Lucas Sims, RHP
MLB Debut: TBD
Sims was selected just a few weeks back and already earned himself a promotion to the Danville Braves for his solid start. He's years away from reaching the big leagues, but Sims has the upside and potential to be a very good No. 3 or even a low No. 2 guy one day. It's just a matter of continuing his development after a very impressive prep career.
As you can see, it's certainly not a great haul of talent, but the only player that completely struck out as a pro (both figuratively and literally) is Cody Johnson. The Braves will get criticism for their safe selections of Minor and Gilmartin, but the organization was relatively thin on pitching prospects at that time and they couldn't afford a bust with such a high pick in 2009.
Atlanta will continue building their system through the draft as money remains tight. Here's hoping a few more Jason Heyward's come their way in the near future.