Braves replenish farm with strong arms
As is tradition, Atlanta stocks up on young, talented pitchers
ATLANTA -- The Braves have long believed that there is no such thing as having too many young arms in their farm system.
So the Braves didn't stray from their familiar formula during the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. Of their 51 picks, 31 were pitchers, including four of the Braves' first six selections.
With the 40th overall pick, the Braves chose lefty Brett DeVall of Niceville (Fla.) High School in the supplemental round on Thursday. The Braves forfeited their first-round Draft pick to the Mets after signing pitcher Tom Glavine during the offseason.
"Pitching was a real strength of this Draft, and we knew that coming in, so we kept pounding away on the pitchers," Braves director of scouting Roy Clark said.
Eighteen of the Braves' last 21 top picks have been high schoolers, and DeVall was rated as one of the top prospects (19th overall) in the country. Clark couldn't pass up the opportunity to take the lefty, who slipped to the 40th spot. Pre-Draft projections had DeVall going anywhere from No. 25-30.
"We were thrilled Brett was available at the time of our selection," Clark said. "He was exactly what we were looking for. ... He has a power arm and a very good changeup, and we look forward to him moving quickly through our farm system."
DeVall was 12-1 with a 0.41 ERA during his senior season for Niceville, and Baseball America called him, "The top pure high school left-hander in the 2008 Draft."
"It worked out for the best. I'm glad I could be with the Braves," DeVall said. "It was definitely a great feeling."
DeVall got the call from area scout Brian Bridges around 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. His dad walked outside to answer the phone, and in the midst of that conversation, DeVall's name was announced on the ESPN2 telecast.
"It was kind of surreal," DeVall said. "I'm just sitting there and two of my best friends are big-time Braves fans, and they just jumped all over me."
DeVall, too, has developed a liking for the Braves after spending the past two summers with the East Cobb system, which continually churns out prospects.
But DeVall didn't have time to revel in his Draft selection -- he had a graduation to attend.
Three hours after receiving word from the Braves, DeVall received his high school diploma. It was then that the magnitude of his day finally sunk in.
"I was walking through the hallway and my friends were like, 'Weren't you just on ESPN?'" DeVall said with a laugh.
The lefty has good control for a high schooler, and he has the ability to be consistent with three pitches -- a low-90s fastball, a solid changeup and a curveball that needs further development.
"I need to get my velocity up and sharpen up my pitches," DeVall said.
DeVall said he hoped to be in the Minor League system around two or three years, which is the average timetable for a pitcher straight out of high school.
"What's up, money bags?" Braves third baseman Chipper Jones joked as he introduced himself to DeVall outside the batting cage before Friday's game against the Phillies. "It's good to have you on the ballclub."
The Braves should move quickly to sign DeVall, after losing University of Georgia reliever Joshua Fields in the second round last year when negotiations with his agent, Scott Boras, broke down.
Braves' top five selections
|40.||LHP||Brett DeVall||Niceville HS (Fla.)|
|64.||LHP||Robert Stovall||Hokes Bluff HS (Ala.)|
|70.||RHP||Ezekiel Spruill||Kell HS (Ga.)|
|96.||RHP||Craig Kimbrel||Wallace State CC|
|130.||C||Braeden Schlehuber||Col of S. Nevada|
|Complete Braves Draft results >|
"I want to get it done as soon as possible," DeVall said.
DeVall was the fifth high school pitcher taken in the 2008 Draft, and he was one of three high school hurlers selected by the Braves on Day 1.
With their second selection, the Braves took another left-handed pitcher, Robert Stovall, from Hokes Bluff High School (Ala.). They drafted local product Ezekiel Spruill with their third pick, 70th overall. Spruill pitched for nearby Kell High School, and he has a fastball that tops out around 94 mph, though he cannot always maintain that velocity.
"I was happy that I don't have to go anywhere," said Spruill, who was invited to Friday's game with DeVall. "Atlanta was my top choice, but I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want it to factor into their decision. This was definitely my top choice, though."
Clark was also excited about 6-foot-6 right-hander Jacob Thompson from the University of Virginia. Thompson was impressive during his first two years, but he lost his form, and subsequently lost his productivity during his junior season. Scouts think Thompson may be a steal at the 160th overall pick if he can return to form.
"Once we got into the Draft room, some of our guys couldn't believe who was still on the board," Clark said. "We had a good game plan."
It wasn't surprising for the Braves to draft a bevy of pitchers. They lost three Minor League hurlers in the July 31, 2007, deal that landed first baseman Mark Teixeira from the Rangers. They have already brought in an influx of young starters through trades, beginning with Jair Jurrjens (22) and Jo-Jo Reyes (23). But Tom Glavine is 42, and Tim Hudson will be 33 later this month.
"Looking at the team this year, I knew some pitchers are getting older and they're going to need some younger pitchers soon," Spruill said.
Clark left Turner Field on Friday night feeling good about what the Braves accomplished in this year's Draft. But like he said, "As for how good they'll be, we'll know in five years."
Round 4 -- 130th overall: C Braeden Schlehuber, College of Southern Nevada
Schlehuber was the first non-pitcher drafted by the Braves, and Clark said he considered the 20-year-old catcher to be one of the most polished catchers in the Draft. Schlehuber, who has signed to play for the University of Arkansas, worked out at Turner Field this past weekend. "He was just very impressive in a lot of areas," Clark said.
Round 6 -- 190th overall: OF Adam Milligan, Walters State C.C. (Tenn.)
This is the third time that the Braves have drafted the strong outfielder. They took him in the 27th round last year and in the 28th round in 2006. Although Milligan has committed to play at Vanderbilt University next year, Clark is hopeful that he'll be able to sign the 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder.
Round 18 -- 550th overall: RHP Michael Palazzone, Lassiter High School (Ga.)
Right shoulder problems held him out for most of his junior season, but Palazzone's curveball impressed scouts. It is a true 12-6 curve, and it's his bread-and-butter pitch, according to scouts. His fastball can hit the low-to-mid 90s, and his changeup is decent. The shoulder issues may have been caused by a delivery that has some concerned.
Ryan Lavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.