Heyward Brings Upside To BA's Pretend Draft




CHICAGO--If the Braves covet a player from their home state, odds are they're on to something.

Since 2000, Atlanta has spent first-round picks on Georgians Adam Wainwright, Jeff Francoeur and Macay McBride. (And Josh Burres and Richard Lewis, but bear with me.) It also has signed Peach Staters such as Brian McCann (second round), Blaine Boyer (third) and Kyle Davies (fourth).

This year the Braves spent the 14th overall pick on McDonough, Ga., high school outfielder Jason Heyward, the earliest they've taken a Georgia product since they chose Derek Lilliquist sixth overall 20 years earlier.

An athlete with a quick bat, Heyward didn't play much on last summer's showcase circuit and walked frequently against inferior competition this spring. Most clubs just didn't see enough of him to feel comfortable taking him in the first half of the first round. Atlanta had no such qualms because it had spent so much time watching Heyward play in the noted East Cobb amateur program.

Since 2003, I've annually conducted my own hypothetical 10-round draft. I was too conservative in my first effort and spent my 2004 first-rounder on Jon Zeringue, who got released this May after hitting .143 in Double-A. But I've learned over the years, and I've gotten better as I've gone along. Choosing 11th in 2007, I'm poised for my best draft ever.

What's good enough for the Braves is good enough for me. I started off by selecting Heyward, who has easily the highest ceiling of any position player I've ever drafted.

More Upside After Heyward

In the sandwich round, my four candidates were high school shortstops Drew Cumberland and Justin Jackson, prep righthander Nevin Griffith and Oklahoma State outfielder Corey Brown. I ultimately decided on Jackson (a Blue Jays sandwich-rounder in the real draft).

Jackson didn't have the best spring with the bat, but the feel for hitting and plate discipline are there. He's also a flashy defender and has solid speed, and he stands out in a draft with few middle-infield prospects.

Griffith (White Sox, second round) was still around for me in the second round, and I couldn't pass on him twice. He's a 6-foot-4, 180-pounder who already throws a 90-92 mph sinker and touches 96 mph with his four-seam fastball, flashes a plus slider in the low 80s and demonstrates feel for a changeup. He needs to get more consistent, but there's no questioning the raw material.

Texas Christian's Sam Demel (Athletics, third round) was on my back burner in the second round, and I took him over another college righty, Miami of Ohio's John Ely, in the third. Demel would have gone higher if he didn't have a max-effort delivery, but his mechanics never have given him arm problems and they produce a 92-94 mph fastball and a nasty slider.

I was pleasantly surprised to get Illinois high schooler T.J. McFarland (Indians, fourth) in the fourth. A 6-foot-3, 180-pound lefty, he started pitching at 91-92 mph in May, and I thought that would push him into the second or third round.

Middlebrooks A Steal

With MLB pressuring teams not to exceed slot recommendations for bonuses, several players dropped. One of the best was Texas high school third baseman/righthander Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox, fifth), a legitimate prospect both ways, not to mention as a potential NFL punter.

A 6-foot-4, 215-pound athlete with power potential, he has drawn comparisons to Cal Ripken Jr. and Scott Rolen. Middlebrooks also has a low-90s fastball, but I'm more interested in him as a third baseman. He would have been a supplemental first-rounder if not for his $1 million price tag.

After Middlebrooks, three of my next four picks are college outfielders. Ohio State's Matt Angle (my sixth; Orioles, seventh) is a quality center fielder who gets on base, uses his speed well and even has a little pop. Arizona State's Tim Smith (my seventh; Rangers, seventh) also can handle center, but he's most notable for his plus bat and average power. Louisiana State-Eunice Junior College's Kade Keowen (my ninth; Red Sox, ninth) was the best big athlete in the draft: a 6-foot-6, 230-pound center fielder with a good power-speed package.

In the middle of those outfielders, I grabbed Community College of Southern Nevada righthander Colby Shreve (Braves, eighth) in the eighth round. Shreve is 6-foot-5, has a fresh arm and pitched at 90-94 mph early in the spring before sagging down the stretch in his first full year as a pitcher.

My final pick was Missouri high school catcher Dan Rohlfing (Twins, 14th). A third baseman before 2007, Rohlfing is a better athlete than most backstops and is a good hitter with power potential.

The average team spent $5 million on its draft in 2006, and I should be able to sign all 11 of my players, including Middlebrooks, for that amount. A team could really do damage by just increasing its budget to $7 million or $8 million, but that's another column.

You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com.