The annual Major League Baseball draft starts Monday, and while it doesn’t get the fanfare of the NFL or the NBA drafts, it’s equally important to the teams that will be drafting.
For the Atlanta Braves, it’s a chance to add talent to a farm system that is arguably already one of the best in baseball. But contrary to what one might think, the draft is not a chance to fill immediate needs.
Therefore, do not believe the Braves will be able to cure the main ill of this year’s team -- the offense. Nor will they necessarily be able to find Chipper Jones’ immediate replacement. Maybe they will, but unlike the draft for the other two sports where a team can get quick help, it’s just harder to do in the baseball draft.
Instead, Atlanta needs to focus on pitching. Wait, you say, why should they do that when pitching is the strength of the team and they really need to find as many hitters as possible? Well, there are several reasons.
First, this year’s draft is strong on pitching, and a wise scout once told me a team should never go against the strength of the draft. It makes sense, really. If there are a lot of strong pitchers in the top of the draft, take advantage of that, especially when you have a pick at the end of the first round like the Braves.
Then there is that old “You can never have too much pitching” adage that should always be followed. The Braves have the best pitching depth of any organization in the game. That would make you think the Braves should instead focus on hitters. But teams should always build on their own strengths when they get the chance.
Depth in baseball is the key to any team’s success. And for a general manager, the most important thing to have is options, particularly with a pitching staff. The more options a team has, the more flexibility the GM has to make moves and to improve the team when needed.
The Braves’ depth right now is a prime example. We know that at some point, with the depth that has been accumulated in the current rotation and the outstanding prospects who are in Triple-A and Double-A, the Braves are going to be able to make one or maybe even two big trades.
And they are going to need it, whether it’s this summer or this winter. The offense could be helped with another bat, and at some point the Braves are going to have to replace Jones. He’s 39, and the clock is ticking on finding a new third baseman.
That’s a lot easier to do through a trade, rather than through the draft. It’s not like the Falcons believing Julio Jones can drastically help the 2011 offense and trading up to grab him with a top pick. Instead, baseball’s draft is all about building for the future.
And if the Braves make a trade for a big bat, the easiest way to do that is to have a lot of pitching. Getting more this week will only support the strength already there.
Another reason to focus on pitching is a trend in baseball that might make it more difficult to adequately identify good hitting prospects. The change college baseball has made with bats has the home run totals way down. Maybe scouts will instead be able to really know who can hit home runs and who can’t, but that might take a while to figure out.
Last year, the Braves had a draft focused on hitters. It was needed, with a real lack of good position prospects in the system. Top picks Matt Lipka, Todd Cunningham and Andrelton Simmons have done well this year, and they are now on the radar for the future. At the least, the Braves will be a bit more split with hitters and pitchers this year.
Atlanta’s success has always been built around pitching, and even with a lot of pitching already in the barn, the Braves shouldn’t change now.
Listen to The Bill Shanks Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.