Braves focus on hitting during Day 2 of Draft
Pair of college bats highlight Tuesday's selections
For years, the Braves have been renowned for stockpiling young pitchers in the First-Year Player Draft. But with the likes of Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado and Mike Minor tearing up the Minor Leagues, not to mention the long-term projections of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens who are already in the Majors, pitching wasn't an absolute necessity for the Braves to pursue urgently at the beginning of the Draft.
Instead, Day 2 focused on the offense and finding some quality bats to boost the team's lineup. And lastly, to find someone to man the third base position long after Braves icon Chipper Jones calls it quits.
"We're not going to find a replacement for him -- he's a Hall of Famer," Braves scouting director Tony DeMacio said. "We were looking for somebody to fill the corner when Chipper decides he's done playing. We focused on taking a couple potential guys that could fill that position."
With two of their first three picks on Tuesday, the Braves might have done just that. First up at pick No. 53 was converted outfielder Tony Cunningham from Jacksonville State. Cunningham has been on the Braves' radar for some time, but he won't be continuing to make plays in center field, like he did on July 23 in the Cape Cod All-Star game when his diving catch made SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays.
"He was an infielder," DeMacio said. "He only played the outfield because they had a need out there. They had a couple other guys that could play in the middle. His bat is what sticks out. Bats play in the big leagues. If he hits, he's going to play somewhere. He's not going to have 25-30 home run power, but we think he has enough power to go to the corner if the need is there. Only his bat will decide where he goes."
During the summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, Cunningham batted .378. And during the season with Jacksonville State, he average .359. The bat looks like it'll be taking him far.
Meanwhile, at pick No. 101, the Braves selected Pittsburgh third baseman and Big East Player of the Year, Joe Leonard, who smashed eight home runs, but also converted eight saves as a reliever. One thing is clear, however, Leonard's focus will solely be on hitting dingers.
"We drafted Leonard for his bat," DeMacio said. "That's what his strength is that will get him to the Major League level."
The Draft completed rounds two through 30 on Tuesday, and of the Braves' first 10 picks, seven were position players. The first pitcher who could someday compete in Atlanta was Andrelton Simmons from Western Oklahoma State. He's listed as a shortstop, but has been used a lot as a pitcher, as well. DeMacio reiterated that like Leonard with his multiple position capabilities, Simmons would be focusing on one area of his game. For Simmons, that will be pitching. Still, the area of need for the Braves on Tuesday was position players and bats. The team's draftees accomplished those goals.
"We still looked at position guys primarily," DeMacio said. "We didn't want to pass on any hard-throwing guys. We took a couple pitchers as well. We looked at some bats -- our primary focus."
Chris Hempson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.