Braves scouting director Tony DeMacio is the scout who signed Chipper Jones back in 1990, and apparently he’s the scouting director responsible for replacing him.
Under his watch, the Braves drafted two third basemen with their top four picks – Todd Cunningham with the 53rd pick out of Jacksonville State in the second round and Joe Leonard out of Pittsburgh with the 101st pick in the third round.
“At some point he’s going to retire,” DeMacio said, with an acknowledging smile when asked about the 38-year-old former No. 1 overall draft pick. “We’re trying to get some position guys. We’ll sprinkle in a few arms here and there too.”
Cunningham is billed as a good hitter with a disciplined approach, and he has a Cape Cod league batting title from last summer to prove it, when he hit .387 in the wood bat league. Cunningham hit .353 (76-for-215) with 16 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs, 36 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for Jacksonville State.
Lacking a typical power stroke for a corner infielder might be all that separated him from the first round. (The Braves plan to convert him from a college outfielder to third base.)
“He’s a hitter,” DeMacio said. “We think he’s going to be more of a gap-to-gap guy. We figure he’ll hit 10-15 (home runs), maybe a little more.”
As for having him fall to No. 53, DeMacio said: “We’re real happy he got there. This is a year, there have been a lot of signability drafts because the money is out the roof, and people are taking more players that are signable. A lot of guys are out-pricing themselves.”
In Leonard, who is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the Braves believe they’ve found a power bat. The 2010 Big East player of the year hit .433 in 55 games as a junior and set school records in hits (104), at-bats (240), doubles (23) and RBIs (71). He hit eight home runs, and that’s while playing for a Pitt team that focused on using all fields.
“They don’t teach guys to pull up there,” DeMacio said. “Everything he hits is the other way. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got a great body to develop yet, and he’s a very good defensive player too for his size.”
The Braves had an interesting decision to make with their second round draft pick in Andrelton Simmons. The Curacao native whom the Braves took 70th overall was both a standout shortstop and pitcher for Western Oklahoma State Junior College.
Baseball America billed Simmons as the top defensive shortstop in this year’s draft, the second-best defensive player overall among college players and the second-best arm among college position players behind No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper. Yet the Braves drafted him as a pitcher. The reason was simple.
“We’ve seen him up to 98 (mph),” DeMacio said of the 6-2, 170-pounder with a fastball clocked regularly at 95 mph. “We feel like we got some infielders (otherwise), so we just felt like it was too good of an arm to pass up.”
Simmons is the fourth player from Curacao to come through the Braves organization along with Andruw Jones, Randall Simon and Jair Jurrjens.
Lipka wants shot at short
The Braves top pick Matt Lipka, selected 35th overall Monday night, played shortstop at McKinney High School and would like to continue playing shortstop for the Braves. But like the former No. 1 draft pick he idolized in Chipper Jones, Lipka might ultimately be in for a position change.
The Braves plan to start him at shortstop but might eventually move him to center field to take advantage of his speed.
“We’re going to try him (at shortstop) first,” DeMacio said. “We think he can play shortstop. We (also) don’t feel he’d have any problem at all adjusting to center field because he can really go.”
Lipka said he’s not opposed to moving to center if that’s what the Braves needs dictate, but he thinks he can show he’s worthy of staying at shortstop.
“I pitched the last two, three years, and the reps I had at shortstop were limited,” Lipka said. “With my development, my attitude and work ethic, I think I’m going to flourish at shortstop.”
Lipka plans to get to work sooner rather than later, saying he wants to sign quickly and get to rookie ball.
“We’re not holding out and waiting until the last minute,” Lipka said. “For a position guy, it’s important to get in there and gets reps with a wood bat. I’ll be playing rookie ball with the Braves.”
Strasburg claim to fame
The same day that Stephen Strasburg was making his major league debut with the Nationals, the Braves drafted University of Virginia second baseman Phil Gosselin, who made a name for himself by homering off Strasburg last season in a college game.
Gosselin, drafted in the fifth round by the Braves, connected on a first pitch, 97 mph fastball from Strasburg in a 5-1 Virginia win to knock Strasburg and San Diego State out of the NCAA regional. Gosselin is a two-time first-team All-ACC player who hit .378 in 61 games for Virginia with nine homers, 22 doubles and 57 RBIs.