The Braves have a history of plucking top prospects from their own backyard and got back to it Monday night when they took hard-throwing right-hander Lucas Sims from Brookwood High School with their 21st overall pick in the first round.
Ten years after they drafted Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann out of Gwinnett County in the first two rounds and five years after taking Jason Heyward No. 14 overall from Henry County, the Braves made another lifelong fan one of their own.
Sims said he’s been going to Braves games since he was 4 years old, when he ran the bases in the Coca-Cola Skyfield at his first game at Turner Field. He went to a game as recently as last week with his best friend and watched Brandon Beachy pitch against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez in a Sunday night loss.
“We were sitting in the stands, and he looks over at me and goes, ‘What if you got to play here one day?’” Sims said. “We thought about it and laughed, and now it could be true someday. It’s really great.”
It’s no wonder when Sims heard commissioner Bud Selig call his name during the draft broadcast around 9:20 p.m. Monday night, a minute or so after his father had gotten a call the Braves would be picking him, tears started flowing.
“I hugged my mom and we both got really emotional,” Sims said. “All the emotions running through me, I can’t even explain it. I’m speechless. It was unbelievable.”
Sims, 18, who has a low-to-mid 90s fastball, said he grew up a John Smoltz fan, in part because “I always thought his stuff was so sick.” It was also in part because of the woman he hugged first in his living room on Monday night.
“Honestly I’m a bit of a mama’s boy and that was her favorite pitcher,” Sims said. “Mama liked him, I liked him.”
Sims led Brookwood to the Class AAAAA state championship game this spring, where he lost his first game all season to rival Parkview. He finished 8-1 with a 1.19 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 76 innings.
Sims, 6-2, 195 pounds, also a three-year starter at shortstop, has committed to Clemson but he said Monday he expected to sign with the Braves “hopefully relatively soon.”
The Braves drafted Georgia high school players with their first overall pick for three straight years from 2000-2002 and all three reached the majors: Adam Wainwright, Macay McBride and Francoeur.
“We are happy to be able to draft a Georgia boy, especially one from our backyard who is a great athlete with a great arm and great make-up.” Braves director of scouting Tony DeMacio said in a press release. “We are looking forward to getting him into the fold as soon as possible. We think we have a top-of-the-rotation type of player.”
Sims is the fourth pitcher taken first by the Braves in the past five years and first high school pitcher of those since left-hander Brett DeVall in 2008. Sims was the fourth high school pitcher taken in this year’s draft and rated the No. 29 prospect overall by Baseball America.