The Braves prefer homegrown. This we know. Consensus holds that they’d love to take Zack Wheeler, a right-handed pitcher from East Paulding High, in Tuesday’s baseball draft. But what if he’s gone when they pick? And what if Wheeler isn’t even the best Georgian on the board?
Jim Callis covers the draft for Baseball America, which covers the draft like no other publication. He calls center fielder Donavan Tate of Cartersville High – he’s the son of Lars Tate, who was the first Next Herschel Walker at Georgia a quarter-century ago – “far and away the best athlete in the draft.”
Baseball America has Tate going third overall to San Diego. (The Braves hold the No. 7 pick in Round 1.) But what baseball folks call a “signability” issue exists with Tate – he’s represented by the demon agent Scott Boras, and he has signed a football letter-of-intent with North Carolina – and Callis sees Tate’s circumstances as, shall we say, fluid.
“More teams question his bat than people realize,” Callis said. “If the Padres don’t take him at No. 3, it’s very possible he could go out of the first round.”
Belief in baseball circles holds that the Braves, having targeted Wheeler, aren’t really considering Tate. Not true, claims general manager Frank Wren. “We like them both,” he said last month. And Boras as Tate’s agent? Wren: “Why should that make a difference?” (The Braves did sign Derek Lowe, a Boras client.)
In his mock draft on ESPN.com, Keith Law has the Padres taking Tate and the Braves picking Wheeler (link requires registration). Callis’ weekend mock had Wheeler going to Baltimore at No. 5 (requires registration), leaving the Braves with Mike Minor, a lefthander from Vanderbilt whom Callis says “doesn’t have as high an upside as some others.”
For the Braves, Callis now leans away from Minor and toward Alex White, a righthander from North Carolina who struck out 12 East Carolina batters in the NCAA super regional Saturday. “And their fallback would be Shelby Miller, a high school [righthander] from Texas.”
Still, Callis is convinced the Braves hold out hope for Wheeler. “He’s definitely the guy they want. He’s a really good high school talent and he has reasonable signability. He’s not making noise about breaking the bank.”
And Tate? Says Callis:“The word is that he wants $6 million [as a signing bonus]. But he’s spent so much time playing football he’s still raw. He’s not Ken Griffey Jr. He’s not going to be in the major leagues in two years.”
As many as five Georgians could go in Round 1, Callis believes: Tate, Wheeler, first baseman Rich Poythress of the University of Georgia and righthanders Chad Jenkins and Kyle Heckathorn of Kennesaw State. Our state does, as we know, produce some ballplayers.
“It starts with East Cobb [Little League], and Georgia Tech has had a great program for a long time,” Callis says. “And Georgia has finally gotten good on a consistent basis, and Kennesaw State is obviously doing something right. [Indeed, Wheeler has committed to KSU, but it’s expected he’ll sign with whatever team drafts him.] And the Braves can take credit, too.”
Credit is nice. The Braves might think it nicer if they can take Zack Wheeler, too.