The Atlanta Braves are currently building through the draft in a significant way, using creative ways to generate additional picks and spending power to improve the long-term stability of the franchise. While some have pointed to this strategy as flawed because of the high "bust" rate in the MLB Draft process, there are plenty of success stories to point to within the history of the franchise.
Earlier in the week, we took a glance at the worst draft picks in the team's history, but today, we will focus on the best picks in two different categories. First, we will focus on first round selections, hitting home runs when the pressure was on to do so. Then, the real value propositions come into play with non-first round picks that returned significant value when compared to their selection slot.
First Round Picks
Dale Murphy - #5 overall - 1974
Murphy was the best pick in the entire first round in 1974, and the Braves found him as a high school player from Portland, Oregon. That qualifies as a job well done. It is probably fair to say that some Braves fans overrate Murphy in the grand scheme, but he was a tremendous player, finishing with 398 home runs and an OPS over .800 during an 18-year MLB career. Oh, and he was the face of the franchise during a (very) dark period.
Bob Horner - #1 overall - 1978
Horner won NL Rookie of the Year in 1978, despite playing in only 89 games. That's pretty impressive in and of itself. While he was the number one pick, Horner wasn't the best player in the 1978 class (Kirk Gibson takes the first round mantle while Cal Ripken Jr. landed in the second), but he did top 20 home runs on seven different occasions. Horner was a very successful pick, and given how many busts we have seen in the top overall slot, the Braves should be commended for that selection.
Chipper Jones - #1 overall - 1990
The Braves considered selecting Todd Van Poppel with this pick, and that would have been disastrous. Fortunately, Atlanta made the right decision and snagged Chipper Jones, who happens to be headed to Cooperstown after a Hall of Fame career. Braves fans know Jones' resume back to front at this point, but the long-time third baseman posted a career .303/.401/.529 slash line with 468 home runs across a 19-year career and he is one of the best players in franchise history.
Adam Wainwright - #29 overall - 2000
This is a sore subject in Braves Country. Wainwright was, by all accounts, an awesome draft pick, and the talented right-hander has been named to three All-Star teams while finishing in the top-three of Cy Young voting on four separate occasions. Sadly, that production did not take place in Atlanta, as Wainwright was dealt for J.D. Drew in a trade that many still lament. The trade wasn't ideal, but the draft investment certainly was.
Jason Heyward - #14 overall - 2007
The now 26-year-old outfielder has been a lightning rod for player evaluation arguments since his arrival in the big leagues in 2010, but there is no denying the value of Heyward as a draft pick. The Braves moved on from Heyward via trade, but he exceeded 4.5 fWAR on three different occasions while still with the team, and Heyward remains the standard bearer for defensive play in right field. The bat never materialized in the way that everyone hoped, but Heyward is a heck of a baseball player and the Braves made a wise draft decision to tab the local product.
The Value Bargains
Ron Gant - 4th round - 1983
Over a seven-year period with the Braves, Gant produced 147 home runs, 158 doubles and 157 stolen bases. Not bad, right? During the last four years of his Atlanta career, Gant topped 30 home runs on three occasions, including 30-30 seasons in both 1990 and 1991.
Tom Glavine - 2nd round - 1984
Picking a Hall of Famer in the second round is pretty good. The 300-game winner finished with a 3.41 career ERA in Atlanta, and that came during an era when offense was out of control across baseball. Glavine netted two Cy Young awards with ten trips to the All-Star Game, and his career was undeniably incredible.
David Justice - 4th round - 1985
Justice spent the first eight seasons of his MLB career in Atlanta, and he was a key member of the 1995 World Series team. Over a 14-year extended career, Justice finished with an OPS of .878 with 305 home runs, and he is also remembered for winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1990.
Ryan Klesko - 5th round - 1989
Klesko produced many comical memories as a left fielder on defense, but his bat always played. Fifth-round picks aren't supposed to post .500 career slugging percentages, but that is what Klesko did while topping 25 home runs in four different seasons. He was never a "star", per se, but you don't need fifth-rounders to become stars and Klesko was insanely productive.
Kevin Millwood - 11th round - 1993
Even if he did nothing else, the 1999 season would have been more than enough to justify an 11th-round investment on Kevin Millwood. During that campaign, Millwood finished second in the NL in ERA (2.68) while leading the league in WHIP (0.99) and that was enough to send the right-hander to the All-Star Game. For good measure, Millwood ate through more than 1,000 innings with a 3.73 ERA as a member of the Braves, and he was the best "fourth starter" in the majors during that stint.
Marcus Giles - 53rd round - 1996
Yes, you read that correctly. Marcus Giles was selected in the 53rd (!) round. That draft slot ensures that any positive contribution to a major league club is a huge win, and Giles was actually a very good MLB player for a stretch of time. The diminutive second baseman absolutely exploded for 21 home runs and earned 6.7 fWAR in 2003, and Giles was nearly an 18-win player over the course of 3,340 plate appearances in the big leagues. I'd say that qualifies as a bargain.
Brian McCann - 2nd round - 2002
For a brief moment, it seemed as if McCann would not be the best player in his draft class. The Braves selected both McCann and Jeff Francoeur in 2002, which was crazy considering they were both high school players from Gwinnett County. Francoeur had the flashier debut, but McCann has been the far superior player, including seven trips to the All-Star Game.
Freddie Freeman - 2nd round - 2007
The debate surrounding whether Freddie Freeman is a "star" persists, but he has already returned massive value on a second-round draft slot. Freeman is a two-time All-Star with a career OPS solidly over .800, and he has an above-average regular in the majors at the very least. If only every second round pick could produce like this.
Craig Kimbrel - 3rd round - 2008
The Braves wisely "sold high" on Kimbrel after the 2014 season, but his production while in Atlanta remains legendary. Over five seasons and 289 innings, Kimbrel posted a comical 1.43 ERA with 14.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, and that helped him to 186 saves in 294 appearances. Relief pitchers are often overvalued, but Kimbrel was the elite of the elite during his stint with the Braves and well worth a third-round pick.