Matt Creech, second from right, smiles after signing with Division I UNC Charlotte earlier this year. Those plans may change, however, after the County County star shortstop was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 35th round on the final day of the MLB Draft on Wednesday. (Moultrie Observer/Special to The Herald)
ATLANTA — The future of the Atlanta Braves became clearer Wednesday when the franchise finished its 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Atlanta started Monday by selecting Georgia prep star Lucas Sims from Brookwood High School in North Georgia in the first round, then added another Peach State standout Wednesday when the Braves chose Colquitt High star Matt Creech in the 35th round.
Creech, the Packers’ standout shortstop who has already signed with Division I UNC-Charlotte, finished his senior season batting a staggering .430 batting average, a .524 on-base percentage and 14 stolen bases — all team highs — and he was named the Region 1-AAAAA Player of the Year for the third straight year. Creech led Colquitt to the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs before being swept by Sims’ Brookwood team.
A message left for Creech by The Herald on Wednesday was not immediately returned, and it’s unclear if the 1,079th pick in the draft will forgo college and sign with the Braves.
Colquitt County coach Tony Kirkland, meanwhile, told The Moultrie Observer on Wednesday that he was not surprised Creech was drafted.
“I thought he’d be a lower-rounds guy,” Kirkland said. “He’s got a good arm, good speed and is a good contact guy. I’d put him up there with a lot of other guys from Georgia who were drafted. I’m really proud of him.”
Son of San Francisco Giants senior scouting adviser Ed Creech, who was a 1973 Montreal Expos draft choice, Matt hit four doubles, two triples and a home run last season for the Packers and also drove in 15 runs.
Creech is the second Packer in two years to be taken in the MLB Draft.
Last year, Cole Pitts was selected by the Cleveland Indians, but he instead decided to sign with Georgia Tech, where he helped pitch the Yellow Jackets to the ACC title last week.
Sims and Creech were two of the 15 total high school players drafted, while the other 25 who filled out the 40-round draft were from the college ranks. Among those were a pair of UGA stars who were taken in the second and 19th rounds. Left-handed pitcher Alex Wood was selected 85th overall, while teammate and Bulldogs’ second baseman Levi Hyams was taken 599th overall.
Braves director of scouting Tony DeMacio said the team was especially elated to snag Wood.
“We were very surprised that left-handed pitcher Alex Wood was still available,” DeMacio told the team’s website. “We were very happy to get such a great left-handed power arm.”
Wood was dominant in the SEC this season. He went 7-3 with a 2.73 ERA this spring and struck out 100 in 102 1/3 innings. His fastball reached the mid-90s regularly.
While Wood is able to generate good velocity, his delivery is unorthodox. After landing on his right leg, he takes a little hop backwards. But it doesn’t affect his command, as evidenced by his 21 walks in more than 100 innings pitched this year, and DeMacio isn’t concerned by it.
“Doesn’t affect us one bit,” he said. “He throws strikes.”
In the third round, Atlanta selected catcher Bryan de la Rosa from Olympic Heights High School in Florida, making him the first position player taken this in the draft by the Braves.
A native of Puerto Rico, de la Rosa is shorter than most catchers, but he is known for being strong defensively.
“He’s about 5-9, 5-10, but he can really catch, and he can really throw,” DeMacio said of de la Rosa, who has already committed to Florida State.
The Braves were also absolutely giddy about their fourth-round pick, center fielder Justin Black out of Billings (Montana) High School, which — believe it or not — doesn’t field a prep baseball team. Montana is one of three states in the country that doesn’t offer the sport at any of its high schools.
Without a high school team to play for, Black plays American Legion ball for the Billings Scarlets. That took him to various high-profile showcases last summer, including the Tournament of Stars, which brings the top high school juniors to the USA Baseball complex in Cary, N.C. Black also played for the Langley Blaze, a club team in British Columbia.
The remote location of some of Black’s games made him difficult to scout at times. DeMacio said on one trip, two Braves scouts drove 13 hours to watch him play.
Last week — so that key decision makers could watch Black play — the Braves brought him to Turner Field for a workout before the draft.
“Everybody liked what they saw,” DeMacio said. “He’s got power. We like the ability to run and the size and strength that goes along with that, which is hard to find.”
Overall, DeMacio said the club was more than pleased with this year’s draft class, which has until July 13 at 5 p.m. to sign.
“We felt like our scouts did a nice job identifying talent in this draft,” DeMacio said. “We feel like we have some Major League players in this group.”
Moultrie Observer sports editor Wayne Grandy and atlantabraves.com contributed to this report.