Braves bring back Roy Clark to lead scouting department

As the Atlanta Braves’ return to the nostalgia of “The Braves Way” moves from concept to reality, another big part of the old guard under John Schuerholz is returning to the organization.

Roy Clark presided over the Braves drafting and development system from 2000 to 2009, taking over for legendary scout Paul Snyder. With Clark comes the myth about Roy Clark–the one that says his drafts were better than the drafts Atlanta has had since he left.

That’s not to say that Clark was a bad director of scouting, quite the opposite, he was a good (even great) scouting director. But to say he was better than the next Braves scouting director is misleading.

Proponents of Clark will trot out the names of the players he drafted–Adam Wainwright, Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor. It’s a very impressive list, and that’s just the beginning of it.

The false narrative of Clark being better than his successor, Tony DeMacio, omits the advantages that Clark had. During the majority of Clark’s tenure with the Braves, he enjoyed a different drafting system than the one that exists today. Money was one of the biggest differences, with teams being able to spend greater sums of money on players, especially lower-round picks.

The old drafting system allowed teams to sign players up until a few days before the following year’s draft. Atlanta used this process, known as draft-and-follow, to sign guys like Adam LaRoche, Tyler Flowers and Tommy Hanson, all of whom were drafted after the 20th round, then signed in the weeks leading up to the next draft.

That process was eliminated in 2007, requiring teams to sign drafted players by August 15th, about five weeks after the draft. It’s worth noting that Clark’s last three drafts under this system, from 2007-09, did not include any players that reached the majors who were drafted and signed by Atlanta after the 10th round. In each of the three years after Clark left, DeMacio’s drafts have produced players drafted and signed after the 10th round who have reached the majors.

The other major advantage that Clark had during his tenure were additional early-round draft picks. The huge changes in the last few years to free agent compensation have led to fewer and fewer draft picks for teams that lose players to free agency. During Clark’s years in Atlanta, just about every free agent was offered arbitration and turned it down. Many of those offered arbitration didn’t cost the team signing them any penalty, while the team losing them often got two draft picks as compensation.

The Braves drafted Kelly Johnson with the 38th-overall pick in 2000, which was a compensation pick for losing free agent Jose Hernandez. If you don’t remember him, well I had to think long and hard to remember who Hernandez was too. (He played 48 games for Atlanta after coming over from the Cubs in a deadline deal along with Terry Mulholland.) Losing reliever Mike Remlinger to free agency in 2003 netted the Braves two top-50 draft picks, which they used on Saltalamacchia and Jo-Jo Reyes.

These additional picks persisted for years. During Clark’s tenure he had 20 additional picks (in 10 years) in the first and second rounds. Since he left, DeMacio has had just one additional draft pick in the top two rounds.

Those additional picks Clark received allowed him to cover up for a lot of bad picks, and turn what would have been bad draft years into good or great years. He may have picked Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman with first and second round picks in 2007, but between those two future cornerstones he drafted two other players, infielder Jon Gilmore and reliever Josh Fields, who never amounted to anything in the majors.

The 2005 draft would be considered a bust had they only chosen Beau Jones and Jeff Lyman with first and second round picks. But they also selected Joey Devine and Yunel Escobar with first and second round picks. The 2003 draft might have been a real bummer because the Braves took Luis Atilano, Paul Bacot and Jake Stevens in the first three rounds, but they also took Salty, Jo-Jo and Matt Harrison in the first three rounds.

Clark has reportedly done reasonably well in the new draft reality with his post-Atlanta teams. He was with the Nationals from 2010 to 2013 as Assistant GM, then joined the Dodgers front office last year.

While the drafts from his time with the Nationals have been decent, they have also had the benefit of high picks and the additional money that goes with those picks. He’s also had the benefit of an organization in Washington that has outspent Atlanta in the free agent market and the draft each of the last three years.

While some people have been disappointed by DeMacio’s drafts compared to those of Clark’s, the drafts of DeMacio did not have the extra picks in early rounds, late round draft-and-follows, or higher draft budgets that Clark enjoyed during the 2000’s in Atlanta.

We’ll soon find out what added elements Roy Clark can bring to the Braves drafting process, but don’t believe the narrative that he’s any better at his job than the guy he replaces.

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