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Braves stick with local strategy for first pick

ATLANTA -- Four days before retiring John Smoltz's number, the Braves selected a local pitcher who grew up idolizing Smoltz.

The club took suburban Atlanta's Lucas Sims on Monday with its first-round selection in this year's First-Year Player Draft, 21st overall. The 18-year-old product of Gwinnett County's Brookwood High School possesses a fastball that has touched 94 mph and a hard curveball.

"This is a dream come true," Sims said. "I've been a Braves fan all of my life. To have an opportunity to play for the Atlanta Braves organization ... there is an unbelievable amount of emotion running through me right now. Quite honestly, I am speechless and just really looking forward to it."

With an abundance of young pitchers who have already gained Major League experience, the Braves were thought to have been interested in taking a position player. But the team determined that its best option was to go with Sims' powerful right arm.

"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." said Tony DeMacio, the club's director of scouting. "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."

Recognized as having one of the best arms among available high school products, Sims is working on a changeup. Scouts like his mound presence, his aggressive nature and the athleticism he displayed both on the mound and while playing shortstop.

Sims was named the Georgia Region 8 AAAAA Pitcher of the Year after going 8-1 with a 1.19 ERA and leading Brookwood to the state championship game. He has committed to attend Clemson University, but the lifelong Braves fan said he is looking forward to signing and beginning his professional career as soon as possible. The deadline for Draft picks to sign is 5 p.m. ET on July 13.

"Hopefully, it will be done soon," Sims said.

The selection comes 10 years after the Braves took a couple Gwinnett County high school products, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann, in the first two rounds of the 2002 Draft.

Francoeur, McCann and Jason Heyward, the 14th overall selection in 2007 Draft, are just a few of the Atlanta-area players the Braves have picked over the past decade. But Sims might be the first to say that he ran the bases high above the left-field wall in what was known as Sky Field, when Turner Field opened in 1997.

Sims estimates he has attended five Braves' games per year dating back to his childhood. His most recent trip to Turner Field occurred on May 27, when he watched a 7-2 loss to the Nationals. As he and his friend sat in Section 217, about 35 rows above the home dugout, they took a second to dream.

"We were just sitting in the stands and he looks over and said, 'How awesome would it be if you got to play here one day?'" Sims said. "We just kind of thought about it. Now, it could be true someday. It's really great."

This marks the fourth time in the past five years that the Braves have taken a pitcher with their first selection, after taking left-handed collegiate pitchers -- Mike Minor and Sean Gilmartin -- first in two of the past three Drafts.

Like Gilmartin grew up patterning his pitching approach after Tom Glavine's, Sims watched and learned from Smoltz's approach.

"I always thought his stuff was so sick and whatnot. Honestly, I'm a bit of a mama's boy and that was her favorite pitcher. Mama liked him, I liked him."

Approximately 90 minutes after being selected by his hometown team, Sims found it difficult to describe exactly what he was feeling when he learned that he would have a chance to follow the same path that Smoltz and his other favorite Braves players have traveled.

"All of the emotions were running through my body," Sims said. "I was happy. I was excited. I hugged my mom, and we both got really emotional. All of the emotions running through me ... I can't even explain it. I'm speechless. It's unbelievable."

Because they did not offer arbitration to any rated free agents lost this past winter, the Braves do not have any compensation picks in this year's Draft. When the Draft resumes on Tuesday, their second-round pick will be the 85th overall selection.

Atlanta Braves