The Braves went with raw – and largely untapped - power with their top draft pick Thursday night when they selected right-hander Jason Hursh from Oklahoma State with their 31st pick in the supplemental round.
Hursh, 6-foot-1, 197 pounds, missed the 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. But he came back this spring as a redshirt sophomore lighting up radar guns with a four-seam fastball that touched 98 mph to complement a two-seam fastball in the low 90s.
Baseball America calls Hursh’s heavy, late-moving fastball “one of the most devastating pitches in the draft.” Braves scouts clocked him up to 99 mph at the Big 12 tournament.
“First of all, he’s got a power arm,” Braves scouting director Tony DeMacio said. “We like that to begin with, and the fact that we think he’s going to have three plus pitches. Breaking ball is going to have to be cleaned up and firmed up, but it’s good. He’s already got a plus change. We really liked the power arm basically…and he was there.”
Hursh wasn’t expecting to go until the new competitive balance round between the first and second rounds or early in the second round. He was in for a pleasant surprise when he saw his name pop up on his TV screen as the Braves’ supplemental first round pick.
(The Braves lost their first round pick to Tampa when they signed B.J. Upton but got a sandwich pick as compensation from the Indians for Michael Bourn.)
Hursh hadn’t spoken to Braves scout Gerald Turner since the day before the draft.
“It was crazy,” said Hursh, about 45 minutes after being drafted Thursday night. “Just a really exciting moment.”
Turner, the Braves scout for North Texas and Oklahoma who signed Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis, has been following Hursh since he was at Trinity Christian High in Carrollton, Texas. He watched Hursh make the conversion from shortstop to pitcher after scouts suggested he start throwing at a showcase event after his junior season.
“Gerald knows this kid like the back of his hand,” DeMacio said. “Another reason we liked him was the fact that he doesn’t have that many innings, even though he’s coming off Tommy John. We feel like we’re getting a fairly fresh arm too.”
Hursh went 6-5 with a 2.79 ERA in 16 starts for Oklahoma State this past season. He was named second-team All-Big 12 after finishing tied for first in the conference in starts (16), tied for second in strikeouts (86) and third in innings pitched (106 1/3).
Hursh grew up in the northern suburbs of Dallas as a Texas Rangers fan and admired Michael Young when he was looking to pattern himself after an infielder. But when he converted to pitching, Stephen Strasburg was his guy.
Hursh said he has always admired the Braves, calling them a “prestigious club.” He’s only been to Atlanta once for a travel baseball tournament at East Cobb and drove by Turner Field.
“It looked pretty sweet,” he said. “Love the Braves.”
He got a chance after his senior year in high school to hunt at Chipper Jones’ Double Dime ranch in Southwest Texas. Jones wasn’t there at the time, but Hursh spent time with his father Larry Wayne Jones, Sr.
Hursh’s own father Bruce is a former punter for SMU and encouraged his son to punt and kick in high school. Hursh was all-state as both a punter and kicker, before deciding to focus on baseball at Oklahoma State.
He went to Stillwater determined to make the most of the experience he would get on the mound. Even though he lost a year to elbow surgery, he proved he was good enough to become the fifth pitcher chosen first by the Braves in the past six years.
“I’m just so excited right now, I don’t even know if it’s hit me yet,” Hursh said. “Just ready to get the ball going and can’t wait for the opportunities ahead of me.”
SECOND ROUND: The Braves selected catcher Victor Caratini from Miami-Dade Community College with their second round pick, 65th overall. He’s an offensive-minded switch-hitting catcher who has played some third base too. He has shown some speed too, stealing 10 bases for his junior college in 2013.
The native of Puerto Rico is the highest catcher chosen by the Braves since 2002 when they drafted Brian McCann in the second round out of Duluth High.
“We really like his bat and the fact that he’s a young kid, he’s only 19,” DeMacio said. “We saw him early and liked him at the very beginning.”
The draft will continue Friday and Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m. each day and going through 40 rounds total.