Braves’ top pick in draft scouted by Billy Best

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By Michael Paul, Sports Editor

 When the Atlanta Braves recently signed 18-year-old first-round draft pick Braxton Davidson — who received a $1.70 million signing bonus — Billy Best probably felt as if he had slammed a walk-off home run.

Best, a Leland native, is a scout for the Braves and he scouted Davidson.

“I was extremely happy for the kid,” Best said.

The Braves had taken pitchers with their first selection in five of the previous six Major League Baseball first-year player drafts, and in this draft 19 of their 40 picks were pitchers.

But this year the Braves also were focusing on hitters. They had the 32nd selection in the first round and Davidson, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound left-handed hitting outfielder for T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, rated high.

“There are not that many hitters,” Best said. “There are many more arms throughout the country. His hitting ability and his power stood out.

“We evaluated him as one of the best high school hitters in the country.”

“To be able to get a power hitter where we were picking, especially a real young one, we were real happy with that," Braves director of scouting Tony DeMacio told the Braves website. “He's got easy power and a great swing.”

Davidson is expected to report The Gulf Coast League Braves, who play at the Walt Disney World Resort at Champion Stadium at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

Best knows something about hitting. Playing for Falmouth (Mass.) in the Cape Cod League in the 1979, Best had a 32-game hitting streak. He hit safely in 39 of the team’s 41 games with 25 RBIs and 13 doubles. He finished with a .398 batting average. (For that accomplishment, in November 2012 he was inducted into the Cape Cod League Hall of Fame.)

Best also played baseball at East Carolina University, finishing with a .297 batting average. Best struck one time in 121 at-bats during his senior year in 1980.

That talent for hitting gives Best an advantage in scouting players.

“Probably 90 percent of this job is instinct,” Best said. “Usually, you’re first impression, as a general rule of thumb, is the most accurate one.”

As an area supervisor for the Braves, Best scouts most of Virginia and all of Carolinas. He said he first saw Davidson when he was a sophomore playing summer baseball with the Dirtbags. The Dirtbags showcase the some of the best baseball talent in the state.

“It is a team you need to see if you’re an amateur scout,” Best said.

What Best remembers is a sound.

“The ball came off (Davidson’s) bat a lot louder than the other kids’,” Best said. “If someone had told me he was a rising senior at the time, I would have believed it. “The power, the way the ball came off the bat, he looked like he was two years older than he actually was. As soon as I saw him, I knew his skills were much greater than his peers’.”

Best’s evaluation proved correct. Last year in the Tournament of Stars in Cary, Davidson hit two home runs against Tyler Kolek — and Kolek this year was the No. 2 overall selection in the draft.

“He’s not a finished product,” Best said about Davidson. “No high school kid is. It’s going to take him some time. He’s a young senior. He just turned 18 June 18.”

This was Best’s 13th draft with the Braves. He had scouted one other player whom the Braves selected in the first round, and that was Joey Devine, a right-handed pitcher at North Carolina State University. Devine was the 27th pick overall in 2005.

For Best, the hard part is finding the players. By draft day, he and the other scouts know who can fill the Braves’ needs.

“What they do in the draft room,” Best said, “is they just line up the players, just like you’re picking teams in Little League. That’s as simple as it is.”