Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Failure or Over-hyped: The Baby Braves

The other day, the Kansas City Royals, who make it a habit to employ former Atlanta Braves, designated Jeff Francoeur for assignment.  Since the beginning of 2008, Francoeur has been demoted, traded twice, non-tendered, and now DFA'd.

What makes that news, at least to Braves faithful, is that it wasn't that long ago that Francoeur graced the cover of many a magazine, including most notably Sports Illustrated while being labeled The Natural.  He was the most popular of the Baby Braves, the collection of youngsters, often rookies, who propelled Atlanta to their 14th straight division title and ultimately, and fairly surprisingly, the final addition to what became known as The Streak.  I say surprisingly because the Baby Braves were supposed to take the torch from the old guys and move the franchise into a new era of playoff ball.

But, like Francoeur's fall from grace in Atlanta, most of the Baby Braves were gone form the organization within four years.  As of 2013, Brian McCann is all that remains from that class and McCann is possibly in his final year with the franchise.  Some are still playing in the bigs, long ago leaving Atlanta often by trade.  Kelly Johnson was non-tendered and has bounced around a little.  This year, he's a utility guy in Tampa Bay.  Wilson Betemit, once thought to be the next Derek Jeter, can only play defense like Jeter as his journeyman career has taken him to Los Angeles, New York, Kansas City, Detroit, and Baltimore.

Kansas City became a destination for many of the former Baby Braves.  In addition to Francouer and Betemit, Brayan Pena and Kyle Davies spent several years in KC with Davies continuing to fail at every turn before finally getting a boot out the door.  Macay McBride is out of baseball and Blaine Boyer, who pitched with the Royals AAA squad this year, is off to Japan to try to extend a career full of injuries and terrible pitching.  Ryan Langerhans recently got cut from the Blue Jays AAA team.  He can still play outfield, still walks at a good clip, still has some good pop, and still can't hit the ball all that often.

The guys who barely played a role on that 2005 squad, but were still labeled a Baby Brave haven't fared much better.  Andy Marte is having a solid season this year.  For the York Revolution in the Atlantic League with fellow former big leaguers Mark Teahan and Brett TomkoJoey Devine has moved on to the world of comedy while Chuck James...well, I'm sure he's doing well in real estate or used cars.

Were the Braves a failure or just overhyped?  A little bit failure because of injuries, but largely, they were simply over-hyped with no one more-so than Francoeur.  I get why some felt he had the talent to be an amazing talent, but he never progressed.  His numbers and skills were stagnant even before he made it to the bigs where, save years where his BABIP ballooned, his numbers were constantly stunted by being a terribly flawed ballplayer.  Betemit outgrew shortstop before he got to the bigs and quickly showed he didn't have the defense anywhere to be a starter in the majors, especially with an average bat.  Davies had no out pitch.  In his defense, he had great give-up-homerun pitches.  And no one seemed more over-hyped than Marte, who spent three years inside the Baseball America Top 15 prospects in baseball list, but couldn't overcome a long swing.

Once the book was out on Francouer and others, the jig was up.  The Baby Braves couldn't keep the Braves from missing the playoffs in 2006.  In fact, in many ways, they were directly responsible.

Still, it was a fun year.  Screw Chris Burke

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