Monday, December 15, 2014

Reviewing BA's Top 10: 2001

Welcome to another look back at Baseball America's Top Ten prospects for the Braves system. The system begins to show some weaknesses in 2001. Two years before, every prospect on the list made it to the majors. Three missed out in 2000 and three more, including two different players from the previous year, fail to get to the majors from the 2001 list. Half of this year's list wasn't featured during the previous year's list, though the number one made the 2000 Top 100, but was left out of the Braves Top Ten. For the first time since 1995, George Lombard won't be on this year's list.

For previous editions of this series, click here.

1. Wilson Betemit, ss - BA Top 100: #29 - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 2002 (1st), 2003 (2nd)

By the end of the 2000 season, the 18 year-old Betemit had finished one season above rookie ball, but the huge international signing was rising fast in the eyes of prospects. At 18, Betemit should have had two seasons of professional experience under his belt, but his year with Jamestown in short-season A ball was his fourth. Due to an age mix-up, the Braves had actually signed Betemit when he was just 14-and-a-half. In their defense, he was a high school graduate already. The Braves were fine $100K and prohibited from scouting/signing players out of the Dominican Republic for six months during 2000. Even with that controversy, the signing looked like a masterstroke as Betemit progressed through the minors. Nothing seemed to halt him...until Richmond. A sub .700 OPS in 2002 and a .729 OPS in 2003 took away a considerable amount of the hype, though he would rebuild a bit in 2004 and was still just 22 years old. He finally landed in Atlanta for good in 2005 after small cups of coffee in 2001 and 2004. Slashing his way to a .305/.359/.435 year while backing up at three positions, the possibility of eventually growing into the player we thought he could be was back on. More production in 2006 followed, but for still unknown reasons, the Braves shipped him to the Dodgers for Willy Aybar and Danys Baez. The Braves would finish third that season.

However, Betemit never seemed to be productive for long and played everywhere before injuries forced him into a minor league season with Durham last year where he struck out 144 times and posted a .694 OPS. Despite a career that is rapidly approaching 20 years, Betemit is still only 33 and will likely get another shot somewhere. His defensive skills have long ago deteriorated to the point where he plays only the corner infield positions, but there has to be a spot for a guy who has a career OPS of .819 against right-handed pitching, including a .859 OPS in his last remotely healthy season of 2012.

2. Matt McClendon, rhp - BA Top 100: #51

Despite a very brief career, McClendon became a bit of a top prospect in 2000. Unfortunately for him, it was the only season of his career he was able to stay healthy. A fifth rounder out of the University of Florida in 1999, McClendon had been the 33rd overall pick just three years before by the Reds so he sacrificed some cash. He was the only four-year college draft choice by the Braves in the first 15 rounds that season, a draft that produced only one notable player and that player, Garrett Jones, never played for Atlanta. McClendon, like three other pitchers on this list, was a member of the 2000 Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a team that went 88-52 behind a team ERA of 2.51. He made just six starts for them before moving up to Greenville, where he threw his only career shutout while posting a 1.36 WHIP in 131 innings. From there...bunches of injuries. He tossed 73 innings in 2001, 20.2 ING in 2002, just 4.1 ING in 2003, and in his final season, 2004, he pitched in eleven games and 19.1 ING for Myrtle Beach before the Braves cut him. He has found second life, though, as a member of the Scott Boras Corporation working for his former agent.

3. Marcus Giles, 2b - BA Top 100: #54 - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1999 (10th), 2000 (3rd)

Giles was coming off a 17 homerun season with the Greenville Braves when he just missed out on being tabbed a Top 50 prospect by Baseball America. Nevertheless, he would shake that off to see time with the Braves during a pair of promotions. Oddly, the first one ended a day after hitting a game-deciding Grand Slam against Mike Hampton, but on July 20th, the Braves recalled Giles and he became the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter for the rest of the season. After a down year in 2002, he became one of my favorite players during a 2003 campaign that may have been aided with some helpful supplements. During his All-Star campaign, he slashed .316/.390/.526 with 49 doubles, 21 homers, and 14 steals. He was in a perfect situation, hitting between Rafael Furcal and Gary Sheffield, which led to a wealth of fastballs that he could clobber. His 2004 season, shorten by an unfortunate meeting with Andruw Jones, wasn't nearly as successful and thought he did resurface in 2005, his power declined and with it, his batting average. His career was about done just five seasons after he broke through.

4. Matt Belisle, rhp - BA Top 100: #28 - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 2002 (6th)

It's easy to forget, but Belisle was once a big pitching prospect. The 20 year-old split the 2000 season between Macon and Myrtle Beach and struck out 168 batters to just 29 walks, an astounding number. However, a lost 2001 season to injury and a disappointing 2002 led to Belisle losing his prospect hype. He was traded during 2003 to the Reds for Kent Mercker, closing the door on the 1998 second-rounder with the Braves. After struggling to establish himself as both a starter and reliever, he landed in Colorado for five years and pitched well overall out of the Rockies' bullpen. More recently, he joined the Cardinals for the 2015 season on a one-year pact.

5. Jason Marquis, rhp - BA Top 100: #92 - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1997 (6th), 1998 (8th), 1999 (5th), 2000 (6th)

Ahead of his most continued exposure in Atlanta, Marquis has made 17 starts in the minors, though his numbers at Richmond weren't so hot (but low sample size). He also saw 15 games in the majors as a reliever. His time with the Braves in 2001 was notably his best in Atlanta. He appeared in 38 games, including moving to the starting rotation for most of the final three months. He even threw two innings in the NLCS against the D'Backs, though his defense hurt him badly in Game Four, leading to four unearned runs in an eventual 11-4 whipping when the supposedly defensively sound Rey Sanchez threw the ball away. After a rough 2002-03, Marquis time with the Braves was finished.

6. Billy Sylvester, rhp

Spartanberg Methodist College has produced a few solid hitters over the years, including Orlando Hudson, Mookie Wilson, and a pair of ex-Braves in Dwight Smith and Reggie Sanders. Sylvester, a teammate of Hudson, looked like he might be the next one after he transitioned to closer for the 2000 Pelicans and saved 16 games while allowing just four earned runs in 45.2 ING to go with 48 K's. However, he was a little lucky that season. The walks begin to double and while he would continue to save games, he wasn't able to get enough outs to secure much of a look. After the Braves let him leave following the 2003 season, he would go on to play in the Rangers, A's, and Nationals systems before finishing his career by pitching 58 innings for the Somerset Patriots in the Atlantic League. He currently is the head of the Darlington High School baseball program in Darlington, SC along with being an assistant football coach.

7. Adam Wainwright, rhp - BA Top 100: #97 - Other Years in Braves Top 100: 2002 (2nd), 2003 (1st), 2004 (3rd)

It was meant to be. The self-proclaimed "biggest Braves fan in the history of the world" was perfectly matched up with the team that took him 29th overall in 2000. He followed that up by easily mowing down rookie league hitters who had no business stepping into the box against him. He was remarkably consistent and on the verge of greatness by the end of 2003 when...he was traded. After that, I assume he died because I don't remember hearing a thing about him or how that trade worked out.

8. Wes Helms, 3b - Other Years in the Braves Top Ten: 1997 (5th), 1998 (5th), 1999 (9th)

Helms is not interesting enough to continue to write about for this series, but he did follow up an injury-riddled 1999 with a solid season in 2000 so it's good to see him rebound. By the way, his last major league hit was an infield single. Only 48 of his 694 major league hits were infield singles so that's something, especially for a guy who was only successful in three of 15 stolen base attempts.

9. Christian Parra, rhp

Another of those Myrtle Beach pitchers, Parra spent the whole season with the Pelicans after being signed as an undrafted free agent the previous year. His 2000 season included a 17-4 record and 2.28 ERA, good enough to win the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year. He even pitched in a combined no-hitter, finishing a double header shortened game that Tim Spooneybarger, on a rehab assignment, had started with one hitless inning. But after sucking in 2001, he missed all of 2002 to injury and never played another professional game. He did try to get going again in Mexico, but wasn't able to get a look in the Mexican League.

10. Scott Sobkowiak, rhp - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 2000 (4th)

Baseball America must have been kind to Sobkowiak to keep him on this list after he made just four starts in 2000 due to injury. The Northern Iowa product would reach the majors for one inning to close the year in 2001, but he would never get back to the majors. He has spent the last almost five years as a pitching coach for the Lewis University Flyers, though he doesn't show up right now so he may have moved on.

The Braves had six players in the Top 100, but none made the Top 25. They did eventually get a guy who was in the Top 25 that season when Ben Sheets, ranked fifth, finished his career with nine starts as a member of the 2012 Braves.

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