Monday, December 1, 2014

Reviewing BA's Top Ten: 1999

Last week, I started this series to look at each of the Baseball America Top 10 Prospects in the Braves system from 1998 to 2012. Why those arbitrary seasons? Because I said so, that's why. Today, we are going to review a list like it's 1999 mainly because that's a the year we will devote our time to. Now, as we progress, in the case of many players, I won't have much to write about because the player already received digital ink in a previous version of this series. If something of interest was missed, I'll try to touch base on it, but that's about it for certain players, including the number one prospect on this list. Like last week, with each name, I will provide, if applicable, that player's ranking in Baseball America's overall Top 100 for that year. I will also mention the other years, if any, the player made the Top Ten and their replacement in those Top Ten's.

1. Bruce Chen, lhp - BA Top 100: 4th - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1997 (3rd), 1998 (1st)

Ranked ahead of Chen in the Baseball America Top 100 - J.D. Drew, Rick Ankiel, and Eric Chavez. With Chavez's retirement, Chen has outlasted all of them.

2. George Lombard, of - BA Top 100: 26th - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1996 (7th), 1997 (4th), 1998 (5th), 2000 (2nd)

Lombard was the 8th outfielder on the Top 100 in 1999.

3. Odalis Perez, lhp - BA Top 100: 31st - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1998 (4th)

Perez would go on to appear in ten games against the Braves after his trade to the Dodgers, including nine starts. His 4.97 ERA against the Braves was his ninth highest against any team and third highest of any team he appeared in at least 50 innings against.

4. Luis Rivera, rhp - BA Top 100: 71st - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1998 (3rd), 2000 (5th)

As I mentioned last week, Rivera was dealt to the Orioles at the trading deadline in 2000 in the B.J. Surhoff trade. While Rivera was the centerpiece for the O's, they also received catcher Fernando Lunar and outfielder Trent Hubbard. Lunar, who had appeared in 22 games with the Braves prior to the trade, would receive extensive play in 2001 for the O's, but despite being a great receiver, he was never a hitter. His career OPS was .532. He briefly returned to the Braves organization in 2007 for six games with Mississippi before retiring. Hubbard was a 36 year-old journeyman who despite ten years in the majors, he only appeared in at least a hundred games with a team once. He kept playing until he was 41. In addition to Surhoff, the Braves received pitcher Gabe Molina in the deal. He appeared in just two games with the Braves. That was enough. His career came to a close after 2005.

5. Jason Marquis, rhp - BA Top 100: 89th - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1997 (6th), 1998 (8th), 2000 (6th), 2001 (5th)

A lot has already been written about Marquis, but don't forget when Marquis first made his mark. The 1991 Little League World Series. The little Staton Island righty tossed a no-hitter against Canada that year.

6. Kevin McGlinchy, rhp - BA Top 100: 47th - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1997 (2nd)

Taken in the fifth round during the 1995 draft, McGlinchy's career sadly gets defined by two things. The Grand Slam Single and the arm injuries that kept McGlinchy from ever delivering on the promise. By 1997, McGlinchy was favored by experts as yet another in a long line of great pitching talents the Braves had produced during the 1990's. Baseball America ranked him as the #39th prospect in the game following a 1996 campaign where he struck out over a batter an inning in 15 starts with a 1.49 ERA. Nowadays, we would say that ranking was unwarranted because McGlinchy did most of the damage in rookie ball. After a down year in 1998, McGlinchy got back into the prospect talk with big year in 1999. The following spring, McGlinchy made a pretty surprising jumpo to the bigs despite just six games above A-ball. Maybe the loss of incumbent closer Kerry Ligtenberg to injury opened the spot for him. McGlinchy quickly gained Bobby Cox's trust as the latter used McGlinchy early-and-often. He rewarded his manager with a 70.1 innings of 2.82 ERA and was even better in the second half.

In the playoffs, McGlinchy got the call of Game Four against the Astros. John Smoltz had ran out of steam in the 8th and gave up a three-run homer. Terry Mulholland entered and retired just one of the three he faced, leaving a runner in scoring position. McGlinchy retired future Brave Daryle Ward as the only batter he faced before giving way to John Rocker, who finished the game and series. McGlinchy wouldn't get used again until 8 days later, this time in Game 5 of the NLCS. Already up 3-1 in the series, McGlinchy had entered in a 2-2 tie in the 14th inning with one out and retired two of the three he faced to get the game into the 15th, where the Braves would pull ahead. With a chance to end the series, McGlinchy faltered, giving up a single, a walk, and an intentional walk to load them with one out before walking in the game-tying run. With the count 2-1 to Robin Ventura, McGlinchy served up a meatball that was lifted the hell out of Shea Stadium. Ventura was mobbed by his teammates before he reached second and the game officially ended with Ventura being credited with a walk-off single. McGlinchy would actually regroup and pitched two scoreless innings in the World Series against the Yankees, but that seems like our last memory of him.

He returned in 2000 and appeared in seven games before hitting the Disabled List. He rehabbed and came back in September for a trio of games before the season closed. Over the next two seasons, he would not appear in any games save two one-inning stints with the 2001 GCL Braves. Atlanta cut bait after 2002 and he would pitch at assorted stops between 2003-05, though most of it was independent league pitching. After 2005, his career was over and he went into coaching. He did try a comeback in semi-pro baseball around Boston in 2011 and was still throwing 90 mph, but it looks like that never led to another trip into organized ball.

7. Rafael Furcal, ss - BA Top 100: 60th - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 2000 (1st)

Coming off a season where he would swipe 60 bases for Danville in 66 games while walking more than he struck, Furcal would take a big step in 1999 when he stole 96 bases. He quietly on-based .392 that season, too. Defensively, his range was massive and he had a strong arm. Even with all that in mind, it was amazing when he jumped from 43 games to finish the 1999 season with Myrtle Beach to join the big league club to open 2000. Even more amazing was that he posted some of his best numbers of his career in his rookie year. His 73 walks that season are tied for his single-season best and his .394 OBP was his highest full-season total by far. After six years and two DUI charges, he left the Braves for the Dodgers. He signed a three year contract with the Dodgers and was solid there, but looked to be on his way to a return to Atlanta when his agent and him spurned the Braves following the 2008 season. A day after he was reportedly headed to Atlanta for $30M over three years, he abruptly changed course to stay with Los Angeles for $3M more. He would go on to win a ring for the 2011 Cardinals and after missing a season due to injury, played briefly for the Marlins last year before injuries ended his year after a week. Be interesting to see if he gets a shot in 2015.

8. Micah Bowie, lhp

An average starter for his first four seasons, Bowie turned it around in 1998, posting a 3.48 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. It turned him not only into a real prospect in what was a loaded system, but a guy many teams were interested in acquiring. Bowie began 1999 with Richmond and continued to show improvement, striking out over a batter an inning and keeping his WHIP around 1.00. That got him to The Show in late July for a three-game cameo before getting moved to the Chicago Cubs in a move that brought SS Jose Hernandez and the previously mentioned Mulholland to Atlanta. Bowie was woeful in 11 starts with the Cubs after the trade, yielding a 9.96 ERA along the way. After a 2000 season spent in the minors, the Cubs cut the lefty and the A's came calling. He was solid enough down the stetch in 2002 and the A's had enough concerns in the pen for Bowie to make their postseason roster despite only pitching in 12 games that year. He even pitched the final inning and a third of Game 4 of the ALDS, a game started and lost by our pal Tim Hudson in a 11-2 decision. Bowie would go to pitch for both the Nationals and Rockies, though neither experience proved successful. His career came to a close after the 2008 season.

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

Helms attempted a steal 15 times in his career. He was successful just three times. Ouch.

10. Marcus Giles, 2b - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 2000 (3rd), 2001 (3rd)

The baby brother of Brian Giles, Marcus had a monster season in 1998 for Macon, slashing .329/.433/.636 with 37 homers. There's no easy way to look up SALLY records, which is ridiculous, but I do know that Russell Branyan hit 40 in 1996. Giles wouldn't approach such lofty numbers again, but remained super productive leading to a call-up in 2001. He would famously hit an eighth inning Grand Slam on May 15th to lead the Braves to come-from-behind 5-3 win and get demoted two days later. It wasn't until July that he came up to stay. After a down year in 2002, Giles exploded in 2003, hitting 49 doubles and 21 homers while posting a .917 OPS. His numbers remained good after that, but it went down hill real quick leading to one season with the Padres in 2007 where he simply struggled and OPS'd a career-worst .621. After failing to make the Rockies in 2008, his career was over.

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