Monday, January 12, 2015

Reviewing BA's Top Ten: 2005

As we all know, Atlanta's 2005 team was the year of the Baby Braves, a group of young and talented individuals with the potential to not only become the faces of the Braves, but also lead them to their first title since 1995. However, within a handful of years, only one player was still running strong for the Braves. In today's look back at Baseball America's Top Ten, we revisit a list which included seven individuals who played on that 2005 major league club. We should note that with the level of turnover due to so many graduating to the majors, the 2006 list would include just three repeats from previous lists.

If you'd like to take a look at previous versions of this series, click here.

Atlanta's Top Ten Prospects for 2005 according to Baseball America
1. Jeff Francoeur, rf - BA Top 100: #14 - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 2003 (6th), 2004 (2nd)
2. Andy Marte, 3b - BA Top 100: #9 - Other Years: 2003 (3rd), 2004 (1st), 2006 (1st)
3. Brian McCann, c - BA Top 100: #44 - Other Years: 2004 (8th)
4. Kyle Davies, rhp - BA Top 100: #53 - Other Years: 2004 (9th)
5. Anthony Lerew, rhp - BA Top 100: #99 - Other Years: 2004 (10th), 2006 (5th)
6. Jake Stevens, lhp - BA Top 100: #92
7. Luis Hernandez, 2b/ss
8. Kelly Johnson, ss - Other Years: 2002 (3rd)
9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c - Other Years: 2006 (2nd), 2007 (1st)
10. Blaine Boyer, lhp

Prospect Spotlight
While McCann didn't have the same prospect hype that Francoeur and Marte did, he became, by far, the best player out of this class and one thing always stood out to me, compared to Francoeur. The two arrived at about the same time, were best friends, and hometown boys. It was only natural for the two to be compared and tied together for their time in Atlanta. McCann was considered a great prospect...for a catcher. Francoeur was the sure thing. He was the guy on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was the dude with the endorsements. McCann was good, but Francoeur was finally going to be the guy who took the torch from Chipper Jones. Instead, it was McCann. Why? And why did I call it early in their careers?

I looked at something pretty simple, but telling. Francoeur was a mega prospect despite not having the mega numbers. In fact, he had appeared to stagnant. After obliterating the Appalachian League following his selection in 2002, Francoeur OPS'd .769 and .796 the following two seasons. Now, it was worth noting that he was young for the levels, but he wasn't showing improvement. in fact, his plate discipline regressed. I wondered what everyone was seeing. Now, he did get off to a nice start with Mississippi and of course, he took off in Atlanta after being promoted, but he struggled down the stretch and in 2006. Conversely, McCann improved in the minors. After OPSing .625 in the Gulf Coast League, he would OPS .791, .831, and .834 the following three seasons while climbing to Mississippi. I felt at the time, McCann was the better prospect.

As McCann is paid a small country's GDP to play catcher in the Bronx and Francoeur is left hoping to impress someone this spring, I guess this was one of the few I was very right about. Now, Tommy Hanson and Kelly Johnson...that's another story.

Biggest Bust
While it would be easy to pile on Francoeur and especially Marte, I'm looking at number six, Jake Stevens. Trivia question. What did the Braves get as part of compensation for losing future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine to the Mets? A supplemental first rounder and a New York's third round pick. With the former, they selected Luis Atilano, a guy who amounted to little. With the latter, and the 79th overall pick, they took Stevens, a high school pitcher out of Cape Coral, Florida. He wouldn't amount to much as we came to find out either.

But in 2005, as this list showed, we had hope. Stevens had dominated the Gulf Coast League and mowed down the South Atlantic League after being drafted. As a 19 year-old, playing very young for the level, Stevens appeared in 27 games for Rome in 2004, throwing 135 innings with 140 K's and a 1.03 WHIP. He kept the ball in the yard and didn't walk many. The expectations were naturally pretty high.

Unfortunately, he was his own worst enemy. A weight problem began to surface and Stevens ERA ballooned with his waist size. 4.93 in 2005 with the Pelicans and 5.22 the following year where he split the season with both of Atlanta's A-level teams. A third try to pitch well at Myrtle Beach followed in 2007 and he struggled yet again. He did appear in a spot appearance for Richmond that year, throwing 4.2 ING (I imagine it was following a rehab appearance). After the season, the Braves cut ties with their former third rounder. He retired briefly before shedding the weight and getting back into the game with the Orioles, Giants, and Twins from 2009-11, but never stayed long in his quest to become a left-handed reliever. After a year in the Mexican League, Stevens saw his career come to close. No real idea what has happened to him since.

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