Monday, January 19, 2015

Reviewing BA's Top Ten: 2006

We continue our quest to review the last 15 years of Baseball America's Top Ten Prospects in the Braves system with the 2006 list, or as we might remember, the year after all of the Baby Braves arrived. A few of them made this list, though that didn't stop a wealth of turnover in the Top Ten with only three players who appeared in the rankings previously. Still, the Brave placed five prospects in the Top 100 and a pair in the Top 20. Unfortunately, they would only get one starting position player and briefly, a starting pitcher from this rankings. Oh, and one year of Mark Teixeira's prime. Yep, that's gonna be a big part of this list.

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

Atlanta's Top Ten Prospects for 2006 according to Baseball America

  1. Andy Marte, 3b - BA Top 100: #9 - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 2003 (3rd), 2004 (1st), 2005 (2nd)
  2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c - BA Top 100: #18 - Other Years: 2005 (8th), 2007 (65th)
  3. Elvis Andrus, ss - BA Top 100: #61 - Other Years: 2007 (2nd)
  4. Yunel Escobar, ss - Other Years: 2007 10th
  5. Anthony Lerew, rhp - BA Top 100: #93 - Other Years: 2004 (10th), 2005 (5th)
  6. Joey Devine, rhp - Other Years: 2007 (9th)
  7. Chuck James, lhp
  8. Brandon Jones, of - Other Years: 2007 (4th), 2008 (4th)
  9. Eric Campbell, 3b - Other Years: 2007 (6th)
  10. Beau Jones, lhp

Prospect Spotlight
It was only natural. At the forum I was cutting my teeth at and learning more and more about baseball (believe it was braves.net?), when Chuck James arrived on the scene as a minor league presence ahead of the 2006 season, the references to Chuck Norris was likely inevitable. Chuck James doesn't get cancer, cancer gets Chuck James. You know the deal. It almost overshadows that #36 was a bit of a prospect. It was a long road for James in that with his physical limitations withstanding, he also broke both of his wrists shortly before the 2002 draft doing what stupid kids do. Jump off the roof into a swimming pool...or at least, that was the goal. But not all of us can be Golden Gods.

The injury sent James to the 20th round where the Braves took a chance on him. He signed late and didn't play due to injury until 2003 when he dominated the Appalachian League with Danville. 2004 was more of the same (2.24 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 10.6 K/9), yet James continues to fly under the radar. In 2005, he finally demanded attention from not only us as fans, but Baseball America, cracking the Top 100 in the only year he even appeared in the Braves list. He opened the year with seven starts with Myrtle Beach, shined in sixteen sweet starts with Mississippi, and kept his WHIP under 1.00 with Richmond in a half-dozen games before wearing his fourth uniform of the year as he appeared in two games out of the pen for the big league club. His minor league numbers that season...2.12 ERA, 193 K's in 161.2 ING, and a 0.86 WHIP. So, yeah, we were ready for him to be a star.

And he was pretty decent in 2006. In 25 games, 18 starts, he sported a 3.78 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP, numbers that were reasonable for a rookie. However, a 5.14 FIP due in no small part to 20 homers in just 119 innings probably should have concerned us. But James, who worked in the offseason as a installer at Lowe's, was on a team whose pitching was getting just awful and James represented hope. 2007 dashed all hope as he posted a 4.24 ERA with a 5.48 FIP. He was who we probably should have thought he was. A guy who battles, but has no out pitch and subsequently, was not an impact prospect. Most troublesome was that he started 30 games, but only logged 161.1 ING. He was no longer Chuck Norris's cousin. He was Five Inning James.

James would struggle through injuries the following year and when he was on the mound, hitters destroyed many of his pitches. With James arbitration-eligible ahead of the 2009 season, the Braves felt he wasn't worth bringing back. He would miss 2009 before coming back with the Nationals organization for 66 minor league innings in 2010 where he returned to his former success. The following year, the Twins brought him aboard and turned him into a reliever. That got him back to the majors for eight games that year, but he still couldn't get major league hitters out. He tried to make the 2012 roster for the Mets, but they cut him and he retired soon after. Today, he has returned to the home construction field, working as a consultant for Window World, Inc. in Dallas, GA.

Biggest Bust
The Braves went all-in on Joey Devine and got nothing but heartache and Mark Kotsay for it. After Devine set a North Carolina State Wolfpac record for saves in a single season, the Braves made him the 27th overall selection of the 2005 draft. There was some good reason for optimism. Devine had filthy stuff and was considered as close to major league ready as possible. However...he was just a reliever. Obviously, I don't have access to the "Big Board," but the Braves passed on Colby Rasmus, Jed Lowrie, and Clay Buchholz (also first rounders) to get Devine. Again, to their credit, he did appear in the majors less than three months after being drafted. On the other hand, when he got to the majors - UGH!

There are good things to start off your career with and then, there are bad things. Devine had an absolute hellish beginning to his major league career. He got the call in the 13th inning against the visiting Padres hours after being called up on August 20th. With two outs and a runner on second, the Braves walked Brian Giles to get to Joe Randa. Devine couldn't find the strike zone and walked him unintentionally. Xavier Nady followed by sending one deep into the stratosphere. Three days later, with the Braves already down 4-0, Devine relieved the ineffective John Thomson with one out and two out and a runner on. A double, a walk, and a Jeromy Burnitz moonshot out of Wrigley and the Braves were down 8-0. No pitcher has ever began his career by surrendering Grand Slams in each of his first two appearances. Notably, Devine only surrendered three regular season homers in his career. Of course, he would also surrender a postseason homer. In the 18th inning. To Chris Burke. And I hate Chris Burke.

Devine would appear in 20 games with the Braves over the next two seasons, though he only logged 14.2 innings. The Braves sent Devine packing before the 2008 season to acquire the aforementioned Kotsay and Devine followed with the breakthrough season the Braves were counting on when they drafted him in the first round. He posted a 0.59 ERA in 45.2 ING. How good is that? Since 1912, when ERA became an official stat, no one has ever posted that low of an ERA in at least 45 innings. But his success was short-lived. Arm troubles kept him away from the A's for two years and ended a promising 2011 season prematurely. After another surgery and being non-tendered, Devine would retire with just 88 innings in the majors. I'm not sure what Devine has done since moving on, but sadly for what could be an awesome story, he's not this Joey Devine (Oh, and language...and he's not that funny).

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