The Atlanta Braves had quite the farm system in the 1990s. Starting in 1992 and spanning to 1997, either Chipper Jones or Andruw Jones occupied the top spot on the farm. Three times — Chipper Jones in 1993 and Andruw in 1996 and 1997 — they were the top prospect in all of Major League Baseball.
Over two decades later, we think they turned out pretty darn good.
We continue our look back at Braves prospects of yesteryear. Thus far, we’ve looked at two — Jose Peraza and Tyrell Jenkins — whose career paths didn’t go quite as well as expected. Today, we turn our attention to a pair of Braves all-time greats.
Chipper Jones, the “disappointment” from Jacksonville
Larry Wayne Jones grew up in Florida playing primarily shortstop and making waves as one of the best draft prospects in the nation. He spent his time at The Bolles School in Jacksonville as a much-viewed athlete. Luke Wrenn, a Mariners scout, said he was a must-take at the sixth overall pick in the 1990 draft after one viewing in March of 1990, claiming Jones had all the tools of a star.
The Mariners never had the chance. The Braves swooped in and made Chipper the top overall pick and made his Gulf Coast League debut that same season at the age of 18. That’s when a Chicago White Sox scout now famously coined Jones a “disappointment”, “slap-hitter” and having “(2) average tools”.
The climb began, and at age 19 in Macon, Chipper went off hitting .326 with a .925 OPS with 50 extra base hits, 104 runs scored and 98 RBI in 136 games. Entering the 1992 season, Chipper was the fourth-best prospect in the game per Baseball America and after reaching Double-A that same season, he entered 1993 the No. 1 prospect in MLB.
Of course, Atlanta was ready that same 1993 season and in three big league plate appearances, Jones registered three hits. The Braves were suddenly a power again. They had the best prospect in the game ready to take off, but alas... we all had to wait. Jones tore his ACL in the spring of 1994 and his rookie year would be put on hold.
Turned out it was worth the wait. Chipper hit .265 with a .803 OPS, 22 doubles, 23 home runs, 87 runs scored and 86 RBI, the latter two best among all rookies. He tallied 20 hits, three home runs and eight RBI that postseason and the Braves won the World Series.
A star was born. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Some of those accolades?
- Finished in the top 10 of NL MVP voting six times
- Recorded the last hit at Fulton County Stadium and the first hit at Turner Field
- Won the 1999 NL MVP with a silly .319/.441/.633 stat line, 116 runs scored, 45 home runs, 110 RBI and walked more than he struck out (94:126), the first player ever to put up numbers as such in the same season
- Became Atlanta Braves’ all-time RBI leader in 2006 (1,144) and hits leader (1,902) in 2006 season
- A late-career surge saw him lead the NL in OPS (1.029) at age 35 and lead the entire MLB in hitting and on-base percentage (.364, .470 respectively) at age 36
- Finished with a .401 OBP making him the second switch-hitter, joining Mickey Mantle, with a career .400 OBP at the time of his retirement
And that’s just a few. Chipper was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2018, playing all 19 seasons with the very same team that drafted him, a feat impressive in this day and age in its own right.
Andruw Jones, the teenage superstar
The “other” Jones took the world by storm on baseball’s biggest stage as a 19-year-old and didn’t slow down during his time in Atlanta. But let’s pump the brakes and circle back to where it began.
Andruw was signed out of Curaçao in July of 1993 at the ripe old age of 16. Rumor has it that Jones was a man amongst boys — and even men — in his early teen years, said to have hit 400-foot bombs before being able to drive a car. The Braves struck gold and wasted little time moving him up the ladder.
The 6-1, 185 gifted athlete with the renowned arm was in the Appalachian League by the end of his 1994 debut season. As a 17-year-old against older pitching, Jones hit .336 with a .832 OPS in 36 games. The following season in the South Atlantic League — again one of the youngest in the league at just 18 — Jones exploded.
He homered in his first at bat and finished with 25 of them to go along with 100 RBI and a league-best 56 stolen bases. He was named the minor league player of the year and heading into the 1996 season, he was Baseball America’s top prospect with one scout saying he was “the best minor leaguer I’ve seen all summer” and that he would “trade for this guy in a heartbeat”.
Jones made three levels of minor league baseball look like a joke in 1996 as a 19-year-old and by August, he was a big leaguer. It took Jones less than three years to enter the Braves’ lineup and he wouldn’t leave. But it wasn’t August and September of 1996 that caught the world’s attention. It was October. He belted two home runs in his first two at bats of the World Series at Yankees Stadium, the youngest player to ever homer in the Fall Classic and second to do so in his first two at bats. He finished the ‘96 Series hitting .400... as a 19-year-old... in his debut season.
Still considered a “rookie”, Jones entered 1997 the top prospect in baseball, but everyone knew it was a formality. Jones started as the right-fielder for the 1997 season, but by 1998, he was roaming his familiar center field where he won the first of 10-straight gold gloves.
Young Andruw certainly didn’t disappoint. From 1998 to 2007, he never hit less than 25 home runs, leading the league with 51 in 2005, belting 41 the following season and hitting 34 or more dingers every year from 2000-2003. He was as gifted an athlete as there was for more than a decade, seemingly saving as many runs as he created becoming known as a vacuum where baseballs went to die in centerfield. He certainly had trouble hitting the ball regularly and had some run-ins with Bobby Cox, but the Braves had a special player in the lineup.
Jones finished his career — one that saw him play a whopping 12 games at Triple-A before his call up — with a .823 OPS, a 111 wRC+, 67 fWAR, 434 home runs and one of the biggest Hall of Fame snubs in recent history (yeah, I said it). He wasn’t the perfect player by any means, Jones always struggled with contact and keeping the strikeouts down, but he was arguably the best centerfielder for a decade.
Either way you cut it, the Braves had a historic run in the 1990s and early 2000s, and the Jones boys were right at the heart of it. They were certainly two prospects the rankings got right.