Have you always wondered what happened to the top prospects in the Atlanta Braves system through the years? Well if so this new series will take a look at the career outcomes of players who made the Braves top prospect list every five years, dating back 35 years.
Why 35 years? That’s because you can find individual team Top 10 prospect lists dating as far back as 1983. Since we are sticking with years in fives to avoid covering the same players multiple times during the series, 1987, is the first multiple of five to be covered.
To keep things in a similar format, only one ranking source will be used. That means with Battery Power prospect lists not being a thing 35 years ago, the only source that covers the entire timeline would be Baseball America, whose rankings can be found on The Baseball Cube website.
After already looking at the Top 10 from 1987, we today go back 25 years ago and look at the 1992 list.
10. Vince Moore, OF
Showing you just how different prospect lists were 30 years ago, the Braves had a list with seven guys making the BA Top 100 prospect list and despite that a fifth round pick made the team’s Top 10 list.
Vince Moore was drafted out of a Texas high school in the fifth round in 1991 and went on to hit .400 over 110 at bats in the Gulf Coast League before looking a little more human over his final 120 at bats up in the Sally League. It was a debut not all that unlike Michael Harris.
Moore went on to struggle repeating the Sally in 1992, but got off to a quality start to his 1993 season in High A before being sent to the Padres as part of the Fred McGriff deal. Unfortunately for him he never found the success of 1993 again, and struggled significantly in 1994 before kicking around back in High A for a couple years before being out of affiliated baseball following the 1997 season, only playing a small number of games at Double A.
9. Pokey Robinson, RHP
Listed some places as Pokey Robinson but others as Napoleon or Nap, this former Dodgers 34th round pick from the 1988 MLB Draft became a Brave through the Rule 5 Draft after the 1990 season and saw a very good 1991 season in Double A.
Robinson followed that up with a good 1992 in Triple A, but wasn’t good early in the 1993 season and went to Cleveland during the year and wouldn’t pitch in another pro game following the season.
The Columbus State product never really saw the heights he reached in 1988 as a Dodger in the GCL, topping out in the upper minors and fading out of the game quickly.
8. Melvin Nieves, OF
An international signing out of Puerto Rico, Melvin Nieves is best known for being the highly regarded piece that acted as the centerpiece in the Fred McGriff trade with the Padres in 1993.
Coming into 1992, Nieves had a history of solid production but only a half season in High A in 1991, so he wasn’t a big time prospect quite yet. It was his strong 1992, where he reached Double A in-season that vaulted him up prospect lists and actually got him a brief cup of coffee in Atlanta.
Nieves didn’t do a ton for the Padres, playing in 98 of his 127 games with the team in his final year there in 1995. He would go on to have his best years in Detroit, including a .807 OPS and 24 homers in 1996.
He would follow those two solid years in Detroit with a brief stint in Cincinnati, and ended his career as a .231/.314/.438 hitter with 63 homers over 1392 plate appearances over parts of seven seasons.
7. Keith Mitchell, OF
A fourth round pick in the 1987 MLB Draft out of a California high school, Keith Mitchell had a breakout season in High A in 1990. He spent most of the following year in Double A before a late season promotion to Triple A and got a late season look in Atlanta where he posted an .801 OPS over 74 plate appearances.
That was enough to get him on the backend of the Baseball America Top 100 list that year since he had a successful season in the upper levels of the minors and some big league success. Mitchell couldn’t quite replicate that success going forward, posting an OPS below .700 in each of the next two seasons and not seeing the big leagues again until signing as a free agent with the Mariners in 1994.
Overall, Mitchell had 279 career big league plate appearances, including the 48 with the Braves in 1991, a career high 149 with the 1994 Mariners, then small handfuls with the Reds in 1996 and Red Sox in 1998. He would go on to hit .260/.353/.380 with eight homers and four steals as a big leaguer. He would stay regularly employed in affiliated ball through 1999, and made a brief return in 2003 with the Reds as a 33-year old.
6. Javy Lopez, C
Javy Lopez was a highly regarded prospect coming into 1992, but still hadn’t become top prospect Javy Lopez just yet. After signing with the Braves out of Puerto Rico and playing in the organization back in 1988, Lopez hadn’t managed an OPS higher than .695 for a season and still hadn’t gone above High A. Yet he was still ranked towards the bottom half of the Top 100 prospects in the game according to Baseball America.
They were right about Lopez, as he had his offensive breakout in 1992 in Double A and would make his debut in Atlanta later that year.
It’s safe to say they couldn’t have done better seeing his success, as Lopez finished his career as a three-time All Star, Silver Slugger, NLCS MVP, and 1995 World Series champion who hit .287/.337/.491 with 260 homers over 15 big league seasons, including his first 12 with the Braves.
While Lopez had a big first year as an Oriole after leaving as a free agent, he was 33 years old that year and his body began to give in following that season. Still he was among the best offensive catchers in his generation and a consistent threat in the middle of some very good Braves lineups.
5. David Nied, RHP
This list is a year before the hype around David Nied was at its peak. The former 14th round pick from a Texas high school in 1987 broke out in 1991 with a dominant start to the season in High-A before finishing well in Double-A and ending the season as the No. 56 prospect in the game according to Baseball America.
Neid was very good in Triple-A in 92 and then made six appearances, including a pair of starts, with the Braves that were excellent. Nied posted a 1.17 ERA and 0.65 WHIP over 23 innings.
However, when the year was done the Braves couldn’t afford to protect him and the Rockies made him the first pick in the expansion draft, landing one of the top pitching prospects in the game and potentially being what killed Nied’s career.
Nied struggled in Colorado in 1993 and 1994, before being just awful in brief opportunities in 1995 and 1996 and was done completely following the 1996 season.
You can’t help but wonder what may have happened with Nied had he not had to pitch in the thin air of Denver and had instead gotten the opportunity to remain with Leo Mazzone and the Braves.
4. Mike Kelly, OF
This should tell you how strong the Braves system was going into 1992, as Mike Kelly was the second overall pick out of Arizona State in the 1991 MLB Draft behind just Brien Taylor and held his own that summer in High A. Yet he had three guys in his own system ranked higher than he was.
Kelly would go on to have some good but not great years in the Braves system while being aggressively pushed up the ladder, eventually making his big league debut in 1994 and looking very promising with a .806 OPS in 80 plate appearances.
However, he would struggle badly in 1995 and ahead of 1996 was sent to the Reds for relievers Ray King and Chad Fox. He never quite amounted to much in Cincy either, beyond his best line of a .881 OPS and six homers over 151 plate appearances in 1997. For his career he ended up a .241/.300/.421 hitter with 22 homers in parts of six big league seasons, totaling 749 plate appearances.
Kelly was a bust himself, though not quite to the same level as Brien Taylor, and I’m sure you can only dream about if the Braves had used this pick on Manny Ramirez.
3. Mark Wohlers, RHP
An eighth-round pick out of a Massachusetts high school in 1988, Mark Wohlers was a rarity in that he was a Top 15 prospect in the game heading into 1992 but as a pure reliever.
Wohlers began his professional career as a starting pitcher but quickly converted to the bullpen. He turned in a dominant season out of the pen in 91 which he split between Double and Triple totaling an 0.78 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 57 2/3 innings with a K/9 of 10.3.
I think everyone knows the rest of the story, 1995 World Series winner, 1996 All Star, and one of the best closers in the game from 1995-1997 before he lost his command in 1998 and it stayed gone in 1999 before being sent in a troubled reliever swap to the Reds that year.
Wohlers would regain some of his command again in 2000, and had a solid 2001 and decent 2002, but never reached his previous heights.
For his career, Wohlers went 39-29 with a 3.97 ERA and 1.38 WHIP to go with 9.1 K/9 and 119 saves. Still he will always be fondly remembered by Braves fans for his run between 1995-1997.
2. Ryan Klesko, 1B
Ryan Klesko was a fifth-round draft pick out of high school in 1989 who broke out in 1990 and entered 1991 as the No. 3 prospect in the game. He went on to have a strong, but not quite elite year in 1991 and was coming into 1992 as the No. 8 prospect.
Klesko would make his Braves debut late in 1992, but didn’t come up on a more regular basis until 1994. Klesko would go on to have immediate success, finding a quick role with the 1994 Braves and having very strong years in 1995 and 1996.
The 1995 World Series champ and 2001 All Star would go on to play 16 years in the big leagues, hitting .279/.370/.500 with 278 homers and 987 RBI. Of course he was dealt from the Braves alongside Bret Boone in 2000 in a deal that brought Reggie Sanders, Wally Joyner, and Quilvio Veras to Atlanta.
Klesko didn’t quite reach superstardom, but had but had a 34 homer, 93 RBI year in Atlanta and a 30 homer, 113 RBI year with 23 steals in San Diego.
- Chipper Jones, SS
The first overall pick in the 1990 MLB Draft, Chipper Jones struggled in the GCL that summer but was coming off a .925 OPS in Low A in 1991 to get him ranked as the No. 4 prospect in baseball heading into 1992.
Jones continued to progress in High A and Double A in 1992 to earn the label of top prospect in baseball entering 1993. He would have a strong year in Triple-A and close out the year appearing in eight games for Atlanta. He was set to come into 1994 as the No. 2 prospect in baseball and likely to take over full time as a Brave that season, but a knee injury ended his year before it started.
Chipper’s true first shot was delayed until 1995, and he didn’t disappoint. A controversial runner-up selection for the 1995 Rookie of the Year (Hideo Nomo won) would just go on to be the start of his greatness. Jones was an eight-time All Star, two times a Silver Slugger, a 1999 MVP, 2008 NL batting champ, and 1995 World Series winner before going on to the Hall of Fame.
Chipper would hit .303/.401/.528 with 468 homers over his 19 season career- all with the Atlanta Braves. One of the all time faces of the team, he goes down among the best switch hitters ever to play the sport.