Former Top Prospect – Chipper Jones – @realCJ10 @braves
As the career of Chipper Jones comes to a close, it is amazing to look back at how he went from a consolation price as the #1 pick in the draft to a first ballot Hall of Famer.
While it is easy to look back at the 1990 MLB draft and say “of course Chipper was the #1 pick,” Jones was not the top prospect in the draft, that honor went to Todd Van Poppel, who told the Atlanta Braves not to pick him, as he would go to college at the University of Texas rather than sign with the Braves. Instead the Braves went the quasi-local route, taking Jacksonville, Florida-native shortstop with the first pick. After signing for a $275,000 bonus (Van Poppel got $1.4 million from the A’s, who took him with the 14th pick), Jones was assigned to the Rookie League GCL Braves, where he proceeded to not hit, putting up a 229/321/271 line across 164 PA while getting hit by the pitch six times, setting a career high (which is a testament to the poor command of young pitchers more than anything else). Baseball America was not deterred by his poor performance and ranked Jones the #49 prospect in baseball, between Jeff Juden and Robbie Beckett (Van Poppel was #1, with fellow Braves prospect Ryan Klesko as #3).
Undeterred by his slow start, the Braves sent Jones to the full season A Macon Braves of the South Atlantic League. Jones terrorized Sally League pitchers, putting up a 326/407/518 line with 24 doubles, 11 triples, 15 home runs, and 40 stolen bases. More amazingly, Jones walked 69 times with 70 strikeouts – nearly a 1:1 ratio. As a result, Jones jumped up the prospect rankings, as Baseball America ranked Jones the #4 prospect in baseball, behind only Brien Taylor (the 1991 #1 pick), Van Poppel, and Roger Salkeld. The #10 prospect was an undersized righty in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Pedro Martinez.
To start 1992, Jones was assigned to play for the high A Durham Bulls of the Carolina League, where he put up a 277/353/413 line across 70 games, before being promoted to the AA Greenville Braves of the Southern League. Jones caught fire in Greenville, putting up a 346/367/594 line with 17 doubles, 11 triples, and nine home runs in 67 games. For the season, the 20-year old Jones hit 311/360/504 with 39 doubles, 12 triples, and 13 home runs across two levels. After the season, Baseball America ranked Jones the #1 prospect in baseball, ahead of Brien Taylor (#2), Cliff Floyd (#3), Carlos Delgado (#4 – as a catcher), and Tim Salmon (#5). Van Poppel dropped to #7 in the new ranking as his star began to wane, while one of the hottest prospects was a corner outfielder in the Cleveland Indians’ organization named Manny Ramirez.
In 1993, Jones was assigned to the AAA Richmond Braves of the International League, and he picked up where he left off in 1992, putting up a 325/387/500 line while hitting 31 doubles, 12 triples, and 13 home runs. Jones earned a September cup of coffee, hitting a robust 667/750/1000 across four plate appearances (one single, one double, one walk, and one strikeout) as a 21-year old. After the season, Jones was picked as the #2 prospect in baseball, as Cliff Floyd passed him on the strength of a 329/417/600 season year in AA.
After Braves’ starting left fielder Ron Gant broke his leg in an off-season dirt bike accident, Jones was expected to compete to start in left field, but tore the ACL in his left knee in spring training and missed the entire 1994 season. Despite this setback, Jones was still the #3 prospect in baseball for 1995, with only Alex Rodriguez (#1) and Ruben Rivera (#2) ahead of him, and Derek Jeter (#4) directly behind him. Jones opened the season as the Braves starting third baseman and never looked back, putting up a 265/353/450 line (OPS+ 108) while coming in second place in the NL Rookie of the Year vote behind Hideo Nomo en route to hitting 389/450/833 in the NLDS win over the Colorado Rockies, 438/526/625 in the NLCS victory over the Cincinnati Reds, and 286/385/429 in the World Series win over the Cleveland Indians.
From there, Jones became a true middle of the order hitter for the next 15 years, putting up a 314/411/555 line with an OPS+ of 148 from 1996-2008, which includes an MVP in 1999, leading the league in OPS (1029) and OPS+ (165) in 2007, and batting average (.364) and OBP (.470) in 2008. After three sub-par seasons (well, for Jones, most players would love to put up OPS+’s of 117, 120, and 121), Jones is going out with a flourish in 2012, with a 301/381/500 line through August 28rd.
While he will never be known as a great defender, Jones became a sure-handed defender at third base who could fill in a shortstop in a pinch, though he was banished to left field for two seasons.
But how will Chipper Jones be remembered? Will he be remembered as a middle of the order threat that was never able to win that second World Series ring? Will he be remembered as the guy who tortured the Mets with a career 314/410/553 line (though in my head it seems like his line was actually 400/600/1000) or as the “cheap” #1 overall pick that worked? In the end, most people are unaware that Jones was not the top prospect in the 1990 draft and view Jones as guy who just went out there and played as much as he could, and doing pretty well when it counted, putting up a 288/411/459 line in the post season.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.