John Schuerholz’s final year as general manager started with a nice cadre of prospects in the minors despite the Baby Braves of 2005 remaining a significant part of the roster. The Braves placed a trio of players in the Top 100, but they would deal all three in the ill-advised Mark Teixeira trade. Despite that, five of the players in addition to one of the youngsters that was sent to Texas to acquire Teix made it to the majors, including three “graduates,” or players that were in the majors long enough to lose their rookie status.
See the previous versions of this list.
Atlanta’s Top Ten Prospects for 2007 according to Baseball America
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c – BA Top 100: #36 – Other Years in Braves Top 10: 2005 (8th), 2006 (2)
- Elvis Andrus, ss – BA Top 100: #65 – Other Years: 2006 (3rd)
- Matt Harrison, lhp – BA Top 100: #90
- Brandon Jones, of – Other Years: 2006 (8th), 2008 (4th)
- Van Pope, 3b
- Eric Campbell, 3b – Other Years: 2006 (9th)
- Scott Thorman, 1b – Other Years: 2003 (8th)
- Jo-Jo Reyes, lhp
- Joey Devine, rhp – Other Years: 2006 (6th)
- Yunel Escobar, ss – Other Years: 2006 (4th)
The great thing about keeping an eye on the minor league system is that when a player’s name pops up for whatever reason, it puts memories in your head. I wrote something related to this when Jamie Romak got to the majors last season. More often than not, if you remember a player from his minor league career, it was only because he played sparingly in the majors or never even got there. With that in mind, when I saw Van Pope’s name pop up in today’s list, it immediately stood out. He went from defense-first third baseman to a promising youngster with power and discipline to a failure of a prospect. And then, just to make us remember him a bit more, he became a pitcher. Well done, Van Pope.
A fifth round selection in 2004 from Meridian Community College in Mississippi, Pope’s glove almost immediately made him a prospect to watch. He had the arm to play the hot corner plus range and soft hands. There was a time that Pope entered the conversation as an eventual heir to Chipper Jones. Of course, so did a lot of names. Pope never got his OPS over .800, but in 2006 with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, he banged out 123 hits and 201 total bases on his way to .263/.353/.430 plus 15 homeruns. That kind of production pared with his glove was enough to get him a Top 5 placement on this list.
Unfortunately, he would falter once he joined the Mississippi Braves the next year and over the next three seasons, he hit one fewer homerun than he did in all of 2006. While the defense was still there, you have to hit at least some. Just ask Joe Leonard. A minor league free agent after 2009, the Braves reached out to Pope and invited him back, but only if he came back to the Braves as a pitcher. He had been a closer in college and there was hope the Braves could still get value for their fifth rounder who appeared to lack the ability to hit like a corner infielder.
He returned to Myrtle Beach to open 2010. He struggled early, but strung together four consecutive scoreless appearances between May 8th and 20th. However, there was a catch. He had walked six to go with just one strikeout. That left him with a 6.35 ERA and 16 walks to just five K’s in 11.1 ING. The Braves felt the experiment had run its course and released Pope in late May, saying adiós for good. Pope would play two seasons of independent baseball, but that was it. I don’t have much information on Pope since then, but he did appear in last season’s Rome Braves Alumni Event.
Not to be confused with the Mets player of the same name, Campbell was picked two rounds ahead of Pope in 2004 out of Fort Branch, Indiana. Campbell is another player whose name makes me remember his time with the Braves minor league system. Unlike Pope, it’s a negative remembrance.
Campbell quickly became a tremendous offensive asset, destroying the Appalachian League in 2005 with a 1.016 OPS and 18 homers, four more than the nearest player while also tying the league record for homeruns until it was broken in 2011. Campbell wasn’t the defender Pope was and some wondered if he really had a position, hurting his prospect status, but nobody doubted his bat. He posted a .852 OPS in the following season with Rome with 22 homers, showing that his power was for real. After the season, he was sent to play in the Hawaiian Winter League, but his time in paradise was cut short for disciplinary reasons. Unfortunately, Campbell’s attitude problems and penchant for finding trouble wouldn’t end there. After a 2007 season with Myrtle Beach where he struggled, he was suspended for the remainder of the season in late August for “unspecified disciplinary reasons.” The suspension would either carry over into the next year or he swas suspended again as he started the year late. Regardless, when he got back onto the field, he rediscovered his power stroke, belting 19 homers in 88 games for the Pelicans to earn a promotion to Mississippi for 2009. There…he sucked and nearly two years after having his 2007 season cut short by suspension, Campbell was cut by the Braves. It was called a normal player release.
Campbell would play for three more seasons, logging time in both affiliated and un-affiliated ball. Both the Reds and Mariners gave him a look, but he never made it to AAA. Campbell is a cautionary tale on how you can ruin your career if you don’t grow up quickly.