During the season, Sundays are set aside to take a look at a prospect at random, but with the minor league season over, I wasn’t sure what to do for my Sunday article until this nugget of an idea came my way. How about we look at players who ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 while part of the Braves’ organization, yet never appeared for the Braves? Over the next few months, I’ll take a look at the prospects that were traded or simply faded away and just to keep up with my theme, I randomized the players.
Two picks after the Reds selected Adam Dunn in the 1998 draft, the Braves took Matt Belisle, a right-hander out of McCallum High School in Austin, Texas. The Braves got the pick as a result of Greg Myers signing with the Padres. Belisle was the first pick the Braves had that year and their only pick out of the first overall 100 selections. He would also become the best major leaguer selected from the 49 players picked that year. #2? Ryan Langerhans picked in the third round. What a rough year.
|2000 Spring Training|
Scott Halleran | Getty Images
Belisle wouldn’t sign until the rookie season was almost over so he made his debut with the 1999 Danville Braves. It was an underwhelming effort, but Belisle had a big sophomore season. With Macon, he kept his WHIP under 1 and had 97 K’s to go with 18 walks in 102.1 ING. That kind of absurd control would remain a hallmark of his ability. Around his 20th birthday, Belisle was promoted to Myrtle Beach where he remained on fire. For the year, the durable right-hander tossed 181 innings and finished with a 2.83 ERA. Baseball America took notice and ranked him #28th after the year.
Remember that I said he was durable? Well, that typically was true, but he would miss all of 2001 with injury. Baseball America ranked him #96 entering 2002, but he would struggle with Greenville. While his control only took a minor stumble, his strikeouts saw a decline of over a K an inning. He was getting the ball up more and without the velocity to get away it, he surrendered a team-high 18 homeruns. Returning for another go in 2003, Belisle got the homer part of the equation under control, but the rest of his game continued to lag behind the brilliant numbers he had posted in 2000. Nevertheless, Atlanta promoted him to Richmond in July. More so than anything, it may have been a move to showcase the righty. He was decent in 20 innings with the R-Braves over three starts and walked nobody. On August 14, two days after the Braves had acquired Kent Mercker, Belisle was announced as the player heading to the Reds to complete the deal.
Belisle would make four starts for Louisville before being promoted for six games out of the pen in the majors. In his first outing on September 7, 2003 against the Cards, Belisle gave up his first run and home run on a 1-1 pitch to future manager, Mike Matheny. Overall, he would give up five runs in 8.2 innings.
After not making the Reds in 2004, Belisle spent the year suffering through an ugly season with Louisville where his ERA was 5.26. He would bounce back to spend all of the following year in the majors where he started 5 of 60 games. The results weren’t all that pretty and some back trouble led him to only pitch 30 games in the majors in 2006. The Reds still didn’t know how to use Belisle and tried him again as a starter in 2007 and unsurprisingly, it was an ugly 5.32 ERA year. One more year with injuries and poor play as a starter convinced the Reds to non-tender him after the ’08 campaign.
It would be the best thing for Belisle. He landed in Colorado and after a year of working to develop his pitches, he finally found major league success in his age-30 season during the 2010 season. In 92 innings over 76 games, Belisle had nearly a K an inning, picked up only 11 unintentional walks, and magically kept his ERA under 3.00 in a city that punishes pitchers. It would be the beginning of a durable five years and while he never again was as excellent as he was in 2010, he was always a study relief option for the Rockies. In fact, from 2010-13, Belisle averaged 76 games, 69 innings, 12 unintentional passes, and a 2.92 FIP. He became a force in the pen for the Rockies, though you rarely heard about him.
Things took a turn toward mediocrity in 2014, though. In the final year of an extension he signed before the 2012 year, Belisle’s strikeouts dropped off the map and he struggled to avoid big innings. By the end of the year, his FIP was at 3.74 – nearly seventy points higher than it had been in any of his previous four years. He did log an emergency start on August 15, which was the first time he had started a game since 2008.
After the season, the Rockies waved goodbye to Belisle and he signed with the Cardinals. He would only appear in 34 games for the NL Central Champs, missing a big chunk of the season due to arm troubles. He returned in September, but wasn’t on the postseason roster. He did earn an ejection on September 18 when he threw at Anthony Rizzo in retaliation for Matt Holliday being hit. His manager, Matheny, the first player who ever homered off him in the majors, was likely the guy giving him the orders. While he finished the year with a 2.67 ERA, his best ERA in the majors, other metrics were a bit less impressed. His FIP/xFIP/SIERA was 3.64/4.52/4.21 – a far cry from his prime Rockies days.
Belisle has appeared in 558 games in the majors to this point and at 35, could continue his career for a few more years. Mercker was superb when the Braves picked him up in 2003 for Belisle. All in all, giving up a prospect who maxed out in his 30’s as a middle reliever for a LOOGY turned out not to be a big loss.
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