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.
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Why they give the minor league
pitcher a bat?
The 2000 Myrtle Beach Pelicans had the worst offense in the Carolina League, but still finished with the most wins because of an amazing pitching staff. In 140 games, the Pelicans picked up shutouts in 27 of them, or 19%, or basically once every five games. Wilmington finished second with 12. The Pelicans gave up less than a thousand hits, which is ridiculous since 1100 was the next lowest amount. They walked 382 batters (or a rate of 2.9 per nine). In the Carolina League. With a pitching staff the weighted average age of 22.1, which was the youngest in the Carolina League despite 30 year-old Steve Avery making making seven starts as he tried to work his way back to the majors.
Despite how awesome the staff was, only two pitchers would go on to pitch in a hundred major league ballgames – Horacio Ramirez and Matt Belisle, who was the last person profiled in this series. Christian Parra, who was the best pitcher in the league that year, never made it beyond AA. Just goes to show you that pitching in an environment that benefits the pitcher tells us little about the ability of those pitchers.
Matt McClendon was a member of that staff, but only briefly. After a half-dozen starts, a 1.59 ERA, and over a strikeout an inning to go with 1.8 BB/9, McClendon was bumped up to Greenville. His numbers there were not nearly as impressive, though Baseball America still ranked him #51 in their Top 100 and the best prospect in the system not named Wilson Betemit. Oops.
A first rounder out of Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando in 1996 by the Reds, McClendon went to the University of Florida. It would be a bit of a mistake as three years later, he wasn’t selected until the fifth round when the Braves came calling. After signing, McClendon would rank as the #10th best prospect in the New York-Penn League. Yeah, you probably don’t remember that the Braves used to have a team up there, do ya? McClendon had great velocity and touched 96 mph that summer.
After his big 2000 season, McClendon looked like he might be the next big pitcher the Braves were trying to produce as they looked toward the post-Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine era. With lefty Damian Moss and righty Jason Marquis, along with the previously mentioned Belisle, the Braves looked stacked. As surprising as McClendon’s addition in the Top 100 may have been, his selection by the Braves may have been a bigger surprise. The Braves had made a practice of selecting high school pitchers early, not college guys. He was the only college player picked by the Braves in 1999 in the first 11 rounds and as a fifth rounder, McClendon was the highest selected college player since University of San Francisco righty Joe Nelson was picked in the ’96 fourth round.
But as 2001 began, the Braves had high expectations for McClendon. Things quickly unraveled, though. Injuries and just awful play marred his season as he stunk up ten starts in Richmond and 10 other games, including two starts, while pitching for Myrtle Beach and Greenville. Overall, he finished with a 7.27 ERA in 73 innings with 57 walks and 65 K’s. The Braves decided that the bullpen was his best chance to reclaim glory. He had the hard velocity, after all. However, 2002 was another rough go as he struggled terribly with his control. In 17.2 ING back with the Pelicans, he walked 28.
After missing most of 2003 due to injury, he came back for a final try in 2004. The hope was that his April would begin like his 2000 April had and a strong run with the Pelicans would get him promoted back up the chain. It was not to be. His 3.26 ERA wasn’t too bad, but his stikeouts were MIA and with unimpressive scouting reports coming in, the Braves released the righty before June. His career was over.
McClendon retired and went back to school, enrolling in the University of Texas School of Law. After graduation, he became an associate at Locke Lord, a gigantic firm with headquarters in Dallas. After nearly two years there, he returned to the world of sports by becoming an attorney for the Scott Boras Corporation in 2009, a position he currently retains.