Random Former Prospect Sunday – Bubba Nelson

Random Former Prospect Sunday – Bubba Nelson

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.

Unlike most on this list, Bubba Nelson never made it to the majors. For that matter, he was never able to solve the mystery of getting out AAA batters. It was a quick fall for a guy who was on the cusp of appearing in the majors before being traded away.

2004 | Rick Stewart | Getty

Born Kenneth Daniel Nelson in late August of 1981, Nelson became the pride of Price George County in Maryland as he rocketed up the draft charts in preparation for the 2000 draft. Atlanta had already selected four players because of losing free agents under the old compensation system and had added Adam Wainwright, Scott Thorman, Kelly Johnson, and shortstop Aaron Herr to their cadre of players. They would select six more future major leaguers, including Adam LaRoche, in a pretty successful draft. Nelson was their first of two second round picks by way of the Brewers, who had signed shortstop Jose Hernandez. Selected with the #51st overall pick, Nelson was part of what has turned out to be a pretty ugly second round. Chad Qualls, picked #67 by the Astros, has had the most distinguished career of this group.

Nelson spent the first two years of his career showing a big strikeout arm, but one that got beat around from time-to-time. Part of that may have been due to his age. In 2002, things clicked for Nelson and though he missed a little time, he dominated the Carolina League for Myrtle Beach. In 23 starts, his strikeout numbers fell from noteworthy to simply impressive, but he gave up fewer homers and had a 1.72 ERA. Baseball America took notice and ranked Nelson as the #58th overall prospect heading into 2003. He was one of six Braves in the Top 100, led by Wainwright’s selection as the #18th best prospect.

Nelson answered the call in 2003 with another good year – this time with Greenville. Playing nearly three years younger than the competition, Nelson had a 3.18 ERA in 23 games, including 20 starts. Again, his strikeout numbers tumbled and his WHIP trended north to 1.27, but there was enough here to get a bit excited about. At least, Atlanta thought so and promoted him to Richmond with a new assignment – the bullpen. Atlanta was looking for help to give John Smoltz some decent middle relief. Trey Hodges, Roberto Hernandez, and Kevin Gryboski were all struggling so the Braves considered Nelson as a possibility. He appeared in 11 games for the R-Braves to mixed success (1.88 ERA, 4.4 K/9), but ultimately wasn’t called up after the Braves stabilized the pen with additions like Will Cunnane, Kent Mercker, and the revived Jaret Wright.

Those bullpen issues, though, would lead to a trade the next spring. The Braves had already cashed in Wainwright in a deal with the Cards in the offseason and were gearing up for a big 2004 campaign. Nelson, then ranked #75 by Baseball America, was part of the bullpen picture to join Smoltz, Gryboski, and new addition Antonio Alfonseca. However, the Braves didn’t see what they wanted to see out of other guys like C.J. Nitkowski and sought to bring stability to what was a big issue for them the previous year. At the end of spring training, they packaged Nelson along with another bullpen hopeful, Jung Bong, in a deal with the Reds to acquire Chris Reitsma.

Nelson potentially could have become a key component for a team that hadn’t finished above .500 in three years. With a rotation filled with the likes of Paul Wilson, Aaron Harang, Jose Acevedo, and Brandon Claussen, it was a good situation for Nelson to quickly ascend into the major league picture. Except that things blew up spectacularly for him. In 12 starts with Louisville, he had a 7.09 ERA. A demotion to Chattanooga brought some relief, but he didn’t look like the same guy who dominated the Carolina League only two years before. The Reds moved him to the bullpen in 2005, looking to take advantage of his heavy fastball and slider combination. In another year in AA with Chatanooga, Nelson recaptured some of the shine, but only some. The season began under a dark cloud after some personal problems in March, but it didn’t stop Nelson from rebounding to strike out over a batter an inning, something he had not done since 2001. He secured 12 of his professional 16 saves. He still gave up too many homers and baserunners, but it was something positive. They even sent him to the Arizona Fall League for more exposure, but he struggled there in 13 innings. A few months later, the Reds DFA’d Nelson and after a mediocre spring, released Nelson among their last cuts of the spring.

Nelson hooked on with the Padres and he spent 2006 back in AA mostly in middle relief. Many of the same issues from the previous year plagued him and he wasn’t kept for the following season. Signing with the Phillies, he pitched extremely well for Reading and was promoted for to AAA for the first time in three years, but flamed out there. In 2008, with the Jays organization, he appeared in just 12 games with a 9.50 ERA. The following year, his last in baseball, was an unimpressive 15-game run with Pensacola of the independent American Association.

However, when baseball doesn’t work out so well for you, it’s not the end of the world. Since hanging up his spikes, Nelson has found a way to spend less time away from his family by returning to school and becoming a teacher. For an article detailing how he – and his wife – became teachers in Alabama, click here.


I use to catch bubba in high school at riverdale he threw very hard but couldn't master a change up. Fastball and sliders won't do it for ya. You need that off speed to throw batters off. Sucks it didn't work out for him.

I use to catch bubba in high school at riverdale he threw very hard but couldn't master a change up. Fastball and sliders won't do it for ya. You need that off speed to throw batters off. Sucks it didn't work out for him.

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