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.
I admit – some players are just easier to write about than others.
|Rick Stewart | Getty|
Such is the case with today’s Random Former Prospect. Bob Smith was a few things during his career, but a player that stood out is far from it. Even his name is generic. According to Baseball-Reference, he’s one of six Bob Smith’s to play in the majors. One, the 1923-37 version, played for the Braves franchise when it was in Boston. The latest version could have joined that guy as a Brave…but much like my most recent Thursday Throwback, the 1997 expansion draft shifted things.
Born in 1974 in Oakland, Smith was an 11th round pick out of the 1992 draft by the Braves. Quick trivia question – who was the top player the Braves drafted and signed out of that draft? No, it wasn’t Smith, but 46th rounder Darrell May. Even John Schuerholz had terrible drafts.
Being young for his level didn’t stop Smith from progressing in the minors. He went to Macon in ’93 and spent ’94 in Durham. It was there that we started to see his numbers give way to an interesting prospect. He flashed just .266/.329/.406, but added 12 homers and 18 steals. When 20 year-olds hold their own in the Carolina League, you take notice. With eyes on him, 1995 was supposed to be Smith’s breakout campaign. He hit his way to a .261/.331/.430 slash with Greenville while hitting 14 homers and swiping 12 bases. His defensive numbers at third base seemed to improve as well.
Hey, listen, it wasn’t a great year. Still, Baseball America ranked him #75 in the Top 100 before the 1996 season. Higher than Chris Carpenter, Miguel Tejada, and Josh Booty. Yes, I just wanted to throw that last one in there. The Braves system dominated the 1996 list – which may have helped Smith as prospects in the Braves system were often overvalued. Joining Smith in the Top 100 were Andruw Jones (#1), Jason Schmidt (#11), Jermaine Dye (#30), Terrell Wade (#64), and Damon Hollins (#95). I was too young to get much interest out of prospects, but I can imagine the excitement I would have felt heading into 1996 with a title from the previous year and 3 of the Top 30 prospects on their way, including the #1 prospect in all of baseball.
For Smith, who reached AAA less than five years after being drafted out of high school, the 1996 season could have been a big year. The Braves were shifting him at least part-time to shortstop to increase his potential value. Meanwhile, he was just an injury away from the bigs. But…he wasn’t able to follow up his big ’95 season. His OPS tumbled 80 points and his strikeout rate trended the wrong way. His prospect status also trended the wrong way – straight out of BA’s Top 100. With little room in the majors, Smith was given a return ticket to Richmond for 1997 and his numbers rebounded some, but still lagged behind his Greenville numbers from two years before.
In the 1997 expansion draft, the Braves seemed poise to lose talent like they had in 1992 when the Rockies pilfered David Nied, Vinny Castilla, and Armando Reynoso. The raiding began with the 12th pick as the Devil Rays selected Smith. The sixth pick of the second round (John LeRoy) and the 4th pick of the third round (Wade) also saw former Braves headed to Tampa Bay.
The move would be instrumental to Smith’s career. He made the Rays’ first roster in 1998 in a reserve role and singled off Bryce Florie in his first at-bat on opening day. Smith would go on to share time with Wade Boggs at third base and fill in at second and short. The rookie hit a respectable .276/.343/.422 with 11 HR. He played in 117 games that year. Over the next four years, he would play in just 141 games with a triple slash of .197/.258/.298. It was almost sad. He would blitz the International League after each demotion, but never was able to transfer that success into major league success. 4 years and a month into his reign with the Rays, he was released. The Brewers picked him up for the rest of 2002 and he struggled for their AAA team.
Stops with the AAA’s teams of the Yankees, White Sox, A’s, and White Sox again did little but help him increase his AAA lifetime numbers. He never appeared in another game in the majors after May 6, 2002. He retired after 2006 and according to his wikipedia page, has transitioned into a hitting coach role with the Diamondbacks organization – who played their inaugural season in Smith’s one big year in the majors.