In preparation for the New Year, Baseball Prospectus did a “Best of BP 2017” series where they look at some of their top articles of the year. We’d do that here, but they all are winners so that’s just not possible. One of the articles Baseball Prospectus took another look at was the Top 50 Busted Prospects. The staff of BP looked at the can’t miss prospects who missed so royally. Not all were complete failures. Some, like Gregg Jefferies or Juan Cruz, even had some good seasons. The common theme, however, was that none reached the sky-high projections that people believed they could have.
No Braves prospects made the list. I know – I was shocked, too. A number of busts quickly came to mind, but none were on the BP list. With that in mind, I wanted to put together a Top 10 list of prospect busts for the Braves. This list is entirely subjective and you are more than welcome to share your own or add to it. I used Baseball America’s rankings, which go back to 1983, to help formulate this list.
10. Randall Delgado
What We Thought: Julio Teheran or Delgado? Which would be the true ace? Many were convinced it was Teheran, but Delgado was a good bet, too. Like many young pitchers for the Braves before their High-A franchise moved from Myrtle Beach, Delgado came on the scene with a big campaign in the Carolina League. The pitcher’s haven was a delight for flyball pitchers and Delgado K’d over a batter an inning with superb control. Immediately, he was a borderline Top 50 prospect in baseball. The next year, his numbers weren’t as pretty, but he made it to the majors as a 21-year-old with a 2.83 ERA over seven starts. Braves’ fans were anxious to see what he would become.
What We Got Wrong: Delgado’s control was never the plus that it was with the Pelicans in 2010. While he still flashed a good arm from time-to-time, he was never able to build upon his success during his 2011 cup of coffee. We should have seen it coming, too. A nearly equal K/BB rate, 1.29 HR/9, .220 BABIP, 86.5% LOB%? To quote a great movie, things “will get out of control. It will get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.” Perhaps that’s a bit severe, but Delgado’s success wasn’t even a success. He came back the next year and struggled throughout. The next winter, Atlanta traded him to Arizona and he finally had a 1-win season last year. It was his seventh year in the majors. He’s only entering his Age-28 season so he might still do something.
What We Thought: TOOLS! When Atlanta got Lombard out of the Lovett School in Atlanta, they saw a guy with all of the tools you could possibly search for. Fast? Check. Big arm? Yep. Power? You betcha. He was ranked four consecutive years in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects and after a few years of struggling to put it all together, Lombard hit .308/.410/.543 with 22 homers and 35 steals for Greenville. The Braves were convinced that he would soon join Andruw Jones in the outfield.
What We Got Wrong: Lombard’s tools were enticing, but he was a raw player when the Braves drafted him. Sure, that came with a super high ceiling, but there was also a very low floor. Would he make enough contact to produce the numbers he needed to? Well, no. The Braves traded him to the Tigers in ’02 after needing his roster spot leaving him with a .157/.204/.216 pitcher-like slash over three cups of coffee with the team. The Tigers, who were awful, gave Lombard an extended look and he hit just .241 with a .674 OPS over 72 games. He would play just 33 games in the majors for the next several years, bouncing from the Rays to the Red Sox to the Nationals to the Dodgers, Marlins, and Indians. By 2009, he was playing for the independent Long Island Ducks. He since has gone into coaching.
Related – Random Ex-Brave: George LombardScott Thorman brought him to the majors and he held his own at the plate while receiving a crash course on how to play first base. When he was included in the trade to acquire Mark Teixeira, he was the headliner. Not Elvis Andrus, not Matt Harrison, not Neftali Feliz. It was Salty who would head to Texas and start behind the plate for them for a decade. And let’s be fair – the Braves didn’t think he could handle first base and already had Brian McCann. Saltalamacchia was expendable. Still, his value was through the roof.
What We Got Wrong: He was a hitting catcher who forgot how to hit. Batting average has his issues, but after hitting .284 as a Brave, his average went on a journey toward backup catcher-worthy. .251, .253, .233, .167, .235, .222. He would rebound some in 2013, now with the Red Sox, to post the only .800+ OPS of his career, but quickly fell back to Earth. He’s a career .233/.307/.409 hitter and nothing to write home about behind the plate.
7. Derek Lillquist
What We Thought: Kevin Appier had a 54.9 bWAR career. Mike Remlinger finished with 11 bWAR. Oh, and Pete Harnisch had 18.2 bWAR. Drafted before those pitchers – and sixth overall – was Derek Lilliquist. He was Baseball America’s Pitcher of the Year as a Georgia Bulldog and an All-American. Lillquist was a big reason Georgia won its first SEC Title and went to the College World Series. He was mature, sound, and expected to join the Braves within a short amount of time. In 1988, he was their top prospect – better than Ron Gant (#4), John Smoltz (#6), and David Justice (#8) according to Baseball America. He fell to third the next year. He’d keep falling.
What We Got Wrong: Lilliquist’s stuff worked on college hitters, but his K/9 fell to 4.2 in 1988 facing the International League. Even at his best, he had average strikeout numbers. At his worst, they were abysmal. He did have good control but lacked an out pitch when he needed it. Still, with a bad Braves team in need of talent, they brought him up in 1989 and he did okay (3.97 ERA). There was some thought that he could join Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Pete Smith as the Braves improved. That thought ended the next year. He struggled out the gate and the Braves traded him in July of 1990 for Mark Grant. Lilliquist jumped around from there to the Indians, back to the Braves, and on to the Red Sox, Dodgers, Reds, and Royals. He gave it up after not making the KC roster in ’97 and has become a decent pitching coach. He replaced Dave Duncan in St. Louis back in 2011 and joined the Nats this offseason.
What We Thought: People forget that before there was Bryce Harper, there was Tyler Houston. Drafted out of Las Vegas with the second overall pick of the ’89 draft, the world was thought of Houston’s ability. A boost in kids in the Las Vegas area named Tyler was attributed to Houston’s star power. Expected to hit for big-time power to go along with a rocket arm, Houston was supposed to be the franchise catcher the Braves had lacked since Joe Torre‘s heyday. Sure, Bruce Benedict had been a fan favorite and Ozzie Virgil, effectively his replacement, weren’t terrible but neither had been stars. Jody Davis had been their most-used catcher in 1989. Things were bad behind the plate for Atlanta.
What We Got Wrong: Unfortunately, this was a bad miss by Bobby Cox and the Braves front office. Houston languished in the minors as an iffy defender behind the plate and a poor bat in the box. The Braves tried to find a role for him in 1996, but he didn’t impress and was trade fodder in a move to the Cubs. He occasionally showed off the power potential, smacking 30 homers over 561 PA between 2001-01 for the Brewers, but it was a far cry from the expectations that the team had for Houston.
Related – What Could Have Been? – Catcher
5. Bruce Chen
What We Thought: Flashback to the winter of 1998-99. The Baseball America staff was sorting their yearly Top 100. The Cardinals had J.D. Drew and flamethrower Rick Ankiel. They took the first two spots. Oakland’s Eric Chavez came in third. Who would be next? How about Brad Penny from Florida? Or catcher Michael Barrett of the Expos? Maybe even Randy Johnson-clone Ryan Anderson? No, it was Bruce Chen, a Panamain lefthander who had made his major league debut the previous season after starting the year in Greenville. Chen was putting up some ridiculous strikeout numbers, had solid control, and kept the ball in the yard a lot. The Braves had another excellent lefty on the way.
What We Got Wrong: Chen was another in the long line of arms during the 90’s that looked like he would make the Braves invincible by joining The Big Three only to, well, not do that. He got a bigger cup of coffee in 1999 and did little with it. He was throwing some decent frames out of the pen for the 2000 Braves, but they weren’t convinced he was the answer for their non-John Smoltzian 2000 team so they traded Chen for half-a-season of Andy Ashby. It was one of the first times I yelled from Virginia at the Braves to “just play the kid!” Instead, Chen headed to Philadelphia to begin a wondrous journey through the league. New York, Montreal, Cincinnati – what fun! Houston, Boston, Baltimore – gimme more! Texas, Kansas City, Cleveland – the end. You gotta hand it to Chen. Few prospect busts play 17 years in the majors.
What We Thought: “The Next Derek Jeter.” That’s what we thought the Braves had in Betemit, a high-priced prospect out of the Dominican Republic who the Braves signed when he was just 14 and a half years-old. Oops. Regardless, the Braves were excited and as was Baseball America, who ranked Betemit the 8th best prospect in baseball coming into 2002. Betemit would languish between Richmond and Atlanta, though. Bad plate discipline and a weaker-than-advertised bat were failing him. In 2005, the Braves, forced to keep him or potentially lose him on waivers, kept Betemit around and he responded with a .305/.359/.469 slash. Perhaps he was on his way to big numbers after all.
What We Got Wrong: Actually, maybe the Braves didn’t get this wrong. In 2006, they surprisingly traded Betemit to the Dodgers for Willy Aybar and Danys Baez. It was surprising because after hitting fairly well with the Baby Braves in ’05, Betemit kept on hitting in 2006, slashing .281/.344/.497 with 9 homers. He was playing a lot behind an often-injured Chipper Jones. Yet, the Braves sent him packing. Betemit would finish ’06 with the Dodgers and became a bit of a hot potato over the remaining seven years of his career, playing six teams. He was a lot more successful than you might think, finishing with a .774 OPS over his career. It’s just that he never came close to the All-Star projections that many had for him.
3. Mike Kelly
What We Thought: Mike Kelly was going to be better than Barry Bonds. At least, that’s what some people who saw both Bonds and Kelly play at Arizona State thought. The Braves made Kelly the second overall pick of the 1991 draft. You could just imagine what the Braves’ higher-ups were thinking. “We already got Ron Gant, David Justice, and now Mike Kelly? So what if Deion Sanders wants to go play football – our outfield is set.” Kelly didn’t impress much in the minors after being aggressively pushed, but in 1994, he did hit .262/.334/.476 with 15 homers in Triple-A. On one hand, things were looking up.
What We Got Wrong: On the other hand, 1994 was abysmal for Kelly. Gant’s offseason dirt bike injury had opened up left field and Chipper Jones’ torn ACL gave Kelly a shot, at least as a platoon option with Ryan Klesko, to jump into Atlanta’s plans for the future. He struggled tremendously to start the year and was demoted. When he returned two months later, he started to put some things together – including a four-hit game right before the Strike. He was horrid the next year, prompting the Braves to trade for future NLCS MVP Mike Devereaux to provide what Kelly couldn’t. Atlanta gave up on Kelly the next winter, trading him to the Reds. He’d have some success there, but a trade to the Rays and time with the Rockies did little for his career. A comeback attempt went nowhere and Kelly finished his career with a .241/.300/.421 slash in 749 PA. Many on this list had a worse career, but few had a higher ceiling.
Related – TOT – Braves Give Up on Mike Kelly
What We Thought: The fourth overall selection of the 1979 draft, Komminsk was a future star. Hank Aaron himself said of Komminsk that, “He will do things Dale Murphy hasn’t dreamed of.” Unlike many on this list, he was living up to the high billing in the minors. With Durham in 1981, Komminsk hit .322/.458/.606 with 33 homers and 35 steals. He’d climb from Double-A to Triple-A the next season and followed his 1982 season with a .334/.433/.596 slash with Richmond. He also got a cup of coffee to get his feet wet. The stage was set. Go get ’em, boy
What We Got Wrong: What do you mean “what we got wrong?” The dude was a stud. Should have been a blue chipper, but something happened on the way between being the best prospect in the minors and being the best player in the majors. Komminsk argues that coaches tried to change him and that put him on the wrong direction. Maybe they were trying to change his swing so that he could hit a curveball. Regardless, the results were miserable. He hit .203/.276/.316 in ’84 with the Braves. He did swipe 18 bases with 8 homers, but hardly an impressive campaign. Komminsk had a slightly better ’85, hitting .227/.314/.327. In 1986, he only played a handful of games with the Braves and they would trade him the following January for Dion James. He played only 156 more games for five teams, finishing with a career slash of .218/.301/.336. Well, I guess Hank Aaron is allowed to be wrong every now and then.
1. Andy Marte
What We Thought: The question wasn’t if Andy Marte was going to be a star – that seemed obvious. The question many had about Marte was how he would fit in for the Braves. Would he move Chipper Jones to another position? Possibly first base? Or would the Braves be forced to trade Marte? So many questions surrounded Marte, but none seemed to be related to his playing ability. He posted an OPS between .831 and .910 as he climbed from Macon to Myrtle Beach to Greenville to Richmond. In 2005, he briefly appeared in the majors, hitting just a buck-forty for the Baby Braves. He would earn a rank of the 14th-best prospect in baseball. It was the third consecutive year he’d rank in the Top 15.
What Went Wrong: Funny thing – Marte couldn’t hit the curveball. Like many failed hitters on this list, Marte had a long swing that generated a ton of power, but one that pitchers took advantage of by throwing nasty breaking stuff that Marte couldn’t handle. After 2005, the Braves traded Marte to the Red Sox for Edgar Renteria. Less than two months later, he was sent to the Indians in the Coco Crisp deal. He was a great fit for Cleveland but never came close to reaching his expected potential. The Indians gave him shot-after-shot, but after five years, he was hitting just .224/.281/.369 as an Indian with 20 homers in 858 PA. They non-tendered him and after some time in the minors, he resurfaced in the majors for a brief run with the Diamondbacks in 2014. Marte spent the next two years in Korea, hitting 42 homers in the process. After 2016, he went back to the Dominican Republic and hoped to catch on with another team to once again try to reach the majors. On January 23 of this year, he died in a car accident. It was the same day a similar fate took the life of Yordano Ventura. Marte was just 33 and finished his career with 21 home runs in 940 plate appearances.
Related – The Surprising Career of Andy Marte
Sorry for the somber note to end this look back at some of the biggest busts? Did I miss some names? Are my rankings off? Let me know below!