Our series of All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves continues today with our 6th and 5th selections. If you’re new to the series, here is the post for #10 and #9 and here is the post for #8 and #7. Today, we move into our 6th then our 5th favorites. Remember that the major component in selecting our favorites is that the player had(has) to be playing during each individuals time-frame of Braves fandom and has nothing to do with who was the best (although those guys normally tug pretty hard at the heartstrings, too). Play along with us in the comments section! It’s a fun journey to see who everyone values outside of the statistics.
Ryan Cothran’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 6Martin Prado: Prado, the anti-prospect. Isn’t fast enough. Doesn’t have power. No standout skill. Quad-A type. These were the words that were passed along from one Braves fan’s ear to another when discussing Prado’s time in the Minor Leagues. Truly…they were right. .708, .795, .749, .680..these are his OPS values from his age 19-22 year old seasons in the Minors, playing almost exclusively 2nd base. His on-base percentage? Middling. His speed? Meh. But Martin Prado did something that every Minor League player wished they could do when getting the call to MLB…he got better. Over the course of his 12 year career (crazy, huh?), Prado has logged innings at 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, and RF and carries a .762 career OPS and has, overall, been an above-average fielder for his career. There’s a lot to like about him statistically, but that doesn’t touch why he makes my Top-10.
He’s a man of the people. When in a Braves uniform, he always reported to camp early, stayed late, and put in more work than any other player on the team. He was and still is well-liked by his teammates, including Chipper Jones who said Prado was the best teammate he’d ever had. He changed positions without complaint and even once declared he was like “The Matrix” and that when asked to play another position, he’d just download the manual. And one time, while at Spring Training, I yelled “PRADO” while he was walking off the field and he chucked me a ball. Humble. Flexible. Great Player. Great Teammate. Part of the last great Braves Outfield. And threw me a ball. Prado, you’ll always be in my Top-10 and I hope you come home for your final stretch. These young ones need your influence.
Brittni Swanson’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 6
Jason Heyward: Jason Heyward is another one of those players that you can’t help but like. While with the Braves he acquired an impressive resume, racking up 2 Golden Gloves and a spot as an All-Star his rookie year. The first time I saw Heyward play was when I went to my first Braves game. I don’t remember who won that day, I don’t remember who the pitchers were, I don’t remember what month it was and I didn’t know much about the game at that time. I do remember Jason Heyward. Watching him make incredible dives, sliding across the grass and coming up with a ball amazed me. I had never seen anyone do anything like that before. When he left Braves country I was disappointed, no matter how good or bad he was doing at the time. He was one of the first players I learned a lot about and rooted for seriously. Last season, I got to see him as a Cub when they played the Braves in Wrigley. It was like coming home, cause he was a part of my original ‘team’.
Tommy Poe’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 6Craig Kimbrel: Dominance. Pure dominance. But my favorite story of Kimbrel happened long before he became The Craig Kimbrel.
It was 2009 and Kimbrel took the mound in Lynchburg City Stadium. He was a member of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. I was there mostly to see Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward and both had impressed that day. Freeman had three hits, including two doubles, while Heyward hit a homer and made a nice running catch at the wall. Kimbrel entered with a 6-0 lead after Brandon Beachy threw an inning in relief. As you know, Kimbrel is not a big, imposing figure on the mound. At 5’11” and lankier than he is now, the Lynchburg faithful was sure the Pelicans were bringing in a soft-tosser.
And then, he threw. Each time, it appeared progressively harder than the previous pitch. He struck out two Hillcats that night and I remember a fan yelling, “Dude, you’re winning by six. Have some mercy.” Another said something like, “Bobby Cox called. You can leave now.” That was the only time I saw Kimbrel as a Pelican. He’d make it to Gwinnett by the end of the season and the majors the next year. One year later, he was the Rookie of the Year and he quickly became an elite reliever. But I’ll always remember the first time I saw him throw. Dude had it even then.
Ryan Cothran’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 5
Ozzie Albies: It was early fall of 2015. The Braves were playing at home and for the 4th consecutive year, I organized a trip for our students called “All Things Atlanta” which entailed partaking in 2 baseball games, a late night trip to The Varsity, CNN tour, Coke Tour, Georgia Aquarium, Stone Mountain, Six Flags and all things in-between. You name it, we did it. Our crew stayed at a hotel in walking distance to Turner Field and it just so happened that the best Braves prospects in the system were staying there as well as the Minor League Players of the Year Awards were to be passed out that day. While I didn’t ask for any pictures or bombard them with too many questions, I met quite a few guys including Jason Hursh, Jose Peraza, Kyle Kubitza. However, the strangest meeting came via a bathroom break. Yes, I met Ozzie Albies in the bathroom on his way to the urinal. I let him know that I’d been following his progress and that I really enjoyed keeping up with him as a player. He was very nice and complimented the organization on his development. It was a 30 second conversation, but it was enough to lock me in as a fan.
I also feel he’s a bit of an underdog as guys his size have only recently been getting attention thanks to Jose Altuve. From what I see, the kid’s got it all: speed, obp potential, pop, and the ability to be a gold glove defender. He’s the only guy on my list that’s this new to MLB, but he’s been part of my Braves fandom for 5 years.
Brittni Swanson’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 5
Evan Gattis: While in college at Berry College, in Rome, GA, I had the opportunity to go to Rome Braves games all the time. They had a student discount that could get you into the stadium for $5 for decent seats with a $1 concession stall. As a broke college kid, I could get into a game and get a hot dog for 6 bucks. It was the best deal in the town, you got dinner and a show mixed with some good times. While there, Evan Gattis was in Rome and he was the talk of the town. It was so exciting to watch him play in Rome before he made it big with the Braves as El Oso Blanco.
He was the first player that I followed through the system, all the way to the majors. Every time I went to a game I was so excited to see the janitor turned ballplayer get up to bat. He had such a unique story and our little town of Rome was the stage for this amazing player as he was making a name for himself. I remember his first game in the majors, my friends and I were watching that game in suspense and then he does it. His first big league hit is a home run. It was so exhilarating to see someone who you rooted for on the small stage do so well in the show.
Tommy Poe’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 5
Marcus Giles – Okay, a confession. I’m 5’4″. I’ve always been a short dude, too. Naturally, as a result, I have a certain fondness for the short guys. At just four inches taller than I am, Giles was not only a small guy, but he was a small guy with some major power. I was already aware of Giles after he bashed 37 homers for Macon in 1998. By 2001, he was in the majors and on a Tuesday evening in mid-May, he put the league on notice.
The score was 2-1 with Mike Hampton throwing one of his better games in a Rockies uniform. Giles, who was only in the majors because of an injury, was due up fifth in the eighth inning. After Hampton induced a grounder, he surrendered two singles and walked Bernard Gilkey to load the bases. The Rockies could have gone to the bullpen, but they had given Hampton all that money to be their ace. Hampton fell behind 3-1 and fans were hoping for a walk, but Giles took an inside fastball belt-high. Hampton tried to hit that spot again, but it caught more of the plate and Giles launched it to deep left-center. It landed just behind the wall. It was his first homer. Hell, it was his first RBI.
Two years later, Giles would break out with a tremendous .917 OPS, 49 doubles, 21 homers, and 14 steals. He was solid the next season, but injuries and less power over the next couple of seasons ended his career with the Braves. He played one season in San Diego, but he was done. However, the magical first homer and early part of his career made a short dude like me so pleased to watch.