So what does a franchise icon do once he has had a few seasons off from the everyday grind of Major League Baseball? For Atlanta Braves legend Chipper Jones, he decided this would be a good time to get back to the game by imparting some of his wisdom to the next wave of players coming to Atlanta.
Braves beat writer Mark Bowman of MLB.com got a chance to speak with the Braves' Special Assistant to the GM while in Florida at Spring Training to get some insights. Along with talking about his own future with the organization, he also dropped a few tid bits on some of the team's top minor league prospects.
When asked about uber-prospect and 2015 first overall pick Dansby Swanson, Jones said "everybody in the organization loves him... He's a kid that's gonna hopefully play in Atlanta for a long time" They have good reason to love him as Swanson looks to be a major part of the Braves future middle infield. In John's updated Braves Top 20 Prospects from mid February, he noted that Swanson is an "outstanding across-the-board prospect with moderate power, good speed, excellent strike zone judgment and line drive hitting ability, above-average to excellent defense at shortstop, and superior makeup."
He was ranked at the top of the list with a grade A that sounds like a franchise cornerstone to me. As John says at the beginning of every list, in theory, grade A players have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene.
While Swanson will be dueling with the precocious Ozzie Albies for the title of "Shortstop of the Future", some have already put the "___ of the Future" label on another first round pick from 2015, third baseman Austin Riley. While Chipper has yet to see Riley in action, he did have a chance to speak with the Mississippi native that put up eye-popping numbers as an 18 year old for Danville in the advanced rookie Appalachian League. Riley hit .351/.443/.586 in 30 games with nine doubles and five home runs in addition to the five doubles and seven bombs he hit in the Gulf Coast League.
John marked him down as a grade B prospect that is ranked 7th in the stacked system, sayin his "whiff rate is rather high but power is genuine, he makes an effort to control the zone and he has a chance to be a complete hitter. Needs more defensive polish but that should come if he doesn’t gain too much weight."
Yet another youngster to catch the future Hall of Famer's eye was 18 year old center fielder Ronald Acuna. Jones was "impressed" by the young Venezuelan who showed an intriguing mix of power and speed in his debut season with the Braves. Between the GCL and Danville as a 17 year old, Acuna posted a .380 on base percentage with a .438 slugging, 14 doubles, four bomb shots, and 16 stolen bases.
A true center fielder, the six foot, 180 pound Acuna has shown "solid across-the-board numbers with scouting reports that are very positive regarding overall tools and good polish for his age" according to John. With such little track record to go on, he received a B-/C+ grade and came in at 16th on the Braves Top 20.
All told, Chipper is noted as saying "They're stocking the Minor Leagues with some arms and good, young everyday talent. I've seen three or four kids back there on those back fields that I've been astonished at how good they are." For Braves fans, that's a vote of confidence you can really get behind and get excited for.
(h/t to Mark Bowman at MLB.com)