Category Archives: Braves Prospects
Tyler Houston was one of the gang of 1990 Score draft picks that I’ve written about (that’s another set I should cover some day). Now if ever there was a steroids candidate, he’s it. Brought up in the Atlanta organization, he never had a BA above .226 until he turned 22, but then dropped right back down into the sub-.250s right afterwards. He never quite developed the power they thought he would have, either, and only really got a shot in 1996, at the age of 25. I know catcher prospects tend to come along more slowly, but that was a loooong road. Not to mention that, by the time he broke in, he was no longer a catcher, but a corner infielder.
He was a serviceable major leaguer – nothing special. In fact, a little less than special – his career OPS+ was 90, pretty wretched for a corner infielder. I still suspect he doped at some point, though. I can’t imagine how he made it otherwise.
I do like this card a lot, though. The 1992 Upper Deck Minor League set was full of awesome shots like this. Well worth the money, especially when boxes are so cheap nowadays.
Saved my favorite for the last one here. Klesko was considered a two-way threat coming out of high school – a capable pitcher and batter, in the mold of John Olerud when he was with Washington. Hearing about someone that was like Olerud (since I had liked Olerud for that whole two-way threat thing) excited me, and I scooped up all the Klesko cards I could get my mitts on. This, however, was the crown jewel of my Klesko collection. For some reason, I loved this Greenville Braves design, and the jersey and the colors just absolutely popped. I mean, look at that photo, it’s awesome.
Of course, Klesko was a highly-valued Braves prospect at the time. He had hit .333 with a .503 SLG at two levels in 1989, showing great power promise, then .315/.480 between two levels in 1990 with 17 home runs. He wouldn’t see the majors permanently until 1993, and would have a decent if not stellar career, but he sure looked promising at the time.
And that finished up the 1991 Gold Leaf set (minus the two non-prospects in the set). I’m going to take a break for awhile before moving on to 1992.
Wow, was the hype ever strong with this one. Those who were around back then may remember stories of Kelly crushing baseballs so hard in college that he left imprints on the ball. Because of his power, his speed, and the fact that he had starred at Arizona State, he was often compared to Barry Bonds. Here’s a shot of him from his Arizona State days:
Unfortunately, he couldn’t live up to the hype as a pro, which really disappointed me, because I was excited as hell for him to become a major leaguer. After a so-so first year in Durham, he hit 25 home runs at AA Greenville, but that came with an unfortunate .229/.323/.444 line. Not to mention 162 Ks in 133 games. His isoD is probably explained by his power, rather than any special eye. He finally made the majors in 1994, and managed a 104 OPS+ in 30 games. They gave him a more complete shot the next year, and he failed miserably, putting together a 49 OPS+ and an anemic .190/.258/.314 line. He was traded to Cincinnati that offseason for Chad Fox and Ray “Burger” King, his stock completely worthless. His only full year in the majors after that was with the new Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998, where he had a 79 OPS+. He tried a comback in 2003 and 2004 for the Royals, but remained in their minors before retiring. Sad story.
And now we get to a rare treat. I got to see this guy play, in person, in 1990. And what a player he was. He was still rocking that wrap-around shield on his helmet from the broken jaw, but I remember him taking the Mets to task that night on his way to the ROY that year. I was really thrilled when I pulled this card from a pack of high numbers upper deck…I thought he was going to end up in the Hall for sure. He seemed to have it all: a smooth swing, a good eye, power…and of course when he left the stadium later that night he drove right past us kids in his ferrari. Ah, well. I figured that was just the way stars were. I’ll have to tell a story about Tommy Gregg from that night another time…but I forgave Dave for it.
I think he’s another guy whose personal demons impacted his on-the-field play. I know, I know, character is difficult to quantify and all that, but I suspect some of his fall-off can be attributed to his issues.
Tommy Greene was another one of my gateway drugs to the world of prospecting. My uncle Raymond was a big Sporting News reader back in 1989/90, and he told me about this young flamethrower on the Atlanta farm named Tommy Greene. He said Glavine and Avery and Mercker were good and all, but Greene was supposed to be the arm of the future. I guess we know how that all turned out – he didn’t do too badly, all things considered, but he was no Glavine.
Still, funny to think of the pitching prospects Atlanta had at the time – Glavine, Avery, Greene, Mercker, Nezelek (though he was pretty much done by then), and Pete Smith – who was really supposed to be the gem, with Greene right behind. Funny how projecting pitching prospects worked back then…hell, I guess it’s still not much better.
In 1990, I was absolutely obsessed with John Olerud. I had been interested in the guy since learning that he was a legit two-way threat, a batter who could also pitch well (I was enthralled with the Babe Ruth legend at the time). Around that time, I started hearing about recent draftee Ryan Klesko, another two-way threat, though it’s hard to believe these days. Let me tell you, though, that was all I needed to hear, and he was on my want list. Of course, I had some trouble finding Klesko cards, as he wasn’t in any of the major sets. Thankfully, the 1990 minor league sets took off, and next thing you know, I have a bunch of Klesko cards.
Of course, we know how his career turned out: okay, passable, but never a real superstar, which bummed me out. I was convinced that somehow he would be the next great thing. I’m sure the warning signs were there: lack of plate discipline, high strikeout-to-walk ratio, the whole deal, but then…well, it was just as much about the legend of the player as the reality. And Klesko was quite a legend for me in the summers of 90 and 91.