ATLANTA -- MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 International Prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow and are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them.
ATLANTA -- MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 International Prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow and are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them. One day, these young men could be remembered among the best players in team history.
• Here are 2020’s Top 30 international prospects
These are the Braves’ top five international prospects of all time.
1. Andruw Jones
Paul Snyder’s decision to visit the then-scantily-scouted small island of Curacao resulted in the Braves landing one of the best center fielders baseball has ever seen. Jones received a $46,000 signing bonus in 1993, and became the game’s best prospect within the next two years. Jones made his Major League debut in August 1996, and two months later, he homered in both of his first two World Series plate appearances.
Jones won 10 consecutive National League Gold Glove Awards, earned five All-Star selections and finished second in NL MVP Award voting after bashing a franchise-record 51 homers in 2005. He was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2016, and he produced the fourth-highest fWAR (64.3) among position players in club history.
2. Ronald Acuña Jr.
Back in 2018, when Acuña was progressing through his NL Rookie of the Year campaign, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez wrote about why so many teams passed on this phenom from La Sabana, a small coastal village in Venezuela.
Acuña weighed just 160 pounds when Rolando Petit convinced the Braves to provide a $100,000 signing bonus, double the amount offered by the Royals, who had the second-highest bid.
Acuña didn't rank among MLB Pipeline's top 30 international prospects in 2014. The only current Braves player to crack that list was Huascar Ynoa, a 21-year-old right-hander who is trying to prove himself as a big league reliever. Meanwhile, Acuña is being considered by some to be the game’s next Mike Trout.
3. Ozzie Albies
Looking back at the Braves’ 2013 international signings, most of the attention was given to Luis Barrios, who never progressed beyond the Gulf Coast League before being released in '16. But while the Braves might have missed on Barrios, they could spend most of this decade continuing to reap the value of having given Albies a $350,000 signing bonus.
If size was an issue for Acuña, there’s reason to wonder why the Braves were willing to take a chance on Albies, who weighed less than 150 pounds when he signed out of Curacao. But Petit recognized the advanced tools possessed by the young infielder, who has proven to be one of the most productive switch-hitters in the game.
Albies, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray are the only switch-hitters to hit .275 with at least 50 homers and an .800 OPS through the first three years of their career at age 22 or younger.
4. Javy Lopez
Snyder encountered many funny experiences on his way to becoming a member of the Braves Hall of Fame. One of those occurred when he opted to hide under a set of wooden stands in Puerto Rico to prevent the Yankees from knowing he was there to scout Lopez. As he was getting a look at the young catcher that day, his new golf shirt was torn when it got caught on a nail.
So, along with returning home with good news about Lopez, he had to give his wife the bad news about the shirt. But it’s safe to say the incident proved to be quite valuable. After giving Lopez $37,000 in 1987, the Braves found themselves with a catcher who would help them win the 1995 World Series and capture two more NL pennants. Lopez was named MVP of the 1996 NL Championship Series, and he finished fifth in NL MVP Award voting after hitting a career-best 43 homers in 2003.
5. Rico Carty
Per a story Wynn Montgomery wrote for the Society of Baseball Research, in 1959, Carty received offers from eight Major League clubs and four clubs located within the Dominican Republic. After the teenage prospect signed each of these contracts, George Trautman, who ran Minor League Baseball at the time, ruled in favor of the Milwaukee Braves.
Carty’s tenure with the Braves was tarnished when he missed the 1968 season because of tuberculosis and the '71 season after fracturing his kneecap. But he still ranks first among Braves left fielders in WAR, and the 171 OPS+ he produced in 1970 is the third-best mark constructed during the franchise’s Atlanta era. That’s the same year fans used write-in votes to elect him to the NL’s starting lineup for the All-Star Game.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.