A 19-year-old phenom named Andruw Jones began his Braves career 21 years ago today
In 1996, the Braves got off to a terrific start in defense of their 1995 World Series title. At the end of play on Aug. 13, they had a 73-45 record and were seven games ahead in the NL East. That didn't mean that they were content to rest on their laurels, though.
So, on Aug. 14, GM John Schuerholz decided to make a move, sending outfielder Mark Whiten to the Mariners in a deal for Minor League pitcher Roger Blanco. Whiten was a solid player, a seven-year vet who posted a .798 OPS over 36 games with the Braves that season. Schuerholz was confident that he could replace him, though, mainly because of a 19-year-old who had already garnered a lot of buzz as he hit his way through Atlanta's farm system: Andruw Jones.
Jones was an extraordinary find by the Braves, who by that point were no strangers to churning out quality big league talent. Prior to 1996, Jones' native Curacao had produced just one Major Leaguer (outfielder Hensley Meulens). Nonetheless, Jones went from a 13-year-old with no interest in baseball to being signed by Braves scout Giovanni Viceisza at age 16.
It soon became apparent that Jones was no ordinary player. After one season in Class A, Baseball America ranked him 21st on their top 100 prospects list. Then he crushed 25 homers and slugged .512 at Class A Macon in 1995, and by the beginning of the 1996 season, Baseball America considered him the best prospect in the game. He was 18.
The Braves kept challenging Jones in 1996, but he kept hitting -- first in Class A Advanced Durham, then in Double-A Greenville and finally in Triple-A Richmond. By Aug. 14, he had 34 homers in just 116 games, and Schuerholz finally made the call.
Jones' first game came the next day, on Aug. 15, at Veterans Stadium against the Phillies, batting second between stars Marquis Grissom and Chipper Jones. The nerves were apparent in the first inning, when the youngster struck out and made an error on an overthrow in his first opportunity. By the end of the day, though, the Braves had won, 8-5, and he had his first big league hit:
That ninth-inning single off Toby Borland also gave Jones his first career RBI. "The scouts said he had a lot of physical skills and raw potential," Schuerholz later told George Willis of the New York Times. "But we learned he had more than that. He had the ability to play better than anybody he competed against."
There were many more hits to come, and just two months later, he was center stage in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.
Sixteen years and more than 400 homers later, Jones' next call might be from Cooperstown.