Atlanta Braves 1992: the best Southern League team ever

It was for one magical season, but the dominance here would soon translate to the Atlanta Braves as part of their 1990’s run.

In 1992, the Atlanta Braves were still in a position where the rest of baseball was trying to figure out if their 1991 World Series run was a fluke.

Minor league baseball is typically less about wins and losses and more about player development.  Still, some clubs like to see groups of their better prospects “grow up winning together” in their minor league system, and they’ll work a bit harder toward improving that bottom line.

That latter bit may explain the 1992 Greenville Braves… at least in part.  This was a AA team in the Southern League — the forerunners of today’s Mississippi Braves.

Some names from this roster are instantly recognizable:  Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Eddie Perez.

Some other names you might be too young to remember or (if not) would require some squinting as you dust off entries from deep in your brain’s archives:  Jeff Treadway, Tony Tarasco, Greg McMichael, Mike Kelly, Mike Mordecai, Brad Woodall.

And yet Chipper Jones wasn’t really a “ringer” here… he only played in 67 games after getting the callup from the High-A Durham Bulls.  As such, he was more like the “trade deadline acquisition”.

Like this club needed that.  They went 100-43 on the season.

Near as I can tell — a few of the standings are missing — this was the best Southern League team ever.  Only 3 other clubs are known to have even reached the 90-win plateau since league play began in the early 1960’s, and only one of these — the 1980 Nashville Sounds (Yankees) at 97-46 — had more than 91 wins.

So yes:  100 wins (a .6993 winning percentage) was a really big deal.

The manager was Grady Little, who Lopez credits for inspiring his teammates on a daily basis.  It clearly worked.

Big Offense

The second-place club in the SL’s Eastern Division was the Charlotte Knights that year.  They were lapped by the Braves, finishing thirty games behind.

Greenville won almost as many games on the road (50) as the Carolina Mudcats (52) won… period.

Greenville averaged almost 5 runs per game… 0.42 more than anyone else and nearly a full run more than the league average.  Their team OPS (.762) was .31 points higher than any other club.

They were first in team batting average, walks received, slugging, homers (by 26), runs scored (by 55), doubles, hits, and steals. They committed the second-fewest errors and had the highest fielding percentage… so they gloved it as well.

Oh, and they were second in triples by 2… with the third-place club 14 back.

Catcher Lopez was the league MVP, hitting .321 in 115 games with an .868 OPS.  But he wasn’t the big slugger (16 HR).  Neither was Chipper (9, though he hit .346 after arriving in South Carolina).

No, the homer title went to Mike Kelly with 25 dingers.  His 71 RBI was second on the team to Melvin Nieves (76).

Lopez — combined with Perez — did hammer out 101 RBI from that catching spot, a huge lift for this team.

Throwing

The pitching staff was anchored by Nate Minchey, who turned 23 as that season finished up.  He was a minor-league journeyman, spending just 1½ seasons as property of the Braves before moving on again.

The Red Sox and Rockies gave him a few undistinguished cups of coffee between 1993 and 1997, but 1992 was his year:  a 2.30 ERA in 172 innings with a 1.029 WHIP.

The rest of the regular starters were Dennis Burlingame, Andy Nezelek, Donnie Elliott, Mike Hostetler, Marcos Vasquez, Brian Bark, and Pedro Bourbon.

It wasn’t McMichael then, but Don Strange was the save leader out of the bullpen with 18.

McMichael did show some of the results that eventually got him to Atlanta:  a 1.36 ERA in 46 innings with one of the best Strikeout-to-walk ratios on the team.

In short, these guys were very good at every aspect of baseball and that was shown on the field — consistently.

Alas, the minor leagues being as they are, the team was broken up as players moved on, or were moved down, or simply went elsewhere for 1993.  They finished 75-67, though still managed to eke out a division title by half a game over the Mudcats.

But for one special year, these Braves were not only the best, but the best that there has ever been in the Southern League.  And yes:  they won the post-season League title as well.

Given that some of those Atlanta Braves from the 1990’s came from this club… that’s a really good thing to be able to say.

 

It also makes one solid argument for today’s Braves:  the minor leagues do matter, because good prospects matter, too.