If all that bravado brings to mind another, modern-day 19-year-old phenom, a certain hard-charging, fauxhawk-wearing, confidence-oozing outfielder for the Washington Nationals — well, it’s a link that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Jones. A long time ago, he was Bryce Harper, or close to it.
There are differences, of course. As heavily hyped as Jones was as the top pick of the 1990 draft, he was nowhere near the instant superstar that Harper was as the top overall pick in 2010. He didn’t appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, as Harper did. He also didn’t have to navigate a media world that included Twitter and an explosion of blogs and publications devoted solely to baseball prospects.
But the biggest difference was this: At 19 years old, Chipper Jones, a future seven-time all-star and one-time National League most valuable player, spent the entire season in the low-Class A South Atlantic League — the same league in which Harper spent less than three months as an 18-year-old in 2011 — earning no mid-year promotion despite hitting .326 with a .407 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage.
“When I was coming up through the minors, the Braves believed in taking their time, letting kids mature — and succeed and fail — at the minor league level,” Jones said. “Now, [teams] are just rush, rush, rush to the big leagues. They put so much money into young kids these days that they feel the need to justify their pick at the big-league level as quickly as possible, when it might be the worst thing for a particular prospect.
“I’ve seen some guys over the last half-dozen years here who weren’t allowed the opportunity to struggle at the minor league level and have done it up here and have continued to struggle. You hate to see that happen with the rare breeds who are drafted high because of their ability.”
Jones stressed he was not making a value judgment on the major league readiness of Harper, whom he had never seen in person until the Braves played the Nationals on March 6. But when he flipped through his own memory, reaching back to 1991 and the 19-year-old shortstop who tore up the Sally League, he saw a kid who was right where he belonged.
“No way,” Jones said, when asked if he felt he should have been in the majors at the time. “I would have been completely overwhelmed. Tearing it up in A ball and tearing it up in the big leagues are completely different. For that matter, tearing it up at Double-A and tearing it up in the big leagues are completely different.