Every baseball fan, regardless of age, knows of Chipper Jones. He’s been a fixture of the Atlanta Braves organization and the face of the franchise since 1995. There is still uncertainty surrounding his future, as he’s recently hinted that this could be his final season in baseball. But it would seem nothing is set in stone just yet.
Despite being focused on preparing for what will be his 19th MLB season, Jones shared some thoughts with Dave Sheinin of The Washington Post on his impending retirement and on what life was like as a teenage phenom, considering what Bryce Harper is currently going through.
Jones was the 1st overall selection in the 1990 Draft, as a shortstop out of a Florida high school. He wasn’t the consensus top overall prospect heading into the draft, as that honor went to right-hander Todd Van Poppel who slipped to #14 due to high contract demands, but Jones has unquestionably been the most valuable player from that draft class over the course of his career (Mike Mussina is a distant second, if you were curious.).
But expectations were high for Jones as he instantly became one of the top young talents in the Braves organization. He tore up minor league pitching during his age 19 season, batting .326/.407/.518 in 556 plate appearances with 24 doubles, 11 triples, 15 HR, 98 RBI, and 40 stolen bases. Baseball America named him as the #4 ranked prospect heading into the 1991 season.
Even still, after two more seasons in the minor leagues and a year lost to a knee injury, Jones did not become a MLB regular until the 1995 season. He hit .265/.353/.450 with 23 HR and 86 RBI, finishing 2nd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting to the Dodgers’ Hideo Nomo. We know what direction his career has taken since.
Sheinin asked Jones if he’d offer any advice to Harper, given the opportunity and the veteran answered just as one might expect:
"No, I’m not going to seek him out, unless he wants to sit down and talk – which I’ve done with other players before. Let’s just say he doesn’t seem to me to be the type of kid who wants to walk up to me and pick my brain."
Considering Harper’s history to date, you can’t blame Jones for taking such a position but it’s not surprising to see his willingness to having such a conversation. If there is a veteran worth taking advice from, Jones would be near the top of any list. One could argue that Jones has been just as vital to Major League Baseball over the past 20 years as Derek Jeter has.
Harper’s future has yet to be determined. It was generally expected that he’d start the season in Triple-A but a recent calf strain seems to have further solidified that thinking. It’s likely what’s best for him anyways. Yet even with a early season callup Harper may still find himself earning a stay in the Majors at an earlier age than Jones did.
The Nationals and Braves won’t meet until Memorial Day weekend in Atlanta. They play again the following weekend in Washington. It’s possible Harper will have joined the team by that point, so maybe the two will be able to have that conversation at some point this season. Harper may be a “once in a generation talent” but it seems safe to say that most Nationals fans would be happy if he turns out to be the same caliber player at Jones.