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Braves prospect retrospect: The 2003 Rome Braves

Let’s continue our look back at some memorable Atlanta Braves minor-league prospects and dive into the South Atlantic League champions of 2003.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s continue the Talking Chop stroll down memory lane with a look at the 2003 South Atlantic League champion Rome Braves. But first, let’s catch up on who you’ve missed:

So, why does this entire Rome Braves team get a look? It was the first Rome Braves team to win a South Atlantic League title. Well, that and the fact that a dynamic duo led a second-half surge and wasted little time etching their place in Atlanta Braves history a few years later.

Welcome to Rome (Georgia, that is)

At the conclusion of the 2002 season, the Macon Braves packed up and moved to Rome. Still members of the South Atlantic League, the new-look Rome Braves had a decent first-half debut, going 36-33. That saw the R-Braves finish fourth in the South and miss out on the guaranteed playoff spot awarded to the first-half winner.

The second half was entirely different story. The Rome Braves, led by some soon-to-be fan favorites in Atlanta (don’t worry, we’ll get to them in a minute), went 42-38 to lock up the second-half bid to the postseason. They defeated the Hickory Crawdads two games to one in the playoffs before disposing of the Lake County Captains 3-1 for the 2003 championship.

Rocket Wheeler led the club to an overall 78-61 record on the year, scoring 577 runs. Not a bad Sally debut.

Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur begin their rise

There were quite a few names that made it to the big leagues, but a pair of top-round picks stole the show all the way on their quick trip to Atlanta.

Jeff Francoeur: Francoeur was selected in the first round of the 2002 MLB draft out of high school in Georgia.

Francoeur slashed .281/.325/.445 with 26 doubles, nine triples, 14 home runs and 68 RBI for Rome as a 19-year-old and the next year was on his way to the fast track. By 2005, he was Atlanta bound.

Frenchy’s big-league debut was one to remember. He homered in his first game and by the end of his first month as an MLB player he was hitting .413 with a 1.326 OPS and six home runs in 15 games. He wound up finishing third in the 2005 Rookie of the Year, hitting .300 with a .884 OPS and 20 doubles and 14 home runs. He followed that up with a strong sophomore campaign and after another solid season in 2007, Francoeur’s magic seemed to fade.

The Braves traded Francoeur to the Mets halfway through the 2009 season. He made his way back the Braves before being traded at the deadline once again to the Miami Marlins. Frenchy spent six of his 12 big-league years with the Braves racking up 85 homers and 392 RBI to go with a .265/.307/.420 slash line. He now mans the broadcast booth for the Braves and does a solid job in his second career.

Brian McCann: McCann was drafted in the second round of that same 2002 MLB draft and followed a very similar path as his first-round counterpart. Both rose from Georgia high schools to star in Rome as 19-year-olds before making their MLB debut by the age of 21 with neither taking a Triple-A swing before their big league promotion.

By 2003, McCann was a budding 19-year-old catcher handling the Rome Braves pitching staff, one in which five of the seven regular starters had lower than a 3.00 ERA that season. He played 115 games, catching 64, and slashed .290/.329/.462 with 31 doubles, 12 home runs and 71 RBI. He also threw out 38 percent of attempted base thieves, while posting an impressive .995 fielding percentage.

After another strong showing in Myrtle Beach in 2004 and a brief stop in Mississippi in 2005, McCann was an Atlanta Brave. McCann became the full-time starting catcher for the Braves in 2006 and started a run of six-straight All Star appearances as one of the best hitting catchers in all of baseball. After leaving for a five-year tour of duty in the American League, McCann returned for a swan song on the 2019 NL East champion squad. He finished a 10-year Braves’ career with a .275/.348/.469, 188 home runs and 706 RBI.

Other 2003 Rome Braves to make The Show:

  • Blaine Boyer: Reached Atlanta in 2005 and had a solid debut season. He lasted five seasons with the Braves before being traded and etched out a 12-year career in the bullpen.
  • Jose Capellan: The right-hander made it to the big leagues for three appearances with the Braves in 2004. The following season he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Danny Kolb.
  • Kyle Davies: Another right-hander, Davies made it to the bigs as a 21-year old in 2005 and made 45 starts over the next three seasons before being traded to the Kansas City Royal for Octavio Dotel.
  • Luis Hernandez: Hernandez, an infielder, made it to the bigs, but not with the Braves, debuting with the Baltimore Orioles in 2007.
  • Anthony Lerew: The righty played small parts of five seasons in the big leagues debuting with the Braves in 2005.
  • Dan Meyer: Sure, Meyer had a solid 2003 in Rome going 4-4 with a 2.87 ERA and striking out 10.5 per nine. And yes, he was part of the trade that brought Tim Hudson to Atlanta. But Meyer’s best work in Rome may have come in 2016 as the pitching coach for a rotation that had Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Kolby Allard, Patrick Weigel and Touki Toussaint.