As we count down the days to 2018’s opening day, we take a look at the greatest Braves to wear each jersey number that’s been worn.
The greatest Brave to wear #74 is the only Brave to wear #74, a member of the 2016 Braves thanks to September roster expansion, catcher Blake Lalli.
The only MLB player ever to come from Gardner-Webb University, Lalli signed with the Cubs after college and earned some AA All-Star nods as he came up the ladder around a decade ago. After his MLB debut with Chicago in 2012, the Cubs dealt him that August to Oakland for fellow future Brave Anthony Recker. The A’s cut him loose and he signed with Milwaukee that offseason. In 2013, he’d get his second cup of coffee at the big league level, picking up 24 plate appearances with the Brewers. After spending ’14 and ’15 with the Diamondbacks’ AAA affiliate, Lalli signed a minor league deal with the Braves.
Lalli’s 2016 at AAA wasn’t wildly impressive, slashing .256/.301/.328, and his defense wasn’t anything to write home about either. However, organizations need warm bodies who can catch, and often they get September callups. That happened with Lalli that fall, where he became the only Brave to ever don #74. Used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter in low leverage situations, he slashed .154/.154/.231 across 13 plate appearances in 10 games. He hit one double and drove in one run.
After some time back in Gwinnett in 2017, Lalli was released. He signed with Arizona, but didn’t make it back onto the field. In December of 2017, Lalli was named the manager of Arizona’s single-A affiliate, the Kane County Cougars.
Lalli is the default choice for best Brave to ever wear #74, but where does he rank in baseball history? Is he one of the 5 best MLB players ever to wear #74? Let’s see.
Easily, the greatest #74 in baseball history is the only player to wear it his entire career, current Dodgers relief ace Kenley Jansen. After Jansen, a clear #2 is fellow reliever Ugueth Urbina, who wore it for the final 3 seasons of his career, which weren’t bad.
The 3rd best to wear #74 may very well be one-time top prospect Billy McMillan, who wore #74 with the Tigers in 2000; he slashed .301/.388/.472 in limited playing time, convincing some that he would finally live up to his promise. Finding a #4 isn’t as easy. Nick Goody (2015 Yankees) was mildly helpful across 5 2/3 innings. Relief great Joe Nathan wore it for 4 2/3 innings with the Giants in 2016. OF Efren Navarro wore it last year for the Tigers, and was replacement-level. For #4, I’ll go with 2017 Yankee 2B Ronald Torreyes, who slashed .292/.314/.375 with decent defense. For #5, I guess I’ll go with Nathan.
Lalli was roughly as helpful while wearing #74 as was 2012 Rockies reliever Edwar Cabrera. Normally reliable reliever J.P. Howell wore it in 2011 for the Rays, when he had his worst season.
While Blake Lalli isn’t one of the 5 best #74’s in baseball history, he does have a chance to be the first manager to lead Kane County to the playoffs as a member of the Arizona system. Best of luck in your managerial career, #74.