Lake Buena Vista, Florida
The San Diego Padres have signed pitcher Kenny "Bubba" Nelson to a minor league contract.
Nelson was released by the Cinncinati Reds ten days ago. The Padres were one of several teams interested in signing the 24-year-old right-hander.
The Atlanta Braves drafted Nelson in the second round of the 2000 draft out of Riverdale Baptist High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. The right-hander quickly became one of Atlanta’s top prospects after a super season in Macon in 2001. He was 12-8 in 2001 in Macon with a 3.93 ERA in 24 starts. Then he led all of minor league baseball the next season with a 1.72 ERA in Myrtle Beach.
Nelson started the 2003 season as a starter with Greenville, but toward the end of the season he was converted to a reliever. He was promoted to Richmond and relieved in eleven games and posted an ERA of 1.88. There were rumors Nelson would be promoted to Atlanta late that season, but the call never came.
After the trade of Adam Wainwright to St. Louis in December of 2003, Nelson became the Braves’ top pitching prospect. But with the bullpen ailing late in spring training of 2004, General Manager John Schuerholz used Nelson along with left-hander Jung Bong to acquire Reitsma.
Nelson struggled in his first year with the Reds, going 1-10 in 12 Triple-A starts with a 7.09 ERA. He was then demoted to Double-A Chattanooga and lowered his ERA to 4.08 in 10 games (nine starts).
Last March Nelson was arrested on DUI charges in Sarasota, but he later pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced to community service and probation. He would then go on to have a solid season in Double-A Chattanooga, pitching strictly out of the bullpen. Nelson was 2-4 with a 4.61 ERA in 42 games, 67 hits allowed in 68.1 innings, 35 earned runs, only 27 walks, and 70 strikeouts.
Nelson made the Southern League All-Star Game last summer, and his peripherals improved across the board. But after a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, the Reds took him off their 40-man roster in January. He still attended Reds’ major league camp, but allowed four runs in 1.2 innings in his two spring training games.
The Padres plan to send Nelson to AAA Portland and pitch him out of the bullpen.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. The book also includes a chapter on Nelson’s trade to the Reds two years ago. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.