Chipper returning to Braves as special assistant

If anybody knows what it’s like to be a top-rated Braves prospect, realize one’s potential, deal with adversity and pitfalls and forge a long and illustrious career, it’s Chipper Jones.

And so this seems a particularly good time for the return of Atlanta’s iconic third baseman, whom the Braves have hired as a special assistant to baseball operations. Jones, 43, will report to president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella.

The team announced the hiring Thursday, coincidentally the next-to-last day of a week-long development camp for many of their top prospects at Turner Field.

“I think it’s great for the Braves,” Coppolella said. “Obviously he’s one of the best Braves players ever, and I think he can help our players, our young players. I think he can help our scouts in the draft. Whatever we can get with him will be a very positive thing for us and for our franchise.

Jones, who spent his entire 19-year career with the Braves, retired after the 2012 season and will almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Fame electee in the Class of 2018. He will have a loosely defined role with the Braves to include on-field instruction for at least a couple of weeks at spring training and before selected home games.

He’ll work primarily with hitters, and the former No. 1 draft pick (1990) is also expected to assist with amateur scouting leading up to the June draft and with minor league player evaluation and instruction.

“I’m excited,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was his manager in Jones’ final season. “He will be an asset to our team. We talked about it at the end of last year, me and him. I’m glad that he’s with us.”

It’s long been said by many in baseball that Jones, known for his baseball acumen, would make an outstanding hitting coach or manager. But the prolific switch-hitter and 1999 National League MVP was recently remarried and has spent much of his time since retirement pursuing his hunting ventures, including guided hunts on his sprawling ranch in Texas and hunting TV shows he co-owned and or hosted on Outdoor Channel and Sporstman Channel.

“After a few years of decompressing, I came to the undeniable conclusion that I want to be around the game again and, more particularly, around the Atlanta Braves,” Jones said in a news release in which he alluded to the franchise’s ongoing overhaul, centered around accumulating top young players. “Because of what we are in the process of building for this city and our fan base, I am extremely excited to be dipping my toe back into the water that is Braves baseball.

“I look forward to working with our players, as my passion for the art of hitting is something I hold near and dear to my heart. My hope is that I can be an ‘extra set of eyes’ on our players and help supplement an already strong baseball operations department and coaching staff. I am honored to be back working with the Braves.”

An eight-time All-Star who finished in the top 10 in MVP balloting six times, Jones retired as the Atlanta-era Braves career leader in most major hitting categories, batting .303 with 2,726 hits, 468 home runs, 1,512 walks, 1,623 RBIs and 1,619 runs in 2,499 games. He had a .401 career on-base percentage, a .529 slugging percentage, 549 doubles, 150 stolen bases and more walks than strikeouts (1,409), never striking out 100 times in a season.

Jones won a batting title in 2008 when he hit .364 with a .470 OBP at age 36.

Among switch hitters, he ranks second in major league history in batting average, second in RBIs behind Eddie Murray, and third in home runs behind Mickey Mantle and Murray.

“He was a great player and he also has a great mind,” Coppolella said. “He’s very sharp, a very sharp baseball mind. Those who’ve spent time around him (know) he can really see the game in ways that a lot of people, even that play, can’t. It’s great having him back.

“As we try to build this back towards the Braves way and getting back to where you can build a team that you feel like has a chance to go to the World Series each year – when he was playing for us you felt like that every year, and he really went through a lot of those years as to what we’re trying to build back here.”