The Atlanta Braves officially announced the signing of 19 of their 20 draft picks and two undrafted free agents on Friday. One of those undrafted free agents, right-hander J.J. Niekro, happens to share a familial link with one of the biggest names in franchise history.
Niekro is related to a pair of former Braves pitchers: he's the son of Joe and the nephew of Phil. Joe, best known for his time with the Houston Astros franchise, pitched in parts of two seasons with Atlanta back in the '70s. Phil, conversely, spent 21 seasons with the Braves as part of a Hall of Fame career.
The Niekro brothers were teammates during the 1973-74 seasons. Joe passed away at the age of 61 in 2006 and Phil passed away following a long battle with cancer at the age of 81 in 2020.
Even now, decades after his career ended, Phil ranks second in Braves franchise history in games started; third in shutouts; fifth in complete games; and third in Wins Above Replacement for pitchers (per Baseball Reference's calculations), trailing only Kid Nichols and Warren Spahn. (It should be noted that neither Nichols nor Spahn pitched for the Braves after their move to Atlanta, making Niekro the leader under that geographical distinction.)
J.J., 23 years old, pitched in parts of five seasons at Florida Southern, a college located in Lakeland, Florida. During his Moccasins career, he appeared in 48 games (32 of them starts) and accumulated a 3.53 ERA and a 2.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He did not appear on Baseball America's top 500 draft prospects list.
Niekro tweeted the following on Friday morning: "Super excited to announce that I have signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves. Incredibly thankful to the Lord and so many others that have helped me in my career."
The only draft pick the Braves haven't signed is prep outfielder Ty Evans, who happened to be their final selection in the class. He's committed to play for the University of Florida.