December 1, 2002
First things first, before I get to the baseball stuff, I must deal with the most important news of the weekend.
Yes, that's right...Heidi Klum is now a free agent.
Okay, now that the important stuff is out of the way, let's talk a little baseball (and yes, in case you were wondering, there really wasn't a good reason to post a picture of Ms. Klum, but really, who cares?)...
I am currently working on my newest article for BaseballPrimer.com.
I won't reveal all the details of it yet, but suffice it to say that it deals with looking at current minor league prospects and trying to determine what their future holds.
Obviously that is a rather impossible task, but it is fun nonetheless.
Anyway, while working on this article (it is about 1/3 of the way done, in case anyone cares) I started wondering whether or not the minor league performances of today's star players would have given you the idea that they would eventually become the stars that they are.
In other words, back when Jason Giambi was in Double-A and Triple-A, would his performance have caused me to think he would become a star?
Here are several current Major League stars and their minor league performances:
We might as well start with the star of stars, Superman himself...
1986 (AAA) = .311/.435/.527 (148 ABs)
1985 (A) = .299/.383/.547 (254 ABs)
Only 400 at bats, but 400 incredibly impressive at bats, especially considering Bonds was 21 and 22 when he put them up.
In addition to the great AVG/OBP/SLG numbers, he also stole 31 bases, walked 70 times, hit 20 homers and 23 doubles - all in only 115 games.
Add in some pretty good outfield defense and you have yourselves a "can't miss" prospect.
I don't think I would have felt safe predicting he would become one of the best hitters of all-time, but I would have had no problem putting him at the top of my prospect list in 1985 and 1986.
From the best hitter in the NL in 2002 to the best hitter in the AL in 2002...
1993 (AAA) = .332/.441/.585 (410 ABs)
1992 (AAA) = .313/.400/.563 (48 ABs)
1992 (AA) = .336/.462/.486 (107 ABs)
Even back then, Jim Thome was my kind of prospect!
In Thome's final 157 minor league games (the 3 lines you see above) he combined for 106 walks, 28 homers, 34 doubles and 130 RBIs.
Thome was 22 in 1992 and 23 in 1993, which makes the #s look even better.
I was only 9 when Thome was finishing up his minor league career, but had I paid attention to such things back then, I think Jim Thome would have been one of my favorite prospects.
I am a sucker for hitters that draw 100+ walks and hit 30 homers in a season's worth of games at the age of 22/23.
From the best hitters in each league to the best player never to win an MVP...
1995 (AAA) = .360/.411/.654 (214 ABs)
1994 (AAA) = .311/.359/.588 (119 ABs)
1994 (AA) = .288/.391/.488 (59 ABs)
1994 (A) = .319/.379/.605 (248 ABs)
Let's pretend this is 1994/1995...
Take a look at those #s again.
Those are the #s of a 19 year old!
And he is a shortstop!!!!
Remember how I said that, while Bonds' #s were awesome, I wouldn't have predicted he would become the greatest hitter of his generation?
Well, I think I would have made such predictions about ARod.
A shortstop that won't be old enough to drink for another couple of years and can put up a .600+ slugging % in Triple-A is almost guaranteed to be great.
In my opinion, there are 5 keys for determining a prospects future:
3) Level(s) played at
Age is simple.
A 19 year old putting up a .600 slugging % in Triple-A is a heck of a lot more impressive than a 24 year old doing it.
Nothing is more valuable in the development of a baseball player than time.
Performance is also pretty simple.
If a guy hits .190/.250/.240 at Double-A, I don't care if he is 12 years old or 146 years old, he probably isn't the best bet for a Hall-of-Fame career.
Level(s) played at goes in hand in hand with both age and performance.
If a 19 year old is playing at Double-A or Triple-A, his performance doesn't have to be as good as a 23-24 year old at the same level.
Also, a lot of players have great seasons in Rookie-ball or Single-A, because they are simply better than the competition there.
For that reason, Double-A and Triple-A are much more important in determining a prospect's prospects.
What I mean by that is whether or not there is going to be consistent playing time for the player when he reaches the Major Leagues.
If a young first base prospect is stuck behind Todd Helton in the Colorado system, he isn't going to be getting 500 at bats with the Rockies any time soon.
On the other hand, if a young shortstop is coming up in a system without any other shortstop options, he is going to have an opportunity to play a lot and if the team isn't a contender, he may also be given some slack as far as his early performance goes.
If you give me two identical players - identical ages, identical performances, identical positions, identical everything - and ask me which one will have a better career, I am usually going to take the one with the better pedigree.
Which means...who was the higher draft pick? Which guy do scouts drool over the most? And to a lesser extent, which guy is taller, more athletic looking, etc, etc.
Okay, let's run ARod through my little 5-key prospect test:
1) Age: He was 19/20 while playing in AA and AAA.
2) Performance: .654 slugging % at AAA in '95 and a .588 slugging % at AAA in '94. Also, a .605 slugging % at Single-A in 1994 and a career batting average well over .300.
3) Level(s) played at: Rodriguez only had 248 at bats at Single-A and 59 at bats at Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A for 300+ ABs.
5) Pedigree: It just doesn't get much better. ARod was one of the most sought after high school players of the last few decades and was the #1 pick in the entire 1993 draft.
He was tall, athletic, fast, intelligent - pretty much everything you look for in a baseball player.
As you can see, Alex Rodriguez circa 1994/1995 was about as good as a prospect can possibly get.
We talked about 3 great hitters, now let's look at the greatest pitcher...
1992 (AAA) = 125 IP, 3.81 ERA, 124 Ks
1991 (AAA) = 39 IP, 3.66 ERA, 35 Ks
1991 (AA) = 77 IP, 1.76 ERA, 74 Ks
1991 (A) = 61 IP, 2.05 ERA, 83 Ks
The #1 key for a pitcher's long term success is the rate at which he strikes out the opposition.
Keeping that in mind, Pedro's minor league performance was pretty good.
He struck out about a batter per inning and generally had a good ERA.
However, those #s are not so incredibly mind blowing as to cause you to think the owner of them would become one of the greatest pitchers of all-time.
One other major thing in Pedro's favor back then was that he was only 20 years old in 1991 and 21 in 1992.
I could go on and on talking about all of the other Major League stars and their minor league performances.
Manny Ramirez slugged .690 at AAA and .581 at AA in 1993, Jason Giambi had a career .332 batting average in AAA, Greg Maddux had a career ERA of 2.65 in AAA and 2.68 in AA, etc.
In almost every instance, the "star" in question was pretty extraordinary while they were in the minor leagues.
One of my biggest beliefs in baseball is that minor league performance can be translated fairly well into Major League performance.
This is not a unique idea, nor is it my own, but it is one I believe in.
That said, there will almost always be exceptions to the rule, or at least that is what Drew Henson is hoping.
In other (non-Heidi Klum) news...
The 2002 statistics have been added to Baseball-Reference.com!
To a normal human being this news is not a reason for tremendous excitement, but we all know I am not a normal human being.
For some reason, despite hating math in general, I love baseball statistics.
I like to look at them, I like to compare them, I like to predict them, I like everything about them.
I have dozens of books containing them and I often bore people to death by speaking about them.
If you have a few dozen hours to spare, go check out Baseball-Reference.com.
Time flies when you are knee deep in stats.
Also, thanks to everyone that actually listened to my plea for more emails from my readers.
I got tons over the weekend, even though (I assume) everyone was busy eating turkey.
To everyone that sent me something, good job, and to everyone that didn't, what are you waiting for?!
Speaking of turkey...
I had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
I spent it at my aunt and uncle's (and cousins) house, where I enjoyed great food and even better company.
I hope everyone had as great a Thanksgiving as I did.
Plus, my Gophers beat Georgia with a 3-pointer at the buzzer on Saturday, so the weekend was almost a total success.
I say almost because yours truly had a little trouble babysitting two little girls and a little boy Saturday night.
My 3 little cousins and I went out to dinner, played Monopoly and Nok Hockey and Clue and the girls prepared for their spelling test on Monday and all kinds of other fun and exciting stuff.
As the night wore down, Josh, a switch hitting pitcher/shortstop that will undoubtedly be taken in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft, started to get what his sisters called "Rammy" (as in Rambunctious).
I didn't think much of it, because I figured that little boys not yet old enough to read were supposed to get a little "Rammy" every once in a while.
But, my aunt and uncle came home and apparently the girls thought he was a little worse than usual, so the feces hit the fan.
I got the heck out of there and back to the safety of my own home before I could get seriously injured, but God only knows what happened after I left.
Hell hath no furry like a couple of pre-teen girls' scorn.
So, if this whole "Journalist" thing doesn't quite work out the way I am hoping, we definitely know I won't be turning to a career in babysitting.