When I was moving last spring I found a blast from my past in my attic. At first blush it seems unremarkable. It’s the 1994 Baseball Almanac. What makes it fun is that it contains write-ups of prospects. Naturally some of these prospects have since become stars, superstars, or future Hall-of-Famers. How were they regarded ‘back in the day’?
At the moment I found it I thought it would be fun during the offseason when I’m suffering from writer’s block or chronic procrastination (such as this week) to see how various prognosticators viewed today’s elite.
So without further ado, this week’s foursome: Bobby Abreu, Edgardo Alfonzo, Chris Carpenter and Johnny Damon…
Team: Houston Astros
Born: March 11,1974 Avagua, Venezuela
Height: 6′ Weight: 160 lbs.
Bats: left Throws: right
Acquired: Signed as a nondrafted free agent,
Will: hit for extra bases
Can’t: play center
Expect: gradual rise in minors
Don’t Expect: dominating power
Abreu completed three years in North American baseball before turning 20, and he showed some ability with the bat each time. After a slow start with Class-A Osceola of the Florida State League in In 1993 he became one of the leading producers of triples in the minor leagues. If Abreu reaches the major leagues, he will do so by being a generally useful offensive player, a tough out. A pure hitter, he has some power, which should increase as he fills out. However, it will likely be of the extra base, not home run, variety, as was seen in his fine doubles and triples total. He can run a bit and steal a base but he’s not what you’d call a typical burner on the carpet. He’ll draw a walk, score a run or drive one in. In the field Abreu is adequate, though anything other than left field might be pressing it. He does have a fairly good arm, but his glovework needs improvement. Clubs can always use a reliable left-handed bat, and Abreu has enough tools to fill into a ball club as long as he hits.
I’d say Abreu exceeded expectations. The article suggested “some power,” and we were told not to expect “dominating power;” however his career OPS+ is a fine 137 and he has blasted over 200 home runs. Granted he isn’t “a burner,” but 271 bases is 13th among active players. Although he wasn’t projected as much of a fielder “left field might be pressing it,” he does own a Gold Glove as a right fielder. The summation “Clubs can always use a reliable left-handed bat, and Abreu has enough tools to fill into a ball club as long as he hits” was clearly left in the dust by Abreu.
Team: New York Mets
Born: Aug. 11, 1973 Stalion Teresa, Venezuela
Height: 5’11″ Weight: 1741bs.
Bats: right Throws: right
Acquired: Signed as a free agent, 1991
Will: dominate at plate
Can’t: pick it with the best
Expect: touch of power
Don’t Expect: high steal percentage
With the Mets playing the way they did in 1993, the natural thing was to peek into the future and see their prospects around the keystone. They had to be pleased with what they saw in Alfonzo. A hitting machine of still-tender years, Alfonzo has impressed at his first three steps in pro ball. In 1991, he led his rookie league team in average, hits, triples, RBIs, sacrifices, and walks. Graduating to the Class-A New York-Penn League in 1992, Alfonzo again dominated at the plate, leading Pittsfield in slugging and on-base percentage as well as other categories. He showed power in 1993, hitting more than 10 homers and garnering more than 80 runs batted in. Unfortunately, he also has had problems with his glove. In 1992, he collected 26 errors, and the Mets can’t afford that with their defensive shortcomings. However, a bat like this is hard to ignore and there is still time to improve his glove or to find another position if that becomes the more attractive option. At the very least, Alfonzo’s combination of speed and punch can provide a bit of sunshine for a franchise that has slipped badly.
I’d say for the most part they nailed this one. Fonzie enjoyed OPS+ seasons of 120, 127, 150 and 130 between 1997 and 2002. During that span only Jeff Kent was measurably better offensively in the National League among second sackers. (Craig Biggio was slightly better.) Considering that Biggio and Kent are likely Hall-of-Famers I’d say he ‘dominated at the plate’—for a time anyway.
Team: Toronto Blue Jays
Height: 6’6″ Weight: 220 lbs.
Bats: right Throws: right
Acquired: First-round pick in 6/93 free-agent
Will: throw in 90s
Can’t: race through system
Expect: nice contract
Don’t Expect: finished growing
The Blue Jays have chosen a Carpenter as they build their future. Out of Trinity High School in Manchester, New Hampshire, Carpenter was the 15th overall pick in the draft. If his future is as big as his body, Toronto will have done well with the compensation pick awarded for the loss of free-agent reliever Tom Henke to Texas. Baseball America rated Carpenter as having the third-best velocity of any high school pitcher, and tabbed him as their 32nd best draft prospect. The Blue Jays obviously thought even more of him. They are projecting a good curve to go along with his impressive fastball, which moves upwards to 94 mph. There’s a chance Carpenter could grow a bit more, adding even more to his power. Carpenter dominated in high school, though no more so than any other pitcher taken so high in the draft. He had the option to attend college, which gave him some leverage in his talks with the Blue Jays. He finally signed late for a reported $580,000 signing bonus, and Carpenter was not able to get any pro experience under his belt.
Oh what could’ve been: 49-50, 4.83 ERA in Toronto and was released in 2002. The Cardinals took a chance and signed him. He sat out all of 2003 and has starting in 2004: went 51-18, 3.10 ERA, won a Cy Young, will get serious consideration for second, and he has a World Series ring. For the most part this was spot on except for two points: One, they said he couldn’t race through the system, but he made the varsity in his fourth year of pro ball which is pretty good. Second, he fulfilled his promise in St. Louis, not Toronto (throws up, throws chair, throws cat, throws tantrum).
Team: Kansas City Royals
Born: Nov. 5, 1973 Fort Riley, KS Height: 6′ Weight: 175 lbs.
Bats: left Throws: left
Acquired: Second-round pick in 6/92 free agent draft
Will: score runs
Can’t: let hoopla hurt him
Expect: fine offensive player
Don’t Expect: Royals Stadium power
Damon was drafted out of high school and immediately became a smash in pro ball, leading Gulf Coast to the rookie Gulf Coast League title in 1992. He led the league in several offensive categories, was selected for the All-Star team, and was named the league’s top prospect. His performance was especially gratifying because he had endured an off-season at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Florida. Damon before his final year had been hyped as the top high school prospect in the country. which proved to be a bit too much of a burden. He suffered through a disappointing season that probably dropped him in the draft-which benefited Kansas City quite a bit. Nevertheless, he was named to USA TODAY’s High School All-America team, and went on to his impressive pro debut. Damon followed with a solid 1993 campaign with Class-A Rockford, being named the No.3 prospect in the Midwest League by Baseball America. He hits for average, steals bases. has moderate extra-base power, and has a knack for getting on base. Damon had 51 bases on balls last season.
This one is a bit of an enigma. On the one hand Damon has had a fine career. Since 1999 he has been a well above league-average hitter every year but two; when you’re playing a key defensive position, that’s very valuable. Damon has 361 doubles, 85 triples, 154 home runs, and 306 stolen bases in fewer than 7000 at-bats. He’s been on five postseason teams with three different clubs and was a major reason the Red Sox broke their long World Series drought in 2004. Damon is third among active players in triples. On the other hand, the blurb also noted: “can’t let hoopla hurt him.” There was a lot of hoopla around Damon at this time. He was being touted as the second coming of George Brett as a hitter by some. Obviously that’s a pretty high bar to set for anyone, even the erstwhile Son of God. A 104 OPS+ over 6770 AB is a far cry from Brett’s 135 OPS+ over 10,349 AB. Still for the most part I’d say they pegged Damon pretty well.
So I’d give the writers an A-. They:
- Underestimated Abreu quite a bit.
- Were spot on about Alfonzo—at least for six seasons.
- Right projection, wrong team about Carpenter (cat runs for cover to no avail—Memo to me: Apologize to wife for picture window).
- Close enough on Damon.