When there aren’t any actual games being played, I tend to leaf through old baseball books to see if there’s anything in them that might surprise me. Thanks to my faulty memory, I usually find something. Baseball America’s 1989 Almanac is no exception.
There’s all kinds of great stuff in here, but today we’ll focus on the 1988 Pacific Coast League. The Albuquerque Dukes (Dodgers) finished with a record of 86-56, best in the league. But the Las Vegas Stars (Padres) won the championship despite owning only the league’s fourth-best regular-season mark. The Stars clinched their spot in the playoffs with a strong first-half showing, and then finished 14-1/2 games in back of the Dukes (who went 48-23 in the second half). So much for heading into the postseason with momentum….
Las Vegas catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. was named league MVP, while Albuquerque’s Terry Collins took home Manager of the Year honors. Alomar also was named Baseball America‘s Triple-A Player of the Year. (For those scoring at home, Gary Sheffield and Ken Griffey Jr. were similarly honored in Double-A and Single-A, respectively.)
Plenty of future big leaguers passed through the PCL in 1988; some of them were even highly regarded at the time. Here are the top 10 prospects from the league, as identified by Baseball America:
- Sandy Alomar Jr., C, Las Vegas (Padres)
- Ramon Martinez, RHP, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
- Juan Bell, SS, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
- Cameron Drew, OF, Tucson (Astros)
- William Brennan, RHP, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
- Greg Harris, RHP, Las Vegas (Padres)
- Mike Devereaux, OF, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
- Jerald Clark, OF, Las Vegas (Padres)
- Lance Johnson, OF, Vancouver (White Sox)
- Matt Williams, 3B, Phoenix (Giants)
You’ll note that seven of these guys played for either the Dukes or the Stars. You’ll also note that only Williams at No. 10 became a big-league star. Several others went on to have fine careers, though some (Bell, Drew, Brennan) never did much.
For his part, Bell had two claims to fame:
- His older brother, George, won the American League MVP in 1987.
- In December 1988, he was part of the package that brought Eddie Murray to Los Angeles.
Hey, I didn’t say they were strong claims to fame. Still, a guy has to have something. Just ask Kato Kaelin.
Really—a “Kato Kaelin” reference? Way to tap the pulse of America there.
Hey, I try. Anyway, plenty of other future stars played in the PCL in 1988, though not all were identified as top prospects at the time. You may have heard of some of these guys:
- Dante Bichette, OF, Edmonton (Angels)
- Craig Biggio, C, Tucson (Astros)
- Ken Caminiti, 3B, Tucson (Astros)
- Edgar Martinez, 3B, Calgary (Mariners)
- Omar Vizquel, SS, Calgary (Mariners)
Yeah, okay, Caminiti had steroids, and Bichette had Coors Field. (Speaking of Kaelin, I seem to recall that Bichette had a pretty sweet mullet going for a while.) Still, I count at least one future Hall of Famer among the players not identified in 1988 as top PCL prospects. And how about the left side of that Calgary infield? If you wonder why Vizquel has such great range, perhaps it’s because he grew accustomed to fielding everything.
Not all of these guys were great. Some were just pretty good (we’re using a fairly loose definition of the term here; your mileage may vary):
- Jay Bell, SS, Colorado Springs (Indians)
- Jeff Brantley, RHP, Phoenix (Giants)
- John Burkett, RHP, Phoenix (Giants)
- Dennis Cook, LHP, Phoenix (Giants)
- Erik Hanson, RHP, Calgary (Mariners)
- Charlie Hayes, OF/3B, Phoenix (Giants)
- Greg Hibbard, LHP, Vancouver (White Sox)
- Darren Holmes, RHP, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
- Felix Jose, OF, Tacoma (A’s)
- Shane Mack, OF, Las Vegas (Padres)
- Terry Mulholland, LHP, Phoenix (Giants)
- Mike Schooler, RHP, Calgary (Mariners)
A few guys who had tasted big-league success were trying to get back to the Show. Some succeeded:
- Mariano Duncan, 2B/SS, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
- Ken Howell, RHP, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
- Bill Krueger, LHP, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
- Roger Mason, RHP, Phoenix (Giants)
Others, not so much:
- Ron Davis, RHP, Phoenix (Giants)
- Gary Lucas, LHP, Phoenix (Giants)
- Joe Sambito, LHP, Tucson (Astros)
- Dan Schatzeder, LHP, Portland (Twins)
Still others went on to greater things after their playing careers:
- Bruce Bochy, C, Las Vegas (Padres)
- Darrel Akerfelds, RHP, Colorado Springs (Indians)
- Terry Francona, OF, Colorado Springs (Indians)
- John Gibbons, C, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
- Bryan Price, LHP, Calgary (Mariners)
- Kevin Towers, RHP, Las Vegas (Padres)
I like that Alomar, Bochy and Towers all played together for the Stars in 1988. Bochy went on to become the Padres manager for many years before taking the same job with the Giants in 2007. While in San Diego, Bochy worked under his former batterymate Towers, who has gone on to be general manager for his current team longer than any other GM in baseball. And Alomar? He caught six games for the Mets last year. Go figure.
You could add Brantley and Sambito to that last list as well. Since retiring, Brantley has done a fair amount of television broadcasting, while Sambito became a player agent.
. . .
So anyway, I had this whole thing figured out except for the ending. I thought we’d just go along for a little ride and look at the sights along the way. And then I realized that most people like to reach an actual destination when they do this sort of thing.
In that spirit, here are some take-home lessons:
- Sometimes Edgar Martinez turns out to be better than Juan Bell, but you never know until it happens.
- Be nice to the guy pitching to you; one day he might be your boss.
- Dropping Kato Kaelin references is a tired act; don’t do it.
Go, already. We’re done.