No Baseball America endeavor would be complete without a Top 10 Prospects list, so now that you’ve reviewed the people we consider the most significant of our first 25 years, take a look at these 10 people who should have prominent roles in the future:
A lot of American sports leagues talk about their growing international appeal, but how many of them have nearly half of their players born in other countries? That’s the reality for baseball, and it’s the job of Paul Archey, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president for international business operations, to see that MLB is able to capitalize on the game’s global appeal and continue to grow worldwide.
Archey’s crowning achievement so far was making the first World Baseball Classic a reality. In spite of a truckload of questions, from which major leaguers would play to whether Cuba would show up, the first event was a success even with a disappointing performance by the United States. Future events promise to be even bigger and better, leading the way for continued growth of the game internationally.
Nevermind that 25 years ago few baseball fans could even have conceived of how significant the Web would be in the way we follow the game now. Even five or 10 years ago, no one was quite sure how to deal with the Internet revolution. Baseball proved to be far ahead of the curve, however, centralizing its new media operations under the new Major League Baseball Advanced Media spinoff company in June 2000, then hiring Bob Bowman as its president and CEO.
Bowman brought his business and technology background to an industry that was skeptical and turned MLBAM into a multimillion-dollar business that has gone from simply building every major league team’s Website to selling tickets and Internet video and continues to branch out, even into industries beyond baseball. We’d be foolish to try to predict where technology will take us in the next 10 years, but it’s a good bet that with Bowman at the helm, baseball will remain on the cutting edge.
A.J. Hinch’s playing career isn’t going to get him into the Hall of Fame. In a decade as a professional player, he was a useful backup catcher who spent most of his time bouncing between Triple-A and the major leagues. He was a third-round pick of the Athletics in 1996 and hit .219 in 953 career big league at-bats before he retired after last season following two seasons in the Phillies organization.
But it’s not as if Hinch didn’t realize this. A Stanford graduate, he started looking at a career beyond the field long before he hung up his spikes. Even back in 2003, he went to the general managers’ meetings in Arizona during the offseason to scout out future job opportunities. “Players always want to say, ‘I’m just thinking about playing today,’ ” he said then. “I think it’s healthy to look at the future. It’s healthy to have aspirations and dream and figure out what path I want to take, and what path is most natural.”
Hinch has already landed his first front-office job, taking over as Diamondbacks farm director this offseason. Based on what we’ve seen and heard from Hinch before, we’re guessing he’ll have a fast ascent to more responsibility.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Omar Minaya always dreamed about playing baseball in the major leagues, and when that didn’t work out, he set about breaking ground somewhere else. He started out as a scout with the Rangers, eventually becoming their international scouting director and signing such players as Sammy Sosa. He became an assistant general manager with the Mets in 1997, and in February 2002 he became baseball’s first Hispanic general manager when he took over the Expos.
And yet it seems like Minaya’s biggest accomplishments might still be ahead of him. Through hard work and a gregarious nature, he has already overcome enough of the prejudices in baseball and society to take the helm of one of its richest franchises. He has signed a raft of free agents and talked about building Los Mets. But he still wants to do more to rebuild this franchise from the ground up.
“We want to be the best organization out there,” he said last spring. “We want to have the best scouts. We want to have the best coaches. We want to develop the best player from within. That’s how we’re going to get this thing done.”
After all he has done so far, who’s to tell him he’s wrong?
Baseball traditionalists were up in arms when Kim Ng was even a candidate for the Dodgers’ general manager position last offseason. So what will they do when she actually gets a GM job? She’s just the second woman to reach the position of assistant general manager (her current job with the Dodgers), and she was the first to ever interview for a GM job. So she has a great shot to become the first woman to run the operations side of an American sports franchise.
No, she didn’t play the game and she doesn’t have a background in scouting, but that doesn’t make her much different from a lot of the executives in the 21st century baseball front office. She broke into baseball with the White Sox in 1991 and has steadily risen up the ranks as she moved to the American League office, the Yankees and now the Dodgers. She has experience in every aspect of baseball operations, from running the farm department to negotiating contracts. Whether the flat-earthers are ready for it or not, her turn is coming.
John Savage knows about building, and rebuilding, so it’s no surprise that UCLA looks like it’s at the beginning of a steady climb with Savage at the helm. He took over from longtime coach Gary Adams beginning with the 2005 season, and after a tough 15-41 season led the Bruins to a 33-25 record in 2006 and an NCAA regional berth.
After playing minor league baseball, Savage started his acclaimed career as a college pitching coach and recruiting coordinator with Nevada in 1992. He moved on to Southern California in 1997, and the Trojans went to Omaha twice and won a national title in 1998 during his four seasons there. His first head coaching job was resurrecting the program at UC Irvine, and by the Anteaters’ third season they reached regionals in 2004. He couldn’t resist when the Bruins came calling, however. UCLA has always been viewed as a sleeping giant on the West Coast, and it looks like Savage has the giant stirring.
When he took over as Indians general manager, Mark Shapiro got the unenviable job of tearing down a team that had been a playoff contender for the better part of a decade. But he embraced the job and endured the criticism as the club averaged 88 losses a year in his first three seasons. The team showed signs of turning around in 2004, then turned into one of the most exciting young teams in the American League in 2005, going from 80 wins to 93 and finishing just short of the playoffs.
Shapiro, a Princeton graduate whose father Ron is a prominent agent, has found success by learning about and embracing all aspects of baseball decision-making, from scouting to statistical analysis. He also shows an interest in the industry as a whole, leading the committee that proposed significant changes to the scouting and player development system last offseason. Shapiro still has a lot of hard work ahead–getting his club from good to perennial contender again, and seeing if he can actually push through the player development changes–but he has shown the intelligence and determination to get those things and more done.
B.J. AND JUSTIN UPTON
Baseball brother combinations have traditionally been colorful pitching duos: Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Joe and Lance Niekro, Jim and Gaylord Perry, and most recently Jeff and Jered Weaver. But it would be hard to find a brother combination with more potential as position players than B.J. and Justin Upton.
Acclaimed since their early teenage days playing in Virginia, they are now two of the best prospects in the minor leagues. They became the highest-drafted pair of brothers ever in 2005, when Justin went No. 1 overall to the Diamondbacks, three years after older brother B.J. went No. 2 overall to the Devil Rays. “It’s good to see him succeed,” B.J. said after the draft. “Going from playing baseball in the front yard and us fighting over it, and then he ended up being the No. 1 pick . . . I’m just real happy for him.”
The tricky part, of course, is for them to fulfill that potential with productive major league careers. With their ability and drive, we’re betting they won’t stop making history with the draft.
Don Fehr, and to a lesser extent Gene Orza get all the attention for the efforts of the Major League Baseball Players Association, general counsel Michael Weiner is doing much of the work behind the scenes. He was a key player in the last collective bargaining agreement negotiations and should be again this time around, and he has also been out front for the union in steroid negotiations.
Weiner earns praise for his preparation and grasp of the issues, but also for his willingness to set aside principle for pragmatism in an effort to get deals done. He also has a down-to-earth style and ability to give straight answers that makes him popular with both agents and players. He has forged a productive working relationship with the commissioner’s office and will play an even more important role in labor relations in future years.
At 23, Wright has already become the face of a franchise full of veterans and big-money free agents, and if the Mets continue with the success they’ve had so far this season he could be the next Derek Jeter in New York: a talented player who also has the charisma to win over fans, the character to lead in the clubhouse and the calm confidence to get the most out of his ability.
“I think he’s the next Scott Rolen,” the Braves’ Chipper Jones said this spring when lining up the game’s best third basemen. “David can do it all. He can hit to all fields for power. He’s a developing third baseman. He’s got a great head on his shoulders. I think he’s going to be an all-star for a long time.”
The Mets want him to be even more than that, nothing less than the face of their franchise for the next decade. Wright doesn’t resist the attention but instead embraces it, inviting more responsibility and higher expectations.