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Top 100 Lists Feature Studs, Spectacular Duds
by Jim Callis
CHICAGO—Amazing as it might seem, Baseball America didn't start rating the best prospects in baseball until its 10th year of existence. We had been ranking prospects by their minor league and their organization for years, and we broke them down by position during spring training.
But the Top 100 Prospects list as you know it today wasn't born until 1990. It was a difficult delivery, as the entire five-person editorial staff sat around a small table for five hours and argued about every spot on the list, from No. 1 (Steve Avery) to No. 100 (Reid Cornelius).
In the years that have followed, we've streamlined and refined the process to the point where we're evaluating prospects better than ever. The nature of the business is that it's a lot more art than science, however, and even the most polished crystal ball can get murky from time to time.
So while we're proud of our track record of accurate forecasting, we've also had our share of spectacular busts. Let's take a tour through 17 years of lists and identify our best and worst picks in each of the first 10 slots on the Top 100. We considered players only at their peak position, so Chipper Jones was a candidate at No. 1 (1993) but not at No. 2 (1994), No. 3 (1995) or No. 4 (1992).
Best No. 1: Alex Rodriguez, ss, Mariners (1995). More than a few fans wondered how we could rank A-Rod No. 6 in 1994 before he even played in his first pro game. He jumped to No. 1 after his lone full season in the minors, and we described him as "Cal Ripken with speed." A year later, Rodriguez was the best player in the American League.
Worst No. 1: Brien Taylor, lhp, Yankees (1992) and Josh Hamilton, of, Devil Rays (2001). Taylor and Hamilton will be forever linked as two of the three No. 1 overall picks who failed to reach the majors, joining Steve Chilcott, whom the Mets selected ahead of Reggie Jackson in 1966. A series of injuries derailed Chilcott, while Taylor and Hamilton did themselves in with their off-field actions. Taylor wrecked his shoulder defending his brother in a fight in December 1993, while Hamilton hasn't played since 2002 because of drug problems.
Best No. 2. Vladimir Guerrero, of, Expos (1997). Guerrero took a backseat to Andruw Jones, who became the first player to repeat as out No. 1 prospect. (Joe Mauer since has joined him.) Guerrero's talent was obvious after he led the minors with a .360 batting average, but we're even prouder that we put him on the Top 100 (at No. 85) after he made his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1994.
Worst No. 2: Ruben Rivera, of, Yankees (1995). Your favorite baseball publication once put Rivera on its cover and asked: "The next Mickey Mantle?" Um, no. We were seduced by Rivera's 33 homers and 48 steals in Class A, though we probably should have paid more attention to his 163 strikeouts.
Best No. 3: Eric Chavez, 3b, Athletics (1999). Chavez has raked in the majors just like he did in the minors, where he drove in 226 runs in two seasons. He also became a better defender than expected and has won five straight Gold Gloves.
Worst No. 3: Roger Salkeld, rhp, Mariners (1992). The 1992 Top 100 was not our proudest moment, as it started with Taylor, Todd Van Poppel and Salkeld. The third overall pick in the 1989 draft, Salkeld was on the verge of breaking into the majors as a 21-year-old in 1992 when he tore up his shoulder.
Best No. 4: Derek Jeter, ss, Yankees (1995). Though Jeter was our reigning Minor League Player of the Year, we still put him behind Rivera. He went to Triple-A in 1995 and batted .327—and we rated Rivera No. 3 and Jeter No. 6. The question on Jeter at that point was how much power he'd have after he hit two homers in 1995 and 16 in four minor league seasons.
Worst No. 4: Matt White, rhp, Devil Rays (1997). Of the four loophole free agents from 1996, White got the most money, a $10.2 million bonus that remains a record for a player who went through the draft. But he never displayed consistent mechanics or command before he injured his shoulder in 2001.
Best No. 5: Tim Salmon, of, Angels (1993). Salmon may be the best player ever not to have made an all-star team. His career has included 290 homers, an .886 OPS, a Rookie of the Year award, a Silver Slugger and a World Series ring.
Worst No. 5: Alan Benes, rhp, Cardinals (1996). Most of our No. 5 choices panned out, and Benes started down the same path. He won 13 games as a rookie in 1996 and posted a 2.89 ERA in 1997 before tearing his rotator cuff that July.
Best No. 6: Miguel Tejada, ss, Athletics (1997). Our 1997 Top 10 might have been our best ever, with Andruw Jones (No. 1), Guerrero (No. 2), Kerry Wood (No. 3), Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra (No. 10), as well as Travis Lee (No. 5), Todd Walker (No. 7) and Kris Benson (No. 8). The only real disappointments were White (No. 4) and Rivera (No. 9).
Worst No. 6: Kiki Jones, rhp, Dodgers (1990). Scouts don't have as much of a bias against short righthanders as they used to, but that's no thanks to Jones. Charitably listed at 5-foot-11, he went in the first round of the 1989 draft because he had electric stuff. It quickly disappeared after he hurt his shoulder in 1990.
Best No. 7: Ivan Rodriguez, c, Rangers (1991) and Manny Ramirez, of, Indians (1994). Statistics aren't everything, as we touted Rodriguez after a season in which he posted two homers, 12 walks and a .693 OPS in high Class A. Granted he was 18, but that still required a lot of projection. Ramirez, who likewise will be remembered as one of the best players ever at his position, was more obvious after winning our Minor League Player of the Year award with a .333-31-115 performance.
Worst No. 7: Ryan Anderson, lhp, Mariners (1999). With so many similarities to Randy Johnson, "Little Unit" became a Top 10 mainstay, repeating in 2000 (No. 9) and 2001 (No. 8). Unfortunately for him, Anderson had as many major shoulder surgeries as he had Top 10 appearances.
Best No. 8: Rafael Furcal, ss, Braves (2000). Had we realized that Furcal was actually 22 and not 19 at the time, we wouldn't have ranked him this high. In that case, Reggie Sanders (1991) would have been our best No. 8 selection to this point.
Worst No. 8: Pablo Ozuna, ss, Marlins (1999). Just as our No. 8 picks haven't been spectacularly good, they haven't been horribly bad, either. Ozuna is the worst, and he too earned his lofty status with a bogus age. The Marlins later discovered that he was 24 rather than 20 when they got him in the Edgar Renteria trade that winter.
Best No. 9: Ichiro Suzuki, of, Mariners (2001). No one was sure exactly what to make of the first Japanese position player to come to the United States. We listened to the international scouts who raved about him and wrote, "He won't replace A-Rod, but he'll help lessen the effects of his departure."
Worst No. 9: Drew Henson, 3b, Yankees (2002). Henson became a punch line, but the shame of it is that he might have become the next Mike Schmidt had he focused on baseball out of high school. He had 13 homers and an .825 OPS in high Class A in 1999—at age 19, with no spring training and just 10 games of pro experience.
Best No. 10: Pedro Martinez, rhp, Dodgers (1992). Scouts said Pedro just might be better than older brother Ramon, who was coming off a 17-win season for Los Angeles as a 23-year-old. They were correct, though Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda used Pedro in middle relief before endorsing a trade that sent him to Montreal for Delino DeShields.
Worst No. 10: Tyrone Hill, lhp, Brewers (1993). The Brewers had a string of prospects whose careers were ruined by injuries in the 1990s, most notably Hill. He overmatched minor league hitters with a plus fastball and devastating curveball until he hurt his shoulder in 1993.
You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.