MiLB Top 10 Prospects Flashback: 1986 American Association

The American Association operated as a Triple-A league from 1946 until its dissolution in 1997, a year ahead of major league expansion to 30 teams. When the AA disbanded, its affiliates were distributed among the International and Pacific Coast leagues, often awkwardly in the case of the latter league.

As a Triple-A league, the eight-team American Association saw its share of future major league stars pass through. Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson headlined the 1988 list. Larry Walker followed in 1989, and Moises Alou, Juan Gonzalez and Ray Lankford in 1990. 

But the American Association class of 1986 has them all beat with Hall of Famers Greg Maddux (No. 6) and Barry Larkin (No. 2) along with several other longtime contributors.

1986 American Association Top 10 Prospects

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Ruben Sierra OF Oklahoma City Rangers 8,782 13.9
2 Barry Larkin SS Denver Reds 9,057 67
3 Dave Martinez OF Iowa Cubs 6,480 18.1
4 Daryl Boston OF Buffalo White Sox 2,901 5.1
5 Joe Magrane LHP Louisville Cardinals 1,097 15
6 Greg Maddux RHP Iowa Cubs 5,008 122.7
7 Scott Bankhead RHP Omaha Royals 901 10.6
8 Mike Kingery OF Omaha Royals 2,282 0.3
9 Russ Morman 3B Buffalo White Sox 518 0.2
10 Bill Moore OF Indianapolis Expos 12 -0.1


Tooled-up outfielder Ruben Sierra ranked as the league’s No. 1 prospect because he “hit with power from both sides of the plate,” while also earning high grades for his ability to run and throw. Sierra made his big league debut with the Rangers as a 20-year-old in 1986, hitting 16 homers in 113 games.

Maddux made his major league debut as a September callup in 1986 after breezing through the AA with a 10-1 record and 3.02 ERA in 18 starts. His Iowa manager commended him for his fastball and curveball and for “changing speeds well,” also saying “the best thing he’s got going for him is his competitiveness.” 

Cincinnati native Larkin was drafted fourth overall out of Michigan in 1985. A year later he was hitting .329 with 10 homers and 19 steals in the AA on his way to a mid-August callup to the Reds. Larkin was noted for his all-around improvement, but there were questions about whether he or Kurt Stillwell, the second overall pick out of high school in 1983, would be the Reds’ shortstop of the future.

Dave Martinez (No. 3) is best known today as the World Series-winning Nationals manager, but he had a 16-year big league career as a fourth outfielder. His scouting report called him a “fetching package of speed, intelligence and fielding ability.” Joe Magrane (No. 5) recorded a 2.06 ERA in 15 starts for Louisville, using a “smooth, effortless motion” and exhibiting “poise” and a “great attitude.”

American Association All-Time BA No. 1 Prospects

Players listed with career major league plate appearances/innings and FanGraphs WAR.

Year Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1981 David Green OF Springfield Cardinals 1,505 4.1
1982 Gary Redus OF Indianapolis Reds 4,066 16.2
1983 Joel Skinner C Denver White Sox 1,551 0.9
1984 Joe Hesketh RHP Indianapolis Expos 962 9.4
1985 Kal Daniels OF Denver Reds 2,739 16.9
1986 Ruben Sierra OF Oklahoma City Rangers 8,782 13.9
1987 Lance Johnson OF Louisville Cardinals 5,800 26.4
1988 Mike Harkey RHP Iowa Cubs 656 5.8
1989 Todd Zeile C Louisville Cardinals 8,649 21.9
Year Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1990 Juan Gonzalez OF Oklahoma City Rangers 7,155 35.8
1991 Dean Palmer 3B Oklahoma City Rangers 5,513 11.0
1992 Kevin Young 3B Buffalo Pirates 4,352 8.0
1993 Brian Jordan OF Louisville Cardinals 5,646 31.7
1994 James Baldwin RHP Nashville White Sox 1,323 9.5
1995 Alan Benes RHP Louisville Cardinals 494 3.3
1996 Dmitri Young 1B Louisville Cardinals 5,253 12.5
1997 Kerry Wood RHP Iowa Cubs 1,380 26.3

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