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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

1Ruben SierraOFOklahoma CityRangers8,78213.9
2Barry LarkinSSDenverReds9,05767
3Dave MartinezOFIowaCubs6,48018.1
4Daryl BostonOFBuffaloWhite Sox2,9015.1
5Joe MagraneLHPLouisvilleCardinals1,09715
6Greg MadduxRHPIowaCubs5,008122.7
7Scott BankheadRHPOmahaRoyals90110.6
8Mike KingeryOFOmahaRoyals2,2820.3
9Russ Morman3BBuffaloWhite Sox5180.2
10Bill MooreOFIndianapolisExpos12-0.1

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.

1981David GreenOFSpringfieldCardinals1,5054.1
1982Gary RedusOFIndianapolisReds4,06616.2
1983Joel SkinnerCDenverWhite Sox1,5510.9
1984Joe HeskethRHPIndianapolisExpos9629.4
1985Kal DanielsOFDenverReds2,73916.9
1986Ruben SierraOFOklahoma CityRangers8,78213.9
1987Lance JohnsonOFLouisvilleCardinals5,80026.4
1988Mike HarkeyRHPIowaCubs6565.8
1989Todd ZeileCLouisvilleCardinals8,64921.9
1990Juan GonzalezOFOklahoma CityRangers7,15535.8
1991Dean Palmer3BOklahoma CityRangers5,51311.0
1992Kevin Young3BBuffaloPirates4,3528.0
1993Brian JordanOFLouisvilleCardinals5,64631.7
1994James BaldwinRHPNashvilleWhite Sox1,3239.5
1995Alan BenesRHPLouisvilleCardinals4943.3
1996Dmitri Young1BLouisvilleCardinals5,25312.5
1997Kerry WoodRHPIowaCubs1,38026.3
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