BA Newsletter: Get Analysis, Rankings Delivered To Your Inbox!

MiLB Top 10 Prospects Flashback: 1996 Eastern League

Pound for pound, the Double-A Eastern League has seen more future major league talent flow through it than any other league. The EL expanded from eight teams in 1981, when BA began, to 10 teams in 1994 to 12 teams in 1999. Players who ranked in various Eastern League top 10s went on to produce more big league WAR than any other league but the International, despite the EL’s modest number of teams.

The list of all-time great Eastern League alumni is long and includes Roger Clemens (1983), Rafael Palmeiro (1986), John Smoltz (1987), Mike Mussina and Jeff Bagwell (1990), Jim Thome (1991), Manny Ramirez (1993), Derek Jeter (1994), CC Sabathia (2000) and Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor (2014).

The Eastern League class of 1996 takes the cake, with a record four players who would go on to accumulate at least 50 WAR.

1996 Eastern League Top 10 Prospects

1Vladimir GuerreroOFHarrisburgExpos9,05954.5
2Scott Rolen3BReadingPhillies8,51869.9
3Jamey WrightRHPNew HavenRockies2,03712.2
4Luis Castillo2BPortlandMarlins7,47128.3
5Carl PavanoRHPTrentonRed Sox1,78919.1
6Felix HerediaLHPPortlandMarlins458-0.6
7Enrique WilsonSSCantonIndians1,537-4.2
8Bartolo ColonRHPCantonIndians3,46252.4
9Todd Helton1BNew HavenRockies9,45354.9
10Todd DunwoodyOFPortlandMarlins986-1.5

Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero’s (No. 1) five-tool talent was obvious even as one of the youngest players in the EL. One manager called him “probably one of the best young players I have ever seen.” Guerrero won the overall minor league batting title (.360) while hitting 19 homers and stealing 17 bases. Even that stage he was known as a bad-ball hitter. “He can hit the pitcher’s pitch,” one manager said.

Because of his athleticism, Scott Rolen (No. 2) drew natural comparisons with Mike Schmidt, who had played for Reading in 1971. EL managers lauded Rolen’s “disciplined stroke” and “great makeup.”

Todd Helton (No. 9) drew attention for his “sweet swing,” “quick bat” and “ability to drive the ball to left-center rather than trying to pull every pitch.” Helton hit .332 with seven homers in the EL and would eventually learn to pull the ball with power, as evidenced by 369 big league homers.

Bartolo Colon (No. 8) battled arm trouble in 1996 but with his “power arm” still regularly pitched in the 90s (back when that was less common). What he lacked at the time was command of his breaking ball. Colon won 247 big league games, more than any other Dominican pitcher.

Luis Castillo (No. 4) led the EL with 51 stolen bases and earned respect for his “pesky” nature, both by hitting “dunkers” over the infield, his speed and the fact “he plays the game with such confidence for a young kid.”

Eastern League All-Time BA No. 1 Prospects

Players listed with career major league plate appearances/innings and FanGraphs WAR. Stats for active players current through mid August.

1981Julio FrancoSSReadingPhillies9,73142.0
1982Joel SkinnerCGlens FallsWhite Sox1,5510.9
1983Roger ClemensRHPNew BritainRed Sox4,917141.5
1984Paul O'NeillOFVermontReds8,32941.0
1985Cory Snyder3BWaterburyIndians3,9331.5
1986Rafael PalmeiroOFPittsfieldCubs12,04670.0
1987Mark Grace1BPittsfieldCubs9,29045.5
1988Hensley Meulens3BAlbanyYankees549-1.8
1989Albert BelleOFCantonIndians6,67641.0
1990Mark LewisSSCantonIndians3,051-2.8
1991Jim Thome3BCantonIndians10,31369.1
1992Bobby JonesRHPBinghamtonMets1,51910.7
1993Cliff Floyd1BHarrisburgExpos6,06324.7
1994Armando BenitezRHPBowieOrioles77918.4
1995Paul WilsonRHPBinghamtonMets9425.2
1996Vladimir GuerreroOFHarrisburgExpos9,05954.5
1997Mark KotsayOFPortlandMarlins7,11020.5
1998Michael Barrett3B/CHarrisburgExpos3,8735.9
1999Pat BurrellOFReadingPhillies6,52019.0
2000Alex EscobarOFBinghamtonMets4391.4
2001Josh BeckettRHPPortlandMarlins2,05137.2
2002Jose ReyesSSBinghamtonMets8,24043.8
2003Joe MauerCNew BritainTwins7,96052.5
2004David Wright3BBinghamtonMets6,87252.0
2005Francisco LirianoLHPNew BritainTwins1,81419.4
2006Phil HughesRHPTrentonYankees1,29113.1
2007Clay BuchholzRHPPortlandRed Sox1,33222.3
2008Matt WietersCBowieOrioles4,40017.2
2009Pedro Alvarez3BAltoonaPirates3,3217.7
2010Domonic BrownOFReadingPhillies1,7480.1
2011Bryce HarperOFHarrisburgNationals4,72536.4
2012Manny MachadoSSBowieOrioles4,85433.8
2013Xander BogaertsSSPortlandRed Sox4,02525.2
2014Michael A. TaylorOFHarrisburgNationals1,7394.0
2015Lucas GiolitoRHPHarrisburgNationals4515.6
2016Yoan Moncada2B/3BPortlandRed Sox1,56810.1
2017Rafael Devers3BPortlandRed Sox1,5347.4
2018Vladimir Guerrero Jr.3BNew HampshireBlue Jays6110.2
2019Nate PearsonRHPNew HampshireBlue Jays16-0.4
Best Tools Feature 2020

The Toolsiest MLB Players Of The Past 30 Years

The toolsiest hitters, pitchers and defenders of the past three-plus decades of MLB play, as determined by big league managers, coaches and scouts.

of Free Stories Remaining