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
|3||Jamey Wright||RHP||New Haven||Rockies||2,037||12.2|
|5||Carl Pavano||RHP||Trenton||Red Sox||1,789||19.1|
|9||Todd Helton||1B||New Haven||Rockies||9,453||54.9|
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.
|1982||Joel Skinner||C||Glens Falls||White Sox||1,551||0.9|
|1983||Roger Clemens||RHP||New Britain||Red Sox||4,917||141.5|
|2003||Joe Mauer||C||New Britain||Twins||7,960||52.5|
|2005||Francisco Liriano||LHP||New Britain||Twins||1,814||19.4|
|2007||Clay Buchholz||RHP||Portland||Red Sox||1,332||22.3|
|2013||Xander Bogaerts||SS||Portland||Red Sox||4,025||25.2|
|2014||Michael A. Taylor||OF||Harrisburg||Nationals||1,739||4.0|
|2016||Yoan Moncada||2B/3B||Portland||Red Sox||1,568||10.1|
|2017||Rafael Devers||3B||Portland||Red Sox||1,534||7.4|
|2018||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||3B||New Hampshire||Blue Jays||611||0.2|
|2019||Nate Pearson||RHP||New Hampshire||Blue Jays||16||-0.4|