Numbers Game: 15 Prospects Who Were Born To Be Stars
As Baseball America prepares to release its new Before They Were Stars book title this fall, we provide a sneak preview of some of the players who, in retrospect, were just born to be stars.
It was obvious even when these players were teenagers that they were bound not only for the major leagues, but for major league stardom.
These so-called perfect prospects ranked No. 1 in virtually every minor league (Lge) and organization (Org) in which they played. We handpicked 15 of the brightest prospects of the past four decades and excerpted contemporary scouting reports to show how highly they were regarded before they were stars. Players are listed chronologically.
Gary Sheffield, SS
Lge No. 1: Pioneer (1986), California (1987)
Org No. 1: Brewers (1987, 1988, 1989)
“Strong body,” Visalia manager Dan Schmitz said. “He can run, field, throw, hit, hit for power, he’s an RBI man . . . has all the tools. He’ll be a star.”
Source: 1987 CAL
Ken Griffey Jr., OF
Lge No. 1: Northwest (1987), California (1988)
Org No. 1: Mariners (1988, 1989)
To watch Griffey hit a homer is to watch a ball jump off his bat and tower over the right-field fence.
“He has all the tools to be a superstar,” Everett manager Joe Strain said.
Source: 1987 NWL
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Lge No. 1: Florida State (1990), Texas (1991)
Org No. 1: Rangers (1991)
He’s so good that one opposing Florida State League manager commented, “The only way you’ll steal a base on him is if his teammate drops the ball.”
Source: 1990 FSL
Chipper Jones, SS
Lge No. 1: Carolina (1992), Southern (1992)
Org No. 1: Braves (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995)
“You don’t look at the immediate numbers,” Prince William manager Mike Hart said. “You just wonder how fast he’s going to make it. He’s one of those kids who comes around maybe once in a lifetime. A blue-chipper.”
Source: 1992 CAR
Alex Rodriguez, SS
Lge No. 1: Midwest (1994), Pacific Coast (1995)
Org No. 1: Mariners (1994, 1995)
“Alex has a good swing and a lot of range,” Appleton manager Carlos Lezcano said. “But I think the best thing about Alex is that he is eager to learn the game. He applies what you teach him very quickly.”
Source: 1994 MWL
Andruw Jones, OF
Lge No. 1: South Atlantic (1995), Carolina (1996), Southern (1996)
Org No. 1: Braves (1996, 1997)
Jones showed he could hit for a high average, flashed his power, displayed his speed and got to anything in his vicinity in the outfield.
“He’s one of the best prospects I’ve ever seen in the minor leagues,” Greenville manager Jeff Cox said. “He’s just so multi-talented. He is all-star caliber in every facet of the game.”
Source: 1996 SL
Miguel Tejada, SS
Lge No. 1: Northwest (1995), California (1996), Southern (1997)
Org No. 1: Athletics (1997)
Tejada’s range and his ability to produce runs despite a rather adventurous approach to the strike zone tagged him as the top NWL prospect.
“Good bat speed, good pitch selection, all the tools to be a good offensive player, and he can run,” Portland manager P.J. Carey said. “He’s a five-tool player.”
Source: 1995 NWL
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Lge No. 1: South Atlantic (1996), Florida State (1996), Texas (1998)
Org No. 1: Never
The Dodgers weren’t in a rush to move Beltre. His tools—all but speed are well above average—make one of baseball’s elite prospects.
His defense can be just as impressive as his bat. His range is excellent, although he sometimes gets to balls and forces errant throws from his powerful arm.
Source: 1997 FSL
Josh Beckett, RHP
Lge No. 1: Midwest (2000), Florida State (2001), Eastern (2001)
Org No. 1: Marlins (2001, 2002)
Beckett rapidly evolved into more than just a flamethrower by exhibiting pinpoint command of an overpowering three-pitch arsenal. Hitters couldn't sit on his explosive mid-90s fastball with his hammer curveball and much-improved changeup in the back of their minds.
"He was head and shoulders above everybody," Daytona manager Dave Trembley said.
Source: 2001 FSL
Joe Mauer, C
Lge No. 1: Appalachian (2001), Midwest (2002), Florida State (2003), Eastern (2004)
Org No. 1: Twins (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)
All of Mauer’s tools rate average or better, and managers loved the way he managed the game.
"He's the total package," Tampa manager Bill Masse said. "Number one, you want your catcher to receive, block and throw well, and he does all three well above-average. You throw in his bat and you've got about as top a prospect as you're going to get."
Source: 2003 FSL
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Zack Greinke, RHP
Lge No. 1: Carolina (2003), Texas (2003)
Org No. 1: Royals (2003, 2004)
"He's overpowering physically and mentally," Kinston manager Torey Lovullo said. [Editor’s note: Lovullo is Greinke’s manager today with the D-backs.]
"He did a great job of attacking hitters and changing speeds. He'd throw his fastball one time and hit 95 (mph), then drop it back to 80. He's as close to what you'd call a sure thing as I've seen. He has a great feel for how to get a hitter out."
Source: 2003 CAR
Felix Hernandez, RHP
Lge No. 1: Northwest (2003), California (2004), Texas (2004), Pacific Coast (2005)
Org No. 1: Mariners (2003, 2004, 2005)
King Felix reigned over the PCL with stuff that borders on unfair. His mid-90s fastball and mid-80s curveball are 70 pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale, while his changeup is a 60 . . . He throws quality strikes with a sound delivery and clean arm action.
"He's the best minor league pitcher I've ever seen. That's the best report I've ever written," one scout said. "There's nothing not to like.”
Source: 2005 PCL
Clayton Kershaw, LHP
Lge No. 1: Gulf Coast (2006), Midwest (2007), Southern (2008)
Org No. 1: Dodgers (2008)
Kershaw had the best fastball in the league, a 93-95 mph buzzsaw, as well as one of the best curveballs. No minor league lefty can match his power stuff.
“He was by far the highest-ceiling minor league arm I saw all year,," a National League scout said. "Kershaw could end up winning Cy Young Awards. Not many young guys do what he does."
Source: 2007 MWL
Mike Trout, OF
Lge No. 1: Arizona (2009), Midwest (2009), California (2009), Texas (2011)
Org No. 1: Angels (2011, 2012)
Trout has the tools to be a difference maker in every phase of the game. He's powerfully built and can hit for a high average with legitimate power, plus the ability to adapt his hitting approach to wherever he's placed in a lineup.
He also has top-of-the-scale speed with amazing acceleration, going "from zero to 60 in the snap of a finger" in the words of one scout.
Source: 2011 TL
Bryce Harper, OF
Lge No. 1: South Atlantic (2011), Eastern (2011)
Org No. 1: Nationals (2011, 2012)
Harper has excellent strength and bat speed and near-legendary power. He refined his two-strike mindset and learned to spread out and let balls travel deeper.
"He's a throwback with off-the-charts ability," Erie manager Cris Cron said. "He has it all and has it at such an early age. He flat-out attacks the ball with a very solid approach. He's figured it out so early in his life, when it takes some a lifetime. I love the aggressiveness to his game"
Source: 2011 EL
The Next Wave
These minor leaguers are the most likely ones to join the above group as major league stars. Both prospects probably will rank as their organizations’ No. 1 prospects again in 2019.
Royce Lewis, SS
Lge No. 1: Gulf Coast (2017), Midwest (2018), Florida State (2018)
Org No. 1: Twins (2018)
Lewis has an exciting blend of top-shelf tools and instincts for the game. With a high waist and wide shoulders, he has outstanding bat speed and plus raw power.
Lewis makes frequent contact with a mature hitting approach, driving the ball with authority to all fields. His sharp eye for the strike-zone should make him a high on-base threat.
Source: 2017 GCL
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B
Lge No. 1: Appalachian (2016), Midwest (2017), Florida State (2017), Eastern (2018)
Org No. 1: Blue Jays (2017, 2018)
Guerrero does it with stunning bat speed thanks to the fastest hands in the FSL, and scouts don't shrink from grading him as a 70 hitter on the 20-80 scale. His power rates lower than than his hitting ability at present, but he's just 18, and scouts see plenty of home runs in his future.
The biggest question about Guerrero is defense.
“I have reservations over how (his body) will hold up at third base,” one pro scout for an American League club said. “He has more than enough bat for first base though."
Source: 2017 FSL