Prospect Retro: Kenny Lofton
Kenny Lofton was drafted in the 17th round in 1988, out of the University of Arizona. He was better-known as a basketball player in college, where he was the starting point guard for the Wildcats. He is one of only two men to play in the college basketball Final Four and the MLB World Series. . .the other is former pitcher Tim Stoddard.
Lofton was considered rather raw as a baseball player, but promising due to his blazing speed and good overall athleticism. His pro debut was not particularly successful: he hit .214/.286/.273 in 48 games for Auburn in the New York-Pen League. He stole 26 bases in 30 attempts, but the lack of power combined with a high strikeout rate (51 in 48 games) was a poor combination and did not auger well for his future. His defense was well-regarded, but the bat was a serious question. At this point he'd rate a Grade C prospect.
Lofton returned to Auburn in 1989, hitting .263/.336/.309 with 26 steals in 34 games. He then hit .329/.421/.390 with 14 steals in 22 games for Asheville in the Sally League, and it appeared that he was making progress developing his game but there was still a long way to go.
Lofton took a huge step forward in 1990, hitting .331/.407.395 with 62 steals for Osceola in the Florida State League. He drew 61 walks, reduced his strikeout rate, and continued to refine his defensive skills in the outfield. I would probably have rated him as a C+ or B- prospect, "with higher potential" pending evidence from higher levels.
Lofton had a great spring training in 1991 and jumped directly to Tucson in the Pacific Coast League, skipping Double-A. He hit .308.367/.417 with 30 steals and 52 walks for Tucson, with 19 doubles and 17 triples. His walk rate dropped, and his stolen base success ratio was unimpressive (23 caught stealing). But considering that he had skipped Double-A, it was a very good season. Retrospectively I think he'd rate a Grade B, borderline B+.
The Astros traded Lofton to the Indians and he opened 1992 in the Cleveland lineup. His rookie year was very successful: .285/.362/.365 with 66 steals to lead the American League. He hit .325 with 70 steals the next season, emerging as an outstanding leadoff man throughout the 1990s. He even developed some home run power to go with his speed and on-base ability.
In the minors, Lofton always showed good speed and a good glove. His on-base abilities took a bit of time to develop, and he never showed much long-drive power. But he thrived once he turned his attention to baseball full-time in 1990. Looking at Lofton in 1988 or 1989, you'd never think he would be able to develop double-digit home run power at the major league level to go with his speed.
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