Prospect Retrospective: Jorge Posada
As you are no doubt aware, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada announced his retirement a few days ago. This seems like a good idea to take a look at what Posada was like as a prospect, and how his career ranks in context.
Posada was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 24th round in 1990 from high school in Puerto Rico. He was a draft-and-follow choice, not signing right away and attending Calhoun Community College in Alabama, where he played shortstop.
He signed with the Yankees in the spring of 1991 and was sent to Oneonta in the New York-Penn League. He hit just .235 in 71 games, with a .359 SLG, but he also showed good plate discipline by drawing 51 walks in 280 plate appearances. He played second base primarily. At this point, he would have been something like a "Grade C prospect with higher potential," someone with the tools to succeed but without much polish yet, although the high walk rate was an intriguing marker.
Posada moved up to Low-A Greensboro in 1992, hitting .277/.389/.472 with 12 homers and 58 walks in 406 plate appearances. He split his time between DH and a new position, catcher, where he showed the necessary tools but (not surprisingly) needed experience and polish. The big surge in his power production was a positive sign, and at age 20 he had lots of growth potential left. Nowadays, I would probably give a similar prospect a strong Grade C+ or maybe a Grade B-, depending on the exact scouting reports. It is hard to say in retrospect, of course, given that we know how Posada turned out.
Promoted to High-A Prince William in the Carolina League for 1993, he hit .259/.366/.459, with 17 homers and 67 walks. He also stole 17 bases in 22 attempts. I don't have defensive scouting reports or complete statistics dating back that far, but he coughed up 38 passed balls in 107 games, obviously an unacceptable ratio. The bat looked good though, and he would probably have rated as a strong C+ or a B- once again.
Posada skipped ahead to Triple-A Columbus in 1994, hitting .240/.308/.406 with 11 homers and 32 walks in 92 games. He missed part of the season with a broken leg and fractured ankle suffered in a home plate collision. My friend Eddie Epstein gave Posada a Grade C in the 1995 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook, noting that Posada had held his own considering the jump in competition and had interesting offensive potential, but that he was hard to grade due to the injury and lack of positive defensive scouting reports.
He returned to Columbus in 1995 and hit .255/.350/.435 with eight homers, 54 walks, and 101 strikeouts in 432 plate appearances. He also got into one major league game with the Yankees. Reports on Posada at this stage indicated fair power potential and a strong throwing arm, but his defense remained rough and he wasn't considered a top prospect by any means. I gave him a Grade C in my first book, the 1996 edition of the Minor League Scouting Notebook, writing that Posada posted a "decent" +8 percent OPS, but that his defense needed work, he "doesn't hit for average" and had a high strikeout rate.
Returning to Triple-A again in 1996, Posada hit .271/.405/.460 with 11 homers and 79 walks in 440 plate appearances. He got into eight games with the Yankees, going 1-for-14 with six strikeouts. He threw out just 25% of runners trying to steal on him, and reports indicated the Yankees were unhappy with his glove. In the 1997 book, I wrote "it is time for the Yankees to play him or trade him. . .switch-hitting catchers with some power and good on-base percentages deserves a chance to play." I also noted that "Posada has never been good at throwing out runners despite a strong arm, so the Yanks are reluctant to give him a shot at a starting job, which is understandable. Still, one would think that a backup catcher with his kind of secondary offensive skills would be attractive."
Posada played 60 games for the Yankees in 1997, hitting .250/.359/.410 (OPS+ 101), throwing out just 20% of runners trying to steal on him, although he was reasonably reliable otherwise. He didn't really blossom until 2000 when he hit .287/.417/.527 (OPS+ 139) at age 28. This was the best season of his career according to WAR, with a 6.2 mark.
Posada was a five-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger winner, finishing with a career mark of .273/.374/.474, 121 OPS+, WAR 47.6. Among major league catchers, his WAR ranks 15th all-time, in the neighborhood of Bill Freehan (52.8), Lance Parrish (48.0), Buck Ewing (47.5), and Gene Tenace (47.4).
According to Sim Scores, his best comps are Carlton Fisk, Lance Parrish, Gabby Hartnett, Javy Lopez, Gary Carter, and Bill Dickey.
Although he showed some intriguing skills in the minors, Posada spent three years in Triple-A, wasn't considered a top prospect, and was seen primarily as a potentially solid role player. Certainly no one anticipated he would become one of the best catchers in baseball history. He is a good example of why even Grade C prospects can't be ignored. Sometimes they surprise you.