A reader requested a Prospect Retrospective for former major league outfielder Brian Jordan. Jordan is an interesting case: he was much more of an athlete than baseball player at first, but he was able to eventually refine his tools into skills and have a very respectable major league career.
Brian Jordan was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the supplemental first round of the 1988 draft (30th overall), from the University of Richmond. A prospect as both a baseball and football player, he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the seventh round, but got cut in training camp. He signed with the Falcons as a free agent and played parts of three seasons with Atlanta as a defensive back. However, he eventually made the decision to focus on baseball, and this turned out to be a good move.
Jordan's baseball career began 19-game .310/.387/.549 debut for Hamilton in the New York-Penn League in 1988. He was highly-rated for his speed and power potential, but he had issues with the strike zone and was considered raw as a hitter. Given his combination of a high draft position, loads of tools, but an unrefined approach, a Grade B- would have been appropriate coming out of college.
Concentrating on football, Jordan played just 11 games in the Cardinals system in 1989, hitting .349/.378/.628 for St. Petersburg in the Florida State League, with zero walks and eight strikeouts in 43 at-bats. Given his rawness and football commitment, I would likely have dropped him to a Grade C+ or a high-ceiling C.
Jordan played just 25 games in the Cardinals system in 1990, split between St. Petersburg and Double-A Arkansas, hitting a mere .163/.193/.200 with two walks and 22 strikeouts in 80 at-bats. Given his age at that point (23) and lack of baseball success, I probably would have dropped him to something like a "Grade C with higher potential if he focuses on baseball."
Jordan played 61 games for Triple-A Louisville in 1991, hitting .264/.342/.410 with 10 steals in 13 attempts, 17 walks, and 41 strikeouts in 212 at-bats. His tools were still evident and he was starting to show better skills, but was still a long way from fully tapping his potential. Strike zone judgment remained a big issue. A Grade C or C+ would still be appropriate.
Fully focused on baseball beginning in 1992, Jordan started to come around, hitting .290/.337/.400 with 13 steals in 43 games for Louisville, but just .207/.250/.373 in 55 games, 193 at-bats for the major league Cardinals. He was 25 at this point, exhausted his rookie eligibility, but still struggling to put his tools to use on the field.
It clicked in 1993 at the age of 26. He tore up Triple-A with a .375/.442/.597 mark in 38 games, then kept the momentum going with a .309/.351/.543 run in 67 games, 223 at-bats for the Cardinals. His defense was very unrefined, however, driving down his WAR value to just 1.0 despite his strong slash line and 137 wRC+.
He took a step backward during the strike season in '94 (.258/.320/.410 in 197 plate appearances, WAR 1.0), but finally came into his own fully in '95 with a .296/.339/.488 season, including 22 homers and 24 steals. His defense was much better and this helped drive his WAR value up to 4.5.
Although he struggled with injuries at times, Jordan remained a productive player through age 36, but fell apart rapidly after that. His plate discipline was never great and he was never much of a walk threat, but he kept the strikeouts under control, had a quick bat, hit for average, and averaged 30 doubles and 20 homers per 162 games, finishing with a career line of .282/.333/.455, 104 OPS+, wRC+105.
His best overall season was 1998, when he hit .316/.368/.534 with 25 homers, 17 steals, OPS+ 134, and a 6.9 WAR. He was a good hitter and (eventually) an excellent defensive outfielder, finishing with a career WAR of 31.6.
Jordan's Sim Score Comps are a list of very solid players: Rondell White, Jackie Jensen, Bobby Higginson, Kevin McReynolds, Carl Everett, Richie Zisk, Sid Gordon, Joe Rudy, Hank Bauer, and Sam Chapman. Among outfielders who spent the majority of their career in right field, Jordan's 31.6 WAR puts him in a neighborhood with Jensen (32.5), Ken Griffey Sr (32.3), Carl Furillo (32.1), Shawn Green (31.2), Bob Meusel (28.2), and Von Hayes (27.8).
Although he wasn't quite as good an athlete as other football/baseball players like Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson, Jordan's physical tools were still excellent and his eventual focus on baseball enabled him to put them to more complete use on the field. This is why teams will take chances on pure athletes even when they are interested in other sports.