A reader recently asked me to do a Prospect Retrospective for Shawn Green. I don't know why the reader made the request, but Green was a fine player and a prominent prospect during his minor league career. Let's take a look.
Green was a high school player in Tustin, California, renowned for a sweet swing, pure hitting skills, solid all-around tools, and good makeup. He also had a scholarship to Stanford University, but the Blue Jays selected him in the first round in 1991, 16th overall. He was an excellent student and there was a serious risk he would go to college: the Blue Jays ponied up $700,000 to convince him otherwise, which was the second-highest bonus in the draft that year, behind only doomed Yankees draft choice Brien Taylor. Green's agreement with Toronto also stipulated that he could attend college classes before reporting to spring training.
He didn't make his pro debut until 1992. Green was sent to Dunedin in the High-A Florida State League, quite a jump for a 19-year-old with no rookie ball experience. He wasn't dominant, hitting .273/.319/.345 with just one homer in 417 at-bats, but he stole 22 bases and held his own overall, considering the circumstances.
The Jays continued to move Green very aggressively, sending him to Double-A Knoxville in 1993 at age 20. Once again he didn't put up much in the power department, hitting .283 with a .339 OBP and just a .367 SLG, hitting four homers and just 14 doubles in 360 at-bats. He stole only four bases. But he was very young, and the sweet swing still stood out. The Jays gave him a cup-of-coffee in September; he made his big league debut September 28th and went 0-for-6 in three games.
The breakout came in 1994. Moved up to Triple-A Syracuse, he hit .344/.401/.510, winning the International League batting crown, hitting 27 doubles and 13 homers, stealing 19 bases and posting a sharp 40/54 BB/K ratio in 433 at-bats. He didn't draw many walks, but his strikeout rate was low and physical maturity boosted his power. He was rated the Top Prospect in the International League by Baseball America, and while he was over-matched in a 14-game major league trial (he went 3-for-33), he was clearly one of the top prospects in baseball.
Green played 121 games in the majors in 1995, hitting .288/.326/.509 with 15 homers in 379 at-bats. He never returned to the minors, not even for a rehab assignment. He was a steady producer in '96 and '97, then took a power step forward with 35 homers at age 25 in '98 and 42 more (with a .309 average) in '99. He was a centerpiece in the Toronto, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Mets lineups for the next eight years, gradually losing effectiveness with age until retiring in the spring of 2008.
Overall, Green hit .283/.355/.494 over 1951 games, with 328 career homers, wRC+ 118, 120 OPS+; career WAR 31.2. His best seasons were 2001 at age 28 (6.7 WAR, 154 OPS+), 1999 at age 26, (6.0 WAR, 144 OPS+), and 2002 at age 29 (5.3 WAR, 154 OPS+). His numbers might look a bit lackluster compared to some of his superstar contemporaries since he played in a high-offense context in the middle of the steroid era, although he was never implicated himself. Unlike some of the tainted guys, Green's skills deteriorated as he got older: he aged in a normal way.
Among players who spent the majority of their career in right field, Green's 31.2 WAR in 7963 plate appearances puts him in the Neighborhood of the Very Good with guys like Ron Fairly (35.5 WAR in 8437 plate appearances) Johnny Callison (34.8 in 7437 PA), Tim Salmon (34.6/7039), Bobby Murcer (32.7/7718), Del Ennis (28.8/7940), and George Hendrick (28.1/7833).
There are no bums on that list, but no Hall of Famers either, just a group of very solid players who, while not maintaining their peak performances for years and years, were excellent at times, just like Green.