San Diego Padres great and Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn passed away this morning. Let's honor him by taking a look at what he was like as a prospect and how his career developed.
Tony Gwynn was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the third round of the 1981 draft, out of San Diego State University. He was an effective hitter in college, hitting .416/.484/.675 with 11 homers, 18 steals, 26 walks, and only nine strikeouts in 197 at-bats. Coming out of college, he was a respected line drive hitter with good speed and plate discipline, but scouts weren't certain how much pop he would show without the metal bat, and back then little attention was paid to his exceptional BB/K/PA ratio.
Assigned to Walla Walla in the Northwest League, he hit .331/.415/.612 with 12 homers and 17 steals in 42 games, showing excellent plate discipline and maintaining his power. Promoted to Double-A Amarillo in August, he hit .462 with a .725 SLG in 23 games. His pro debut was much stronger than even his backers anticipated. I think you'd have to rate a similar prospect today as a Grade B+ prospect considering his early performance.
Gwynn moved up to Triple-A to begin 1982, hitting .328/.365/.443 in 93 games with 14 steals for Hawaii in the PCL. He was obviously too good for the minors and earned a promotion to the big league team in the second half, where he hit .288/.337/.389 with eight steals in 54 games for the Padres.
At this point, you oldsters may recall that Gwynn was seen as a leadoff guy due to his speed and contact hitting ability, but there were still doubts about his power. It was also unclear if he'd be a .280 hitter and a solid player, or if he would develop into a consistent .300+ hitter and an All-Star type.
He hit .309 in 89 games for the Padres in '83, then broke out with his first batting title in 1984, hitting .351. Seven additional batting titles and five Gold Gloves followed. 3,141 hits later, he's in the Hall of Fame. He led the National League in base hits seven times, finished with a career line of .338/.388/.459, and made 15 All-Star teams.
His Top 10 Sim Score comps are Zack Wheat, Rod Carew, Paul Waner, Wade Boggs, Sam Rice, Roberto Clemente, Heinie Manush, George Sisler, Al Oliver, and Sam Crawford. Nine of those guys are in the Hall. He racked up 65.0 career fWAR, which ranks him 34th all-time among outfielders. That puts him in the neighborhood of Robin Yount (66.5), Tim Raines (66.3), Dwight Evans (65.1), Goose Goslin (64.1), Duke Snider (63.5), and Wheat (63.1).
Could Gwynn's Hall of Fame record been foreseen in his college and minor league profile? It was clear from an early point that he was a very skilled line drive hitter, and his early pro performance was outstanding. But did anyone actually project that Gwynn was a Hall of Fame talent while he was in college (obviously not, he was a third round pick) or when he was in the Pacific Coast League in 1982?
Gwynn took his skill set and became one of the great pure hitters of his generation.