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Prospect Retro: Mike Piazza

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A Good Investment

Prospect Retro: Mike Piazza

Per long-standing reader request, a prospect retro for Mike Piazza.

Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round in 1988, out of junior college in Florida. He was not considered a top prospect, or even a prospect at all by many; he was drafted mainly as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, a friend of Piazza's father Vince. He was the 1,390th player drafted that year.

Piazza began his pro career with Salem in the Northwest League, hitting .268/.320/.444 in 57 games. OK performance, but nothing special. His plate discipline was quite mediocre (13 walks, 51 strikeouts in 198 at-bats) though this would become a strength for him later in his career. At this point, he'd be a Grade C prospect.

Moved up to Vero Beach in 1990, he hit just .250/.290/.390 in 88 games, with 11 walks and 68 strikeouts in 272 at-bats. . .not much power, poor plate discipline. Grade C at best, if you'd even consider him a prospect.

Things changed in 1991. For Bakersfield in the California League, Piazza hit .277/.362/.540, with 29 homers, 47 walks, and 83 strikeouts in 448 at-bats. His plate discipline improved from poor to average, and this helped him unleash his power. His defense was also rated as improving, and for the first time he merited mention as a potential top prospect. At this point, he'd be a Grade B- type guy.

1992 was the big breakthrough. He began the year by hitting .377 with a .658 SLG in 31 games for San Antonio in the Texas League. Promoted to Triple-A, he hit .341 with 22 doubles, 16 homers, .564 SLG, 37 walks, and 57 strikeouts in 358 at-bats. He hit .232 in a 21-game trial with the Dodgers, but was now considered among the best offensive prospects in the game. He was a bit older at 23 than the ideal top prospect, but his improvement appeared quite genuine.

Piazza hit .318 with 35 homers and 112 RBI as a rookie for the Dodgers in 1993, and the rest is history.

His minor league career is certainly unusual. His first two seasons were mediocre, at best, with no hints of greatness to come. His third campaign was strong, but he needed to prove it was real against higher-level pitching. That he did, crushing Double-A and Triple-A, then doing even better in the majors than he had done in the minors.

If someone told you in the spring of 1991 that Mike Piazza would turn into the best hitting catcher in baseball history, NO ONE would believe you. Not even Tommy Lasorda. Piazza snuck up on everyone, traditionalist and stathead alike.

Comparable Players to Mike Piazza

Yogi Berra
Gary Carter
Bill Dickey
Gabby Hartnett
Carlton Fisk
Lance Parrish