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Guys I Underrated, 1996 Edition

Here is a look at some players I underrated in the 1996 book.

Before I go further, I want to re-emphasize who my letter grading system works.

Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.

A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.

Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player

For purposes of this exercise, I'm only considering players that got a Grade C+ rating or worse. A Grade B guy making good really isn't very surprising.

Paul Byrd, RHP
Rated as a Grade C+ prospect on the basis of a decent year as a 24-year-old swingman in Triple-A. At the time, I projected him as a "useful" middle reliever, and indeed his initial major league exposure was in the middle/short relief role. Byrd hasn't been awesome, but he's had more success as a starter than I anticipated.

Mike Cameron, OF
Rated as a Grade C+ prospect on the basis of hitting .249/.355/.429 with 21 steals at Double-A at age 22. Cameron showed a broad base of skills, including excellent outfield range, and posted an excellent +54 percent SEC, but his high strikeout rate, low batting average, and the fact that many scouts were negative towards him kept me from rating him higher than Grade C+. Cameron isn't a superstar of course, but he's had a better career than I expected at the time.

Chris Carpenter, RHP
Rated Grade C+ after a split campaign, 2.17 ERA in Class A, but a 5.18 mark in Double-A, with weak peripheral ratios at both stops. Just 19 years old, but it looked to me like he was being rushed too quickly. His K/IP ratio was very weak for a guy who threw as hard as he reportedly did. Carpenter didn't put things together until he was 26, then he lost parts of two years to injury, but emerging on the other end as a very good, even excellent, starting pitcher. I think '05 will be his career year.

Keith Foulke, RHP
Rated Grade C after he went 13-6, 3.50 in 26 starts for Class A San Jose at the age of 22. Strong ratios, but scouts hated him. Sabermetrically, he was very interesting, and I wrote that he was "at least a marginal prospect" even though scouts disliked him. I thought he might be a useful fifth starter or long reliever. I did not expect him to turn into an outstanding closer.

Mike Lieberthal, C
Rated Grade C after he hit .281/.388/.432 at the age of 23 in Triple-A. He has a good field/no hit reputation, and track record, before 1996. He started to hit better in '95, but I was skeptical that he would bring this forward to the majors. He's certainly developed more power than anticipated.

Phil Nevin, 3B
Rated Grade C after hitting .291/.371/.457 in Triple-A, at age 24 in the Pacific Coast League. I thought Nevin could be a semi-useful role player, but a major disappointment considering his lofty draft status (first overall) back in 1992. He eventually produced at the major league level, although he didn't get on track until age 28, much later than expected.

Jorge Posada, C
Rated a Grade C prospect after hitting .255/.350/.435 at age 23 in Triple-A. OK performance. Good walk rate, but not much home run power, high strikeout rate, and mixed reports about his defense. I certainly didn't see him as a guy who could hit 30 homers or 40 doubles some day. Neither did anyone else at the time.

Joe Randa, 3B
Rated a Grade C- prospect after hitting .275/.341/.438 in 64 games for Omaha, and .171/.237/.243 in 34 games for the Royals, at age 25. Randa had an impressive glove, according to scouts, but his bat was very anemic, and given his age of 25, I thought it very unlikely that he would improve. He looked to me like a .240 hitter with no power and sketchy on-base skills, and too old to get better than that. Instead, he has a career line of .285/.340/.427 in 1433 major league games.

Randa is the one I'm most disappointed in missing. I saw him play in person a lot, and I had no real inkling that he'd turn into a solid major league player. I thought he was destined for bench work, at best.