A Canadian, Matt Stairs was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Montreal Expos in 1989. He split his first pro season at three levels, his best performance being .289/.359/.418 in 44 games for Rockford in the Midwest League. At this point he would have been a Grade C prospect at best.
Stairs began 1990 with West Palm Beach in the Florida State League, hitting .339/.463/.470 in 55 games. His BB/K/AB mark was exceptional at 41/19/183. Promoted to Double-A for the second half, he hit just .253/.314/.346 in 79 games for Jacksonville. Still, for an undrafted guy he was doing OK, and would rated at Grade C.
1991 was an excellent season for Stairs, hitting .333/.415/.509 with 30 doubles, 10 triples, 13 homers, 66 walks, and only 47 strikeouts in 505 at-bats for Double-A Harrisburg. At this point he started to get some attention as a prospect; scouts didn't like his glove, or his 5-9, 215 pound body, but it was impossible to ignore his hitting. I would have rated him as a Grade C+ or maybe B- at this point due to his offensive skills.
Moving up to Triple-A for 1992, Stairs hit .267/.352/.426 for Indianapolis, showing fine on-base skills but reduced overall production compared to '91. This would have reduced his grade back to a straight Grade C. He appeared in 13 games for the Expos, hitting just .167, but at least he made the Show, more than most undrafted guys can claim.
Stairs began '93 in the Expos system, but ended up spending most of the year in Japan, where he hit a disappointing .250/.293/.432 for the Chunichi Dragons. Returning to North America in '94, Stairs hit .309/.411/.486 for Double-A New Britain in the Red Sox system. Good numbers, but at age 26 he couldn't be regarded as an especially interesting prospect. Promoted to Triple-A for '95, he hit .284/.359/.491 for Pawtucket, then .261/.298/.398 in 39 games for the Red Sox.
Stairs moved on to the Oakland system for '96, splitting the season between Triple-A Edmonton (.344/.417/.578 in 51 games) and Oakland, where he hit .277 with a .547 SLG in 61 games. He became a full-time player with the Athletics in '97, hitting .298 with 27 homers, firmly establishing himself as a very useful bat. Through 1172 major league games entering 2005, Stairs has hit .266/.359/.494, compared to his minor league numbers of .291/.373/.452.
Stairs has actually shown more power in the Major Leagues than he did in the minors. His minor league track record was marked by decent power, reasonably high walk rates, and not many strikeouts for a power hitter. He sometimes had adjustment problems in his first shot at a new level, but in the end he was able to make the needed adaptations to the competition. He is a favorite of statheads due to his power and patience, and an inspiration to anyone with a beer belly. There are lots of guys like Stairs who get stuck in the minors, but he was able to take advantage of his opportunities and establish himself in the Show.
Comparable Players to Matt Stairs, based on Sim Score and PECOTA, through age 36 (no active players listed).