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Prospect Retro: Kirby Puckett

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The Two Kirby Pucketts, the slap-and-dash rookie contact hitter, and the veteran slugger.

Prospect Retrospective: Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett was drafted in the 1st round of the January supplemental draft in 1982, out of Triton Junior College in Illinois. He was considered a future leadoff guy, possessor of excellent speed and a sound contact hitter. Sent to Elizabethton in the Appy League, he hit .382/.437/.491 in 65 games, stealing 43 bases.

Moved up to the California League in '83, he hit .314/.372/.442 with 48 steals and 9 homers for Visalia. Although his walk rate was mediocre, he only struck out 62 times in 548 at-bats, and "possible future batting champion" was the scouting word on his ability.

Skipped past Double-A in 1984, he hit .262/.303/.325 with 8 steals in 21 games for Triple-A Toledo, then took over as the Twins center fielder in May. In 128 games, he hit .296/.320/.336 with 14 steals, but 0 home runs. He was very exciting to watch: fast, excellent defense, played with tremendous enthusiasm, quickly becoming a fan favorite. He did not strike out very much (just 69 times in 557 at-bats), but he drew only 16 walks. Despite the good batting average, his on-base skills were inadequate for a leadoff man. He was a slap-and-dash hitter, an adept bunter, but not someone who would hit for power.

Puckett hit .288/.330/.385 with 21 steals in '85. His big power outburst came in '86, as he slammed 31 homers to go with a .328 average and 20 steals. The power increase was due to a change in his approach: Twins coaches convinced him that he could hit for more power if he tried to drive the ball rather than slap it, and voila. He also began bulking up physically, losing his speed in the process but improving his power output.

Kirby never showed great plate discipline, but he never struck out more than 99 times in a season, and was one of the best "bad ball hitters" I've ever seen. You know the rest of the story: fan favorite, two World Series wins, career ended early due to glaucoma. His post-career life has been a mess, with serious personal controversies tarnishing his image a great deal.

His minor league career was fine, and it was clear that he would hit for average, although his power development was unexpected.

Comparable Players to Kirby Puckett, no actives listed.

Carl Furillo
Kiki Cuyler
Tony Oliva
Joe Medwick
Minnie Minoso
Cesar Cedeno
Don Mattingly
Cecil Cooper
Al Oliver

Puckett's Hall of Fame credentials have been questioned by many statheads. In the comparable list, we have two Hall of Famers in Cuyler and Medwick. Minoso belongs in the Hall in my opinion. Oliva, Mattingly and Furillo are all borderline guys, and Cedeno, Oliver, and Cooper were all better players than some guys who are in. While Puckett is not the PERFECT Hall guy, he doesn't weaken the crop in my view.