Sammy Sosa a long time ago
Prospect Retrospective: Sammy Sosa
Sammy Sosa was signed by the Texas Rangers as a free agent in 1985, out of the Dominican Republic. He made his North American debut in '86, hitting .275/.345/.419 with 11 steals in 61 games for the Gulf Coast League Rangers, not spectacular numbers but very credible for a 17-year-old. Scouts loved his tools; many felt he had superstar potential, but of course it remained to be seen how he would develop.
Sosa moved up to the Sally League in '87, hitting .279/.315/.410 with 22 steals for Gastonia. He had major problems with the strike zone, posting a 21/123/519 BB/K/AB ratio: a very low walk rate combined with a high strikeout rate. However, he was 18 years old and in full-season baseball. Retrospectively, he would be something like a Grade B- or C+ prospect, intriguing due to youth and tools, but not a sure thing due to lack of refinement.
Moved up to Charlotte in the Florida State League in '88, Sosa's production collapsed. He hit just .229/.285/.355. He did steal 42 bases, and the FSL is not an easy league for a power hitter, but overall it was a very disappointing season. However, his BB/K/AB ratio actually improved somewhat at 35/106/507. He was certainly far from a lost cause, but a Grade C+ would be appropriate at that point.
Moved up to Double-A Tulsa in '89, Sosa suddenly blossomed, hitting .297/.338/.458 in 66 games. His plate discipline remained an issue, but for a 20-year-old in Double-A he was doing quite well. Alas, the Rangers traded him to the White Sox as part of a midsummer deal for Harold Baines. Sosa hit .273/.351/.414 in 33 games for the Sox. Retrospectively, he would have been a Grade B or B+ prospect at this stage, someone projecting as a regular but not a sure thing due to his plate discipline issues.
Sosa struggled with the White Sox in '90 and '91, undone by poor plate discipline. He improved after a trade across town in '92, then broke out with his big power season in '93.
Sosa's minor league career was erratic, effective at times but poor at others. His physical tools were always top-notch, but problems with consistency and plate discipline hindered his production. His best attribute from a sabermetric perspective was always age-relative-to-league. Sosa is a case study of the ideal development of a raw tools player: he was able to turn his tools into skills. The problem here is that for every Sosa who makes it, you get several Juan Encarnacions, dozens of Ruben Mateos, and untold number of A-ball flameouts.
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