Prospect Retrospective: Rafael Palmeiro
Rafael Palmeiro was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Cubs in the 1985 June draft, 22nd overall, out of Mississippi State University. Assigned to Peoria in the Midwest League after signing, he hit .297/.374/.459 in 73 games, excellent performance for a player skipping short-season ball, even an advanced college guy. He drew 31 walks with only 34 strikeouts in 279 at-bats, and would clearly be a Grade B+ prospect at a minimum, possibly an A-. He would certainly have rated among the Top 50 hitting prospects in the game, and perhaps top 20.
Assigned to Double-A Pittsfield to begin '86, he hit .306/.378/.442 in 140 games. His strike zone judgment was outstanding: 54 walks with only 32 strikeouts in 509 at-bats. He hit .247/.295/.425 in 22 games for the Cubs at the end of the year. Again, he would rate as a B+ or A- prospect, depending on how much power projection you would see in his bat. There was mixed opinion about that.
Palmeiro split '87 between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago, hitting .299/.369/.547 in 57 games at Des Moines, and .276/.336/.543 in 85 games for the Cubs. Although he hit .307 for the Cubs in '88, he knocked only 8 homers, leading to further questions about his power. The fact that he rapped 41 doubles, a sign of more homers to come, was ignored. He was traded to the Texas Rangers for '89.
After a mediocre '89 season, Palmeiro hit .319 for the Rangers in '90, then began increasing his power output. Although not as spectacular as guys like Sosa or McGwire during the 90s, Palmeiro has been consistently productive for a long period of time. His minor league career was marked by spectacular plate discipline.
Comparable Players to Rafael Palmeiro, Not Including Active Players
It is true that Palmeiro benefited from hitting during the 1990s, but c'mon guys, 3,000 hits, 500+ homers, superb durability. Palmeiro is a Hall of Famer. A pitching parallel would be someone like Early Wynn or Fergie Jenkins or Don Sutton, guys who were consistently strong pitchers for a long time. They deserve to be in the Hall, just as Sandy Koufax-like "spectacular peak performers in shorter careers" do.
Palmeiro is a Hall of Famer and it is not a borderline case.