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Prospect Retro: Greg Maddux

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Per Reader Request, a Prospect Retro for Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the second round of the 1984 draft, out of high school in Las Vegas. The Cubs' top pick that year was Morehead State southpaw Drew Hall; they also picked St. Joseph's lefty Jamie Moyer in the sixth round. Assigned to rookie ball in the Appalachian League, Maddux went 6-2 with a 2.63 ERA. Interestingly, his component ratios were NOT that good: 62/41 K/BB in 86 innings, a mediocre strikeout rate with too many walks. At this point, retrospectively he'd have been something like a Grade C+ or B- prospect.

Promoted to the Midwest League in 1985, he had a solid season for Peoria, going 13-9, 3.19 in 27 starts, with a 125/52 K/BB in 186 innings. His command was much better than it had been in rookie ball, but his strikeout rate was not impressive, and his workload was heavy. A guy with a profile like that nowadays would get a Grade B- from me, depending on his exact scouting reports.

Maddux began '86 at Double-A Pittsfield, Maddux went 4-2, 2.73 in eight starts, with a 35/15 K/BB in 63 innings. Promoted to Triple-A, he then went 10-1, 3.01 in 18 starts for Iowa, with a 65/30 K/BB in 128 innings. His control continued to improve, and he was very young for Triple-A, but his K/IP ratio was downright poor. He made five starts for the Cubs, with a 5.52 ERA. Giving a grade to a guy like this is tough: his component numbers were not that good, other than his control, but he was damn young for the league.

At age 21, Maddux made 27 starts for the Cubs and pitched poorly, going 6-14, 5.61, with a 101/74 K/BB in 156 innings. But he made adjustments, won 18 games in '88, and emerged as one of the best pitchers in the league. He's been incredibly durable, and eventually became one of the greatest control pitchers in major league history.

Maddux's minor league career was good, but not THAT good. His best attributes were youth and control, but he didn't dominate the minors in the way that some young pitchers do. He won games and kept his ERA low, but the component ratios that normally are a better guide to future status didn't scream GREAT PROSPECT in bold letters.

Finding comparable pitchers to Maddux is a pretty pointless exercise: he's a 300-game winning Hall Of Famer. People compare to HIM, not the other way around. I did find this comparison interesting:

Greg Maddux, Age 21
7-14, 5.61 in 27 starts, 101/74 K/BB in 156 innings, 181 hits allowed, ERA was 23 percent worse than league average.

Zach Greinke, Age 21 (through August 22, 2005)
3-14, 6.02 ERA in 25 starts, 88/41 K/BB in 136 innings, 175 hits allowed. ERA is approximately 27 percent worse than league average.

No, I am NOT saying that Greinke is Maddux. But I'm saying that Maddux, at one time, was a struggling young major league pitcher with a minor league track record that was good, but not knock-your-socks-off excellent. Greinke may not be Maddux, but at one time, Maddux was Greinke. He was able to turn it around and become one of the best pitchers in history. Yet there have been countless other 21-year-old struggling pitchers who fade away into the obscurity of failed prospectdom. What made Maddux special?