Prospect Retro: Gregg Jefferies
Gregg Jefferies was drafted by the New York Mets in the first round of the 1985 draft, out of high school in San Mateo, California. The 20th-overall pick, he was just 17 when drafted but considered a very advanced hitting prospect. He hit .343/.399/.530 in 47 games in the Appalachian League, then hit .281/.330/.422 in 20 games for Columbia in the Sally League, excellent performance for anyone, let alone a 17-year-old just coming out of high school. He would be a Grade A- prospect at this point; the only real question was defense. Everyone thought he would hit.
Jefferies split '86 between Columbia and High-A Lynchburg in the Carolina League. He hit .354/.408/.549 after being promoted to Lynchburg, with 25 doubles, nine triples, 11 homers, 33 walks, and only 29 strikeouts in 390 at-bats. He wasn't a walk machine, but his ability to make contact was exceptional. He would be a clear Grade A prospect. Baseball America recognized him as their minor league Player of the Year.
Jefferies spent 1987 at Double-A Jackson, hitting .367/.430/.598 with 48 doubles, 20 homers, 101 RBI, 49 walks, and 43 strikeouts in 510 at-bats. He got a cup of coffee with the Mets and went 3-for-6 with a double. At age 19. Again, he'd rate as a clear Grade A prospect, and probably the very best prospect in the game. Baseball America gave him Player of the Year honors for the second season in a row.
He moved up to Triple-A Tidewater in 1988, and had his first "not awesome" season, hitting .282/.330/.395, not terrific by any means, but credible for a 20-year-old in Triple-A. He hit .321 in a 29-game trial with the Mets, then opened 1990 in the regular lineup, hitting .283/.337/.434 with 40 doubles and 15 homers.
Jefferies career was regarded as a disappointment by many. The Mets gave up on him after three decent but not terrific seasons. He did hit .342 for the Cardinals in 1993, then .325 in the strike-shortened 1994. But his defense was problematic, and his power never developed beyond where it was when he reached the majors.
Jefferies' minor league career was marked by exceptional contact numbers, high batting averages, moderate home run power with lots of doubles, and excellent age-relative-to-league factors. However, he seemed to be a guy who peaked early, having his best major league season at age 25 and fading after that. He was one of the very best prospects of the 1980s, and although he had a good career overall, he never reached the lofty heights expected of him.
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