Nostalgia Prospect Retro: Shane Mack
If Eric Davis and Ron Kittle represent the extreme ends of the tools continuum, with Tom Brunansky in the midpoint, Shane Mack would fall between Davis and Bruno, toolsy and athletic but not quite at the same level as Davis.
Shane Mack was known to scouts as a high schooler growing up in Cerritos, California, earning a call in the fourth round of the 1981 draft by the Royals. He didn't sign, choosing to attend UCLA instead, where he majored in history and business. He refined his game in college, and played for the US Olympic Team in 1984 that won a silver medal. The Padres drafted him that June, in the first round, 11th overall. The Olympics delayed his pro debut until 1985.
Mack was well-regarded as a line drive hitter with above average speed, power potential, and good defense. He was expected to advance to the majors quickly. Assigned to Beaumont in the Texas League in 1985, he hit just .260 with a .370 SLG, stealing 12 bases but hitting just six homers in 125 games, somewhat disappointing even considering that he was jumping directly from college to Double-A. Grade C+ ("with higher potential") would be appropriate at this point.
The Padres had Mack repeat Double-A in 1986, and he improved, hitting .281 with a .451 SLG, 14 steals, 15 homers. More power, certainly, but his on-base skills were shaky. He drew just 21 walks to go with 452 at-bats. His strikeout rate was low, with just 79 whiffs, a good sign that he might improve. He also hit .362 in a 19-game trial at Triple-A Las Vegas. I'd have probably kept him at Grade C+.
Mack began 1987 at Vegas, hitting .336 in 39 games with a .520 SLG. Promoted to the majors, he saw sporadic action for the Padres the rest of the season, hitting .239/.299/.361. His tools were obvious, but he had a tendency to play somewhat timidly and appeared to lack confidence.
Mack split 1988 between Vegas and San Diego, hitting well in the minors (.347 with a .546 SLG) but continuing to struggle in the majors (.244/.336/.269). His lack of power was very notable. Injuries were also a problem, particularly a sore elbow that may have inhibited his swing. He played just 24 games in 1989, hitting just .225 for Vegas, before having an operation to remove bone chips from the elbow. The Padres appeared to give up on him by then end of the season, and he was left off the 40-man roster at the end of the campaign. In the December 1989 Rule 5 draft, he was claimed by the Minnesota Twins.
Impressive in spring training, Mack earned a job as a reserve outfielder for the Twins in 1990. He got off to a good start, and his playing time increased gradually as the season progressed. He finished the year hitting .326/.392/.460 with 13 steals in 313 at-bats. Why the big improvement? Getting out of San Diego seemed to clear his head. The Metrodome was certainly more conducive to Mack's style of hitting than Jack Murphy Stadium. The change in venue seemed to boost Mack's confidence, and he seemed to feed off the enthusiasm generated by teammates like Kirby Puckett. It also helped that his elbow didn't hurt, although he was already starting to show signs of chronic shoulder soreness.
Mack played regularly for the 1991 World Champion Twins, and remained a regular outfielder through 1994. He hit over .300 in '90, '91, '92, and '94, his best overall performance coming in the strike-shortened '94 season (.333/.402/.564). He improved his strike zone judgment, which helped boost his power production. He was also an effective defensive outfielder, capable at all three positions. His biggest problem was the shoulder, which hurt frequently and eventually ruined his throwing arm.
The aftermath of the devastating strike saw Mack end up in Japan, where he was a regular for the Yomiuri Giants in '95 and '96. He returned to the majors in 1997, seeing action as a platoon player and reserve outfielder for the Red Sox, hitting .315/.368/.438 in 60 games. He filled a similar role for the Royals in 1998, then retired at the age of 34 although he was still an effective player and it seemed that he could probably have played a few more years if he'd wanted to.
Mack ended with a career mark of .299/.364/.465, OPS +120. He was a good defensive outfielder with above average speed, decent power, and a knack for keeping his batting average over .300. His early problems in San Diego were due to a combination of lack of confidence, injuries, and shaky plate discipline. A lot of players have seen their careers ruined by such problems, but Mack was able to persevere. He is an example of the late-blooming tools player.