Nostalgia Prospect Retro: Walt Weiss
Walt Weiss was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 10th round of the 1982 draft, out of high school in Suffern, New York. He didn't sign, choosing to attend college at the University of North Carolina instead. He did well enough in college to earn a first-round selection in the 1985 draft, picked by Oakland with the 11th overall slot. He wasn't considered a hot offensive prospect, but his defense was excellent, he ran well, and it was felt that he could move quickly.
Weiss was assigned to Pocatello in the Pioneer League after signing. He hit .310 in 40 games, stealing six bases and showing contact hitting and small-ball skills, but not much power. Promoted to the California League, he was overmatched and hit just .197 in 30 games. His glovework drew raves. Giving him a retrospective prospect grade is tough. It seems silly to give just a C+ or B- grade to someone who went that high in the draft, but given the worries about his bat I don't think I would have gone any higher.
Weiss began 1986 with Madison in the Midwest League, a level lower than Modesto, and the downshift in competition helped him. He hit .301/.370/.398 with 12 steals in 84 games, showing solid on-base skills and speed to go with his defense. Lack of power was still a major issue. He moved up to Double-A Huntsville in July and hit .250 with a .275 SLG in 46 games there. At this point, it was clear that his defense would get him to the majors, but it was unclear if he would hit enough to be a regular. Grade C+ or B- would be appropriate again.
Oakland sent Weiss back to Huntsville in 1987, where he hit .285/.376/.353 with 23 steals in 91 games. Again, no power, but he got on base, made contact, swiped some bases, and showed he could play little ball. Another mid-season promotion saw him finish the year with Triple-A Tacoma, where he hit .263 with a .318 SLG in 46 games. He then went 12-for-26 (.462) in a 16-game trial with the Athletics. No one expected him to repeat that in a full season, but it certainly was a good start to his major league career.
I would probably have rated him as a straight B- at this stage.
Weiss was Oakland's regular shortstop in 1988, hitting .250/.312/.321 in 147 games. Very weak hitting numbers, but his defense was excellent and he got enough attention during the season that he ended up winning the Rookie of the Year award. TV announcers made a big habit in 1988 of talking about what a great player Weiss was, and how he was so much better than his numbers, and his "intangibles," etc. He was fun to watch, but (for me at least) the constant praise got annoying after awhile.
Weiss was injured much of 1989 and played just 84 games, hitting .233. Injuries continued to hamper him during his tenure in Oakland. He never hit much, his OPS+ reaching a low of 59 in 1992, very hard to carry in the lineup no matter how good your glove is. Injuries seemed to hurt both his range and arm strength, but he remained an effective defender thanks to quick hands, smart play and good positioning. Oakland gave up on him after the 1992 season, trading him to the new Florida Marlins.
A regular shortstop for the Marlins and Rockies through the 1990s, Weiss eventually honed his plate discipline enough to pose a credible on-base threat, but he never got his OPS to league average. Age eventually eroded his skills, and he ended his career as a utility player with the Atlanta Braves in 2000. He was a sound defender and a favorite of coaches and TV announcers, but he never won a Gold Glove. Weiss is an example of how a player with only marginal tools can, thanks to a good work ethic, good timing, a good reputation, and a bit of luck, end up having a long career.
Comparable Players to Walt Weiss
Tomorrow we will look at an infield contemporary of Weiss who had a very different prospect profile.