Prospect Retro: Reggie Jefferson
Reggie Jefferson was drafted in the third round of the 1986 draft, by the Cincinnati Reds, out of high school in Tallahassee, Florida. His pro debut was a qualified success: he hit .260 with just a .370 SLG in the Gulf Coast League, but he did steal 10 bases, and was named the #2 prospect in the league by Baseball America due to his athleticism and long-term offensive potential. He didn't have much power yet, but scouts expected it to come. At this point he would be a Grade C or C+ prospect.
Jefferson missed almost all of 1987 with a broken shin (ouch!). He came back in 1988 and had a good year for Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League, hitting .288/.345/.451 with 26 doubles and 18 homers. His power was developing quickly, but he'd already lost his speed. He led the Midwest League in RBI. Although his walk rate was below average, he only struck out 89 times in 517 at-bats. I think I would have rated him as a B- prospect at this stage.
The Reds moved Jefferson up to Double-A in 1989, skipping advanced A. He did quite well given his age and lack of experience, hitting .287/.350/.444 with 17 homers for Chattanooga in the Southern League. He increased his walk rate slightly, and showed no deterioration at all in his performance despite skipping a level. A solid Grade B rating would be plausible.
1990 was another injury season, Jefferson being limited to just 37 games by a stress fracture in his lower back. He hit well in his limited playing time, hitting .270 with a .508 SLG for Triple-A Nashville. Grade B would still be an appropriate grade.
Jefferson racked up the frequent flier miles in 1991, playing for five different teams (in order, Triple-A Nashville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Double-A Canton, Cleveland again, Triple-A Colorado Springs, and Cleveland again). He was traded at midseason to Cleveland for infielder Tim Costo. This move was controversial, and came after he was "designated for assignment" by the Reds after he came down with pneumonia, forcing a trade within ten days. Jefferson ripped the ball in Triple-A (hitting .315 with .456 SLG combined) but hit just .198 in 26 games for the Indians. All the roster jumping and the pneumonia kept his sample sizes small and difficult to project. Keeping him at Grade B seems reasonable.
Injuries were a problem again in 1992, notably an elbow problem. He was limited to just 57 games in Triple-A and 24 games in the majors, but he hit well at both levels (.337/.352/.483 in 24 games for Cleveland). Big things were expected of him heading into 1993, but he was quite disappointing for the Tribe that year, hitting just .249/.310/.372. Traded to Seattle for 1994, he rebounded with a fine campaign as a reserve bat (.327 in 63 games). His best season came with the Red Sox in 1996 (.347/.388/.593) at age 28. His career ended after a mediocre season in Japan in 2000.
Jefferson was a frustrating player. At times, he was a devastating and dangerous hitter. He hit over .300 in '94, '96, '97, and '98, with good power. But he had serious problems staying healthy, and his poor defensive skills at first base and in the outfield limited him to the DH role most of the time. He had trouble against lefty pitching and was best used in a platoon role. He was finished as an effective player at the age of 32, dragged down by injuries and bad defense. He finished with a career line of .300/.349/.474. It is interesting to speculate what his career would have been like if he'd been able to stay healthy.
Jefferson's major league performance, at his peak, exceeded what you'd expect from his minor league record. When he was healthy and on a hot streak, he was fun to watch. When injured or on a cold streak, he looked awful. He has remained active in baseball and is currently the assistant baseball coach at the University of South Florida.
Comparable Players to Reggie Jefferson
Joe Hauser (1920s guy)
Mike Easler (similar type of hitter but Easler lasted longer)