Cal Ripken Prospect Retro
Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr. was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round in 1978, out of high school in Aberdeen, Maryland. Assigned to Bluefield in the Appalachian League, he didn't show much in his pro debut, hitting .263/.335/.301. . .he controlled the strike zone well and showed defensive skills, but he hit for zero power. Nowadays I'd probably give a similar player a Grade B or B-, based on their draft position more than anything.
Ripken moved up to the Florida State League in 1979, hitting .303/.360/.417 for Miami. There were some strong signs here: the FSL is a big jump from the Appy League. He was just 19 years old, and he boosted his production across the board. Although he hit just five homers, he knocked 28 doubles and added 116 points to his slugging percentage compared to rookie ball. I'd have no problem raising his grade to B+ based on this kind of progress.
Promoted to Double-A in 1980, he hit .276/.373/.492 for Charlotte in the Southern League, with 28 doubles, 25 homers, and 77 walks at age 20. A similar player today would get a Grade A-, or maybe even a straight Grade A, given the age/competition factor and his continued power development.
Ripken moved up to Rochester in the International League in 1981 and posted similar numbers: .288/.385/.535 with 23 homers and 66 walks. Although he hit just .128 in a 23-game trial with the Orioles, he was clearly one of the best prospects in the game, again rating at a Grade A- or Grade A. About the only problem here was that it was unclear if he was going to be a shortstop or a third baseman in the major leagues. A lot of scouts felt that he'd eventually lose too much range to play shortstop in the long run.
Ripken played 160 games for the Orioles in 1982, hitting .263/.317/.475 with 28 homers and earning the American League Rookie of the Year award. At the time, I remember being rather annoyed with this as a Twins fan, since Twins rookie Kent Hrbek had hit .301/.363/.485, outpacing Ripken in all of the major hitting categories except home runs. However, at the time I didn't account for Ripken's superior defensive value, plus the fact that he was already showing more durability than Hrbek.
You know the rest of the story for Ripken: incredible durability, two MVP awards, two gold gloves at shortstop, Hall of Fame. Was this predictable based on his minor league record? His major league performance was very much in line with what he showed in the minors, at least once he reached Double-A. His power development was very impressive, his SLGs going from .301 to .417 to .492 to .535 in his four year minor league career. You couldn't predict the supreme durability, of course, but the type of player he became was predicted by his minor league record.