Prospect Retro: Kent Hrbek
The post about Cal Ripken got me thinking about Kent Hrbek, runner up in the '82 ROY voting. He's a good candidate for a prospect retro, so here goes.
Kent Hrbek was drafted in the 17th round in 1978, out of high school in Minneapolis. A Twins fan as a kid, he could see the lights of Metropolitan Stadium from his bedroom window. He was a very successful local high school player, but wasn't considered a hot prospect. He played just 17 games in rookie ball in 1979, hitting .203 with a .288 SLG for Elizabethton. The sample was too small to be meaningful, but given his draft status he'd rate as barely a Grade C prospect. . .just a guy who might develop someday but didn't have a lot of expectations.
Moved up to the Midwest League in 1980, he hit .267/.365/.442 with 19 homers, 61 walks, and just 54 strikeouts in 419 at-bats. The combination of power, walks, and a strong contact rate was impressive, and he was also developing a reputation as a good fielder. Nowadays, I'd likely rate a similar player as a Grade C+ or B- prospect, with a "sleeper" notation if I wrote a book comment for him.
The sleeper woke up in 1981, hitting .379/.452/.630 with 27 homers, 111 RBI, 59 walks, and 59 strikeouts in 462 at-bats for Visalia in the California League. . .stunning performance. He hit .239/.301/.358 in 24 games for the Twins late in the year, but given that he was jumping directly from Class A at age 21, he held his own. The Twins went with a full-bore youth movement in 1982 and Hrbek was the centerpiece, hitting .301/.363/.485 with 23 homers in 140 games. He finished second in the ROY voting to Ripken.
His best year was probably 1984, when he hit .311/.383/.522 with 27 homers and 107 RBI, coming in second in the MVP voting. He also had a strong season for the 1987 World Champtions, hitting .285/.389/.545 with 34 homers. Injuries and excess weight eventually dragged his defense down, but Hrbek was an excellent gloveman early in his career in addition to being a fine hitter.
His final career numbers: .282/.367/.481, with 838 walks against just 798 strikeouts in 6192 at-bats. His numbers don't look that great compared to the high octane offenses of the post 1994 strike years, but within the context of his time he was a very effective hitter, with an OPS + of 127 for his career.
Was this predictable based on his minor league record? He never played Double-A or Triple-A, making reliable MLE comparisons problematic, so all we really have to go on are the Midwest League and California League numbers. They show him as a hitter with above average power, strong plate discipline, and a very low strikeout rate for a power hitter. And that's exactly what he became.