Prospect Retro: Mark Newfield
Marc Newfield was drafted in the first round in 1990 by the Mariners. The sixth overall pick, the Huntington Beach high school product was selected ahead of players such as Mike Mussina, Garrett Anderson, Troy Percival, Alex Fernandez, Bob Wickman, Ray Durham, Rondell White, Jeromy Burnitz, Carl Everett, Bret Boone, and Mike Hampton.
Newfield's bat was considered extremely promising, and he hit .313/.395/.495 in his first shot at pro ball in the Arizona Rookie League, with excellent strike zone judgment, at age 17. Grade B would be appropriate, at a minimum.
Newfield moved up to the California League in 1991 and hit .300/.387/.439 with 11 homers and 12 steals in 125 games, at age 18. Scouts loved his bat, and there was nothing wrong with his numbers sabermetrically, especially considering his very young age. He was named the Number Two prospect in the Cal League by Baseball America, losing out to Pedro Martinez for the Number One spot. Retrospectively I think you'd have to give him a Grade A-...his defense was questionable, but his age/competition factor was definitely in his favor. A good parallel today would be Billy Butler of the Royals.
Promoted to Double-A in 1992, Newfield was limited to just 45 games by injuries and hit poorly in those 45 games, just .247/.305/.395, granted he did hit 12 doubles. But he was just 19 years old. His strike zone judgment took a hit, but considering his age this was understandable. I'd probably leave him at Grade A-.
Healthy again in '93, Newfield hit .307/374/.530 in 91 games for Double-A Jacksonville at age 20. He struggled in 22 games for the Mariners, hitting .227/.257/.318 and having difficulty controlling the strike zone. But given his lack of Triple-A and his age, this was hardly damning. He's still be a Grade A- or maybe even a Grade A.
Newfield had a monster season in the Pacific Coast League in 1994, hitting .349/.413/.593 with 44 doubles, 19 homers, 42 walks, and just 58 strikeouts. Yes, yes, it was the PCL, but he was just 21, and the low strikeout rate really stood out. Eddie Epstein gave him a Grade A- in the '95 Minor League Scouting Notebook, a grade I completely agreed with.
The problem now was finding a place to play. Newfield's defense was mediocre at best, and he scuffled in the limited playing time the Mariners gave him, hitting .184 in 12 games in '94 and .188 in 24 games in '95. He was traded to the Padres in July '95 for Andy Benes and responded to the change of organization, hitting .343 in 20 games for Las Vegas after the trade, then .309/.333/.491 in 21 games for the Padres. But he was limited to platoon duty with the Padres in '96, hitting just .251/.311/.387 in 84 games/191 at-bats. Traded to the Brewers at the '96 deadline for Greg Vauhgn, he once again responded to a new organization and hit .307/.354/.508 in 49 games after the trade.
Injuries limited his playing time in '97 and he hit just .229/.295/.299 in 50 games. After a poor season as a platoon player in '98 for the Brewers (.237/.306/.323 in 93 games), he was released at age 25. He played just four more games of professional North American baseball, and his career was over before it really began.
What happened here? Newfield's minor league record was that of a future offensive star: excellent performance at a young age, at least when healthy. In the majors, he was limited by bad defense, poorly timed injuries, lack of opportunity, and doubts about his work ethic. It's interesting to note how quickly the Padres gave up on him, and how he would have a burst of strong performance after each trade, but then slump. His strike zone judgment in the majors was never as good as it was in the minors, another contributing factor. Newfield is a definite "what if" story...in an alternate universe somewhere, he became a star.
Minor League performance: .306/.376/.493 in 502 games, 184/289 BB/K ratio in 1867 ab
Major League performance: .249/.303/.375 in 355 games, 69/162 BB/K ratio in 957 ab.