Prospect Retrospective and Career Profile: Magglio Ordonez
Former Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez has decided to retire. Let's review his career, examining what he was like as a prospect, and where he fits in historical context.
Magglio Ordonez was signed by the Chicago White Sox out of Venezuela in 1991. Assigned to the Dominican Summer League that year, he hit .298 in 25 games as a 17 year old. This is much too early for him to have earned a grade. In '92, Ordonez moved up to the Gulf Coast League in North America. He struggled, hitting just .180, though he did manage to hit 10 doubles in 38 games. He would have rated as a Grade C prospect at this point, showing some power potential, but a long way from being a polished player.
The Sox moved Ordonez up to full-season Hickory in the South Atlantic League in '93, and again he struggled, hitting just .216 with a .333 SLG. He would have rated as a Grade C- prospect, toolsy with some power potential, but with no actual evidence that he would develop. His best attribute was age: he was still just 19.
At 20, Ordonez began his breakthrough. Playing for Hickory again, he hit .294 with 11 homers, .431 SLG, 45 walks, 57 strikeouts in 490 at-bats in '94. While his walk rate wasn't spectacular, his strikeout rate was quite low for an emerging power hitter. Eddie Epstein gave Ordonez a Grade C in the first edition of the Minor League Scouting Notebook. I would likely have gone with Grade C+, given his power spike and still-young age.
Moving up to the Carolina League for 1995, Ordonez slumped somewhat, hitting just .238, although he maintained nearly identical power production: 12 homers, 24 doubles compared to 11 homers and 24 doubles the previous year (in virtually the same number of games). His strike zone judgment remained steady as well. I did not put him in the 1996 book, but he would have rated a Grade C, coming down slightly from '94, but still showing potential.
Ordonez was promoted to Double-A for 1996, and did quite well, hitting .263 with 41 doubles and 18 homers. His plate discipline remained steady and scouting reports were generally positive, although he wasn't rated as one of the best prospects in the league. Baseball America, for example, didn't have him on their Top 10 Southern League prospects list. I gave him a Grade C+ in my book for 1997, with the notation that "it wouldn't surprise me if he had a very good season in 1997."
My intuition there worked out very well: Ordonez .329 with 29 doubles and 14 homers in Triple-A in '97. This earned him a Grade B+ going into 1998. I wrote "I don't think Ordonez is going to be a full-scale megastar, but he should have a very rewarding career." Ordonez played 145 games for the White Sox in '98, hit .282/.326/.415, decent numbers, then broke out in 1999 as a 25-year-old, hitting .301/.349/.510 with 30 homers.
He ended up playing 1848 major league games, hitting .309/.369/.502 in 7745 plate appearances, with 294 homers, 651 walks, 852 strikeouts, and a 125 OPS+. A six-time All-Star, his list of comparable players (according to Sim Score) contains several borderline Hall of Famers: Moises Alou, Chuck Klein (HOF), Paul O'Neill, Carlos Lee, Bob Johnson, Will Clark, Brian Giles, Dante Bichette, Del Ennis, and Fred Lynn.
Using the more sophisticated WAR metric, Ordonez posted a 39.6 career WAR, putting him in the "Hall of the Very Good Outfielders" neighborhood with Wally Moses (40.9), Gavvy Cravath (40.2), Carl Furillo (39.7), Kirk Gibson (39.5), Ginger Beaumont (39.5), Rico Carty (39.4), and Tommy Holmes (38.9). In other words, Magglio wasn't a megastar, but he had a very rewarding career.
Ordonez is a good example of a tools player who developed the skills to make those tools meaningful. While his minor league production was not spectacular or even significantly above-average until he reached Triple-A, he always showed a low strikeout rate, an adequate number of walks, and a good number of doubles.