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The Top Prospects of 1996, 20 years later

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Johnny Damon
Johnny Damon
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With 20 years of prospect lists on the docket, I am going back and reviewing the top prospects from my books, the STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook (1996 through 2002) and the Baseball Prospect Book (2003-2016). The very brief comments provided include a statistical summary (through the 2016 season) and a marker on whether I considered the grade verified or not.

There is a gray area of course, some players who were not as good as expected but not exactly failures, either. For me, a bust is a player that you get nothing out of.

Generally speaking, I am more interested in the players who didn’t make it than the ones who did.

We will begin with 1996.

1996 Hitters

1) Johnny Damon, OF, Royals, Grade A:
Hit .284/.352/.433 in 10917 PA, wRC+105, fWAR 42.9. Good solid player for a long time. Grade verified.

2) Andruw Jones, OF, Braves, Grade A:
Hit .254/.337/.486 in 8664 PA, wRC+111, fWAR 67.6. Regarded as somewhat disappointing at times but had a remarkable career overall due to marvelous glove. Grade verified.

3) Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees, Grade A:
Hit .310/.377/.440 in 12602 PA, wRC+119, fWAR 71.8. Hall of Fame shortstop. Grade verified.

4) Ruben Rivera, OF, Yankees. Grade A:
Hit .216/.307/.393 in 1818 PA, wRC+83, fWAR 4.9. One of the biggest tools busts in recent history, undone by contact issues and personal problems. Excellent career in Mexico. Did not verify.

5) Karim Garcia, OF, Dodgers, Grade A:
Hit .241/.279/.424 in 1560 PA, wRC+78, fWAR -3.9. Bust. Could never turn his raw power into consistent production, contact issues and plate discipline. Very good in Mexico. Did not verify.

6) Scott Rolen, 3B, Phillies, Grade A:
Hit .281/.364/.490 in 8518 PA, wRC+122, fWAR 69.9. Excellent player. Grade verified.

7) Bob Abreu, OF, Astros, Grade A:
Hit .291/.395/.475 in 10081 PA, wRC+129, fWAR 59.2. Excellent player. Grade verified.

8) Javier Valentin, C, Twins, Grade A:
Hit .251/.310/.402 in 1663 PA, wRC+80, fWAR 2.8. Had a couple of useful seasons as a role player but didn’t live up to promise. Did not verify a grade this high.

9) Steve Gibralter, OF, Reds, Grade A-
: Just five major league at-bats, topped out in Triple-A. Career ruined by injuries and contact problems. Did not verify, injury bust.

10) Todd Walker, 3B, Twins, Grade A-:
Hit .289/.348/.435 in 5055 PA, wRC+99, fWAR 9.3. Did not live up to expectations but not a bust either, played regularly for eight years. Grade verified.

11) Shannon Stewart, OF, Blue Jays, Grade A-:
Hit .297/.360/.430 in 6205 PA, wRC+107, fWAR 21.8. A good solid regular. Grade verified.

12) Mike Sweeney, C, Royals, Grade A-:
Hit .297/.366/.486 in 5848 PA, wRC+117, fWAR 21.0. Didn’t age well but excellent hitter for several years. Grade verified.

13) Jason Kendall, C, Pirates, Grade A-:
Hit .288/.366/.378 in 8702 PA, wRC+99, fWAR 40.2. Excellent career. Grade verified.

14) Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Expos, Grade A-:
Hit .318/.379/.553 in 9059 PA, wRC+136, fWAR 56.5. Excellent career. Grade verified.

15) George Arias, 3B, Angels: Grade A-:
Hit .238/.278/.371 in 513 PA, wRC+64, fWAR -0.2. Didn’t make it in the majors but played well in Triple-A and was a star in Japan. Did not verify.

16) Darin Erstad, OF, Angels, Grade A-:
Hit .282/.334/.407 in 6621 PA, wRC+93, fWAR 28.3. Bat faded quickly after remarkable 8.7 fWAR season in 2000. Grade verified.

17) Nomar Garciaparra, SS, Red Sox, Grade A-:
Hit .313/.361/.521 in 6116 PA, wRC+124, fWAR 41.5. Excellent player. Grade verified.

18) Gabe Alvarez, SS, Padres, Grade A-
Hit .222/.289/.357 in 294 PA, wRC+65, fWAR -1.5. Topped out in Triple-A, had injuries, out of baseball by age 30. Did not verify.

19) Jay Payton, Of, Mets, Grade A-:
Hit .279/.323/.425 in 4490 PA, wRC+92, fWAR 12.4. Did not live up to expectations but had a long career as a role player. Partial verification.

20) Jose Malave, OF, Red Sox, Grade A-
: Hit .226/.248/.368 in 109 PA, wRC+50, fWAR -0.5. Hit well in Triple-A but never got a clean shot at a job. Did not verify.

21) Jermaine Dye, OF, Braves, Grade A-
: Hit .274/.338/.488 in 7214 PA, wRC+110, fWAR 15.3. Long-term regular power hitter. Grade verified.

22) Matt Lawton, OF, Twins, Grade B+:
Hit .267/.368/.417 in 5570 PA, wRC+107, 165 steals, fWAR 12.5. Good solid player. Grade verified.

23) Arquimedez Pozo, 2B, Mariners, Grade B+
: Hit .189/.215/.311 in 80 PA, wRC+26, fWAR -0.5. Excellent in Triple-A but out of baseball at age 26. One of the great prospect mysteries. Did not verify.

24) Chris Snopek, 3B, White Sox, Grade B+:
Hit .234/.293/.346 in 668 PA, wRC+68, fWAR -1.0. Topped out as a solid Triple-A player. Did not verify.

25) Richard Hidalgo, OF, Astros, Grade B+:
Hit .269/.345/.490 in 3928 PA, wRC+111, fWAR 21.6. Burned out fast but had some good years, grade verified.

26) Trey Beamon, OF, Pirates, Grade B+:
Hit .253/.306./.310 in 172 PA, wRC+65, fWAR -0.7. Never developed power to go with contact hitting skills. Did not verify.

27) Derrick Gibson, OF, Rockies, Grade B+:
Hit .286/.327/.449 in 52 PA, wRC+78, fWAR 0.2. Tools player who topped out in Triple-A. Did not verify.

28) Ryan McGuire, 1B, Red Sox, Grade B+:
Hit .211/.306/.311 in 730 PA, wRC+64, fWAR -1.3. Never developed power expected for his position. Did not verify.

29) Donnie Sadler, SS, Red Sox: Grade B+:
Hit .202/.262/.284 in 861 PA, wRC+38, fWAR -2.0. Couldn’t hit. Did not verify.

30) Derrek Lee, 1B, Padres, Grade B+:
Hit .281/.365/.495 in 7963 PA, wRC+123, fWAR 35.7. Very successful power hitter. Grade verified.

31) Edgar Renteria, SS, Marlins, Grade B+:
Hit .286/.343/.398 in 9066 PA, wRC+95, fWAR 35.5. Very successful career. Grade verified.

32) Wilton Guerrero, SS, Dodgers, Grade B+:
Hit .282/.308/.369 in 1797 PA, wRC+75, fWAR -2.3. He could hit for average but lacked other skills.

33) Todd Greene, C, Angels, Grade B+:
Hit .252/.286/.444 in 1657 PA, wRC+80, fWAR -1.1. Sort of a power version of Guerrero, Greene could hit home runs but lacked other skills.

34) Jim Bonnici, 1B, Mariners, Grade B+:
Never played in the majors although he hit well in Triple-A. Became a scout. Did not verify.

35) Roger Cedeno, OF, Dodgers, Grade B+:
Hit .273/.340/.371 in 3557 PA, wRC+90, 213 steals, fWAR 0.3. Career lasted too long to be considered a bust in my view but didn’t live up to expectations.

This was the first prospect list I ever did for publication and for the most part I am happy with it. It was based mainly on sabermetric assessments, with some scouting material mixed in. The two big busts were Ruben Rivera and Karim Garcia, both choices strongly influenced by scouting reports and age-relative-to-league. On the other hand, sabermetric picks Arquimidez Pozo, Todd Greene and Jim Bonnici didn’t work out either.

1996 Pitchers

1) Paul Wilson, RHP, Mets, Grade A:
Career 4.86 ERA, 4.73 FIP in 942 innings, fWAR 8.2. Ruined by shoulder injuries. Health bust. Did not verify.

2) Billy Wagner, LHP, Astros, Grade A:
Career 2.31 ERA, 2.73 FIP in 903 innings, fWAR 23.6, 422 saves. I’ll take that. Grade verified.

3) Jason Schmidt, RHP, Braves, Grade A:
Career 3.96 ERA, 3.79 FIP in 1996 innings, fWAR 37.5, won 130 games. Grade verified.

4) Jimmy Haynes, RHP, Orioles, Grade A
: Career 5.37 ERA, 5.00 FIP in 1201 innings, fWAR 8.2. Held a rotation spot for five years but never lived up to expectations. Not a total bust.

5) Jeff Suppan, RHP, Red Sox, Grade A-:
Career 4.70 ERA, 4.86 FIP in 2543 innings, fWAR 20.9. No ace but a durable inning-eater who pitched until 2012; can’t call that a failure. Grade verified.

6) Alan Benes, RHP, Cardinals, Grade A-:
Career 4.59 ERA, 4.47 FIP in 494 innings, fWAR 4.9. Arm blew out in his sophomore year and he never recovered. Injury bust.

7) Rocky Coppinger, RHP, Orioles, Grade A-:
Career 5.47 ERA, 5.78 FIP in 242 innings, fWAR 0.1. Won 10 games as a rookie in ’96 then got hurt and had control problems. Bust with injuries a contributing factor.

8) Ugueth Urbina, RHP, Expos, Grade B+:
Career 3.45 ERA, 3.70 FIP in 697 innings, fWAR 11.3, 237 saves. Effective when healthy and not in prison for wielding a machete. Grade verified.

9) Bartolo Colon, RHP, Indians, Grade B+:
Career 3.93 ERA, 4.04 FIP in 3172 innings, fWAR 51.0, 233 wins. Grade verified.

10) Terrell Wade, LHP, Braves, Grade B+:
Career 3.99 ERA, 4.83 FIP in 126 innings, fWAR 0.4. Solid rookie season but got hurt, lost his velocity and command, drifted to indy ball. Bust with contributing injury.

11) Matt Drews, RHP, Yankees, Grade B+:
Never reached the majors, flamed out when his command collapsed in Triple-A. Bust. Did not verify.

12) Chan Ho Park, RHP, Dodgers, Grade B+:
Career 4.36 ERA, 4.45 FIP in 1993 innings, fWAR 17.3, won 124 games. Grade verified.

13) Eric Ludwick, RHP, Mets, Grade B+:
Career 8.35 ERA, 6.70 FIP in 74 innings, fWAR -1.0. Very effective in Triple-A but never established in the majors due to command troubles and injuries. Bust.

14) Amaury Telemaco, RHP, Cubs:
Career 4.94 ERA, 5.11 FIP in 561 innings, fWAR 0.8. Another effective Triple-A pitcher who never quite got over the hump, he did have a decent year for the Diamondbacks in 1998.

15) Luis Andujar, RHP, White Sox:
Career 5.98 ERA, 5.88 FIP in 123 innings, fWAR -0.2. Same story as Telemaco and Ludwick, did well in Triple-A but couldn’t make the final jump.

COMMENTARY: The prospect lists through 2002 were unified Top 50 between hitters and pitchers. At the time I was less confident in my ability to project pitching and thus the hitters usually ranked higher. I put a lot of effort into improving my pitching analysis and the results later bore fruit. Injuries were a big factor in most of the failures in this group.