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Looking back at the first installment of 40 years of Minor League Best tools: Prescient picks.


Hall of Fame pitchers Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina The following are some examples of how to get started: John Smoltz They were once named Best Pitching Prospects by minor league voting for Best Tools.

Hall of Fame players Jeff Bagwell, Ken Griffey Jr. The following are some examples of how to get started: Derek Jeter were once voted Best Batting Prospects. Hall of Famer were once voted as Best Batting prospects Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, Mike Trout The following are some examples of how to get started: Miguel Cabrera.

Baseball America, on the other hand, has been providing ballots and tabulating results to managers for many years.

It has been exactly 40 years.

Allan Simpson, when he founded Baseball America in 1980, focused on college baseball, drafts and player development. Before publishing the first issue of Baseball America in February 1981, Allan Simpson had already established a vast network of correspondents within each minor league.  

Simpson was able to get started quickly with the rankings of the top prospects for each minor league by fall 1981. In 1983, he released Best Tools for the minor leagues. In 1988, a MLB equivalent would be released.

Here are the 10 most foresightful categories from the first edition of the minor league Best Tools in 1983.

1. Roger Clemens (RHP), High-A Winter Haven, Red Sox
Best Control in Florida State League

Clemens left a lasting impression on FSL’s managers within a short time. 

Clemens, drafted as the 19th player overall from Texas in 1983 made only four pro starts for Winter Haven. He didn’t walk a batter in 29 innings while striking out 36. Vero Beach manager Stan Wasiak described Clemens at the time as “one of the best pitching prospects I’ve seen this year . . . one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Clemens moved quickly to Double-A—where he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Eastern League—and then Triple-A. He made it to the majors in 1984.

If scouts knew that Clemens was going to win seven Cy Young Awards in his lifetime, pitch for 24 years, and strike out more hitters than anyone but Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson then they would have drafted him higher than the 19th pick.

2. Dwight Gooden, RHP, High-A Lynchburg (Mets)
Best Fastball and Pitching Prospect in Carolina League

This is Gooden’s famous 300-strikeout season as an 18-year-old, one year after being drafted second overall. Carolina League managers took note of his 19-4 record, 2.50 ERA, strikeout rate of 14.1 per nine innings and “90-95 mph” velocity, which would register a few ticks higher on today’s radar guns. 

What’s most surprising is that Gooden did not win Best Curveball honors for a pitch that became known as “Lord Charles” in MLB. That honor went to Winston-Salem’s Mike Rochford.

Gooden had a distinguished MLB career—194 wins, 1984 NL Rookie of the Year, 1985 NL Cy Young Award—but one that was diminished by drug addiction. 

3. Tony Fernandez, SS, Triple-A Syracuse (Blue Jays)
Best Defensive SS of the International League

Fernandez was a key member of the Blue Jays’ international scouting efforts that helped establish the Dominican Republic as the No. MLB’s No. 1 source of foreign talent. He was a great defensive shortstop with four Gold Gloves. He made five All-Star teams, and he played 17 MLB seasons. His bat was league-average. 

4. Devon White, OF, Low-A Peoria (Angels)
Best Defensive OFF in Midwest League

White’s 17-year MLB tenure was largely based on his stellar glove in the center field. He was part of three World Series Champions: 1992-93 Blue Jays & 1997 Marlins.

White was an old-school leadoff man, in that he had a career average of.319 but also had a good amount of power (more than 250 home runs) as well as outstanding speed (nearly 35 steals). 

5. Kirby Puckett (OF), High-A Visalia Twins
Best OF Arms in California League

Puckett was a major league baseball player who is remembered for his career.318 average. He led the AL four times in hits and led the Twins, a team that had little chance of winning the World Series back in 1987 and 1990. Puckett never won the MVP award, but he finished in the top 10 of voting seven times including three top-three finishes.

Puckett’s short and stocky frame did not stop him from being an outstanding center fielder. He was awarded six Gold Gloves for his defensive abilities, and had a career total of outfield assists that ranked among the top 20 in history during the Expansion Era.

6. Lenny Dykstra, OF, High-A Lynchburg (Mets)
Best hitter, best baserunner and best defensive OF in Carolina League

As his Lynchburg teammate Dwight Gooden did on the mound, Dykstra captivated Carolina League managers with his play in the batter’s box, on the bases and in center field. He was able to hit.358 in 136 matches, with 105 steals bases and 107 walks. 

Dykstra is best known as the star leadoff hitter for the NL pennant winning 1993 Phillies. He led the NL that year in walks, runs and hits.

7. Jose Rijo, RHP, High-A Fort Lauderdale (Yankees)
Florida State League’s Best Fastball and Pitching Prospect

Rijo’s 15-5 record, 1.68 ERA and 152 strikeouts over 160 innings in 1983 wowed FSL fans. After a season in Double A at age 18, he reached the Bronx for the next season. 

Rijo only made one all-star roster and was never close to winning a Cy Young Award. He did, however, win the World Series MVP title in 1990 as the Reds beat the Athletics by an unlikely margin. 

Advanced metrics look more favorably at Rijo’s career. Baseball-Reference says that Rijo’s 1993 season is worth 9.2 WAR. That’s the sixth-highest amount on a 1990s list that includes Roger Clemens Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux.

8. Sid Fernandez, LHP, Double-A San Antonio (Dodgers)
Texas League’s Best Pitching Prospect, Best Breaking Pitch and Best Pitching Prospect

The portly lefthander from Hawaii was one of the preeminent strikeout pitchers of the 1980s and ’90s. He is seventh among all strikeouts from 1985 to 1994. 

Fernandez’s MLB success was largely due to his Mets team, where he excelled more because of deception, his movement, and his short arm action, than his pure velocity. He started as a pitcher for the Mets in 1986, who won 108 games. In October, he was the swingman of the World Series Champions. 

9. Mark Gubicza, RHP, Double-A Jacksonville (Royals)
Best Pitching prospect in Southern League

Perhaps best known today as the Angels’ television color commentator, Gubicza was a durable starter who spent 13 of his 14 big league seasons with the Royals. He is third in franchise’s history with 132 victories, 38 WAR, and second for strikeouts and innings. Gubicza pitched for the 1985 World Series champion Royals, and was selected to two all star teams.  

10. Vince Coleman, OF Low-A Macon Cardinals
South Atlantic League’s Best and Fastest baserunner

Coleman had flaws and a strained relationship with the media, but he lived up his Best Tools title. Coleman was an undisciplined hitter and indifferent left fielder who had almost zero power, but he was a prolific—and historic—basestealer. 

Coleman set the minor league record with 145 steals in 1983—a record that would stand until Billy Hamilton broke in in 2012—and then paced the NL in steals during the first six seasons of his MLB career. He stole at least 100 bases in 1985, ’86 and ’87 and is the only player in history to top 100 in his first three seasons. He is sixth in history with 752 stolen bases.

Away from home. . .

Danny Jackson, LHP (Triple-A Omaha Royals)
Best Pitching Prospect of the American Association

A 15-year MLB veteran who was a member of two all-star teams, won World Series rings in 1985 and 1990 with the Royals and Reds, and helped the Phillies to win the NL pennant in 1993.

Harold Reynolds, 2B (Mariners), Triple-A Salt Lake City
Best Defensive Second Baseman in Pacific Coast League

The charismatic MLB Network expert won three Gold Gloves during a 12-year-career and led the AL by stealing 60 bases in 1987.

Stan Javier is an OF at Low-A Greensboro.
Best defensive OF in South Atlantic League

Javier’s defensive versatility, switch-hitting ability and on-base skills made him a 17-year MLB veteran, mostly as a fourth outfielder who played regularly. 

Ron Karkovice is a C at Low-A Appleton, White Sox
Best Defensive C of the Midwest League

Karkovice survived 12 seasons in MLB thanks to his excellent glove. He has never won a Gold Glove. However, he was voted Best Defensive Cutter in the AL 4 times by Best Tools voters. 

Charlie O’Brien, C, Double-A Albany (Athletics)
Best defensive C in Eastern League

O’Brien forged a 15-year career, primarily as a backup, on the strength of his outstanding glove behind the plate.

Otis Nixon, OF, Triple-A Columbus (Yankees)
The fastest and best baserunners in the International League

Nixon stole 620 bases in his career, which is the 16th most of all time.

Shawon Dunston SS, Low A Quad Cities (Cubs).
Midwest League: Best batting prospect, fastest baserunner and best infield arm

Drafted first overall by the Cubs in 1982, Dunston never quite lived up to offensive expectations but had one of the strongest arms of the late 1980s and early ’90s. He won Best Infield Arm in NL Best Tools voting five times.

Juan Samuel, 2B (Phillies), Triple-A Portland
Best Baserunner and Best Batting Prospect in Pacific Coast League

Samuel headed into 1984 ranked as the Phillies’ top prospect and a potential five-tool superstar. Poor plate technique and defensive play led to him being a disappointment every year. In the aberrational 1987 season, a 28-homer and 100-RBI campaign gave false hope. Samuel never became a regular player after 30.

The first time I saw this post, 40 Years Of Minor League’s Best Tools, was on College Baseball, MLB Draft and Prospects.

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