MLB's Best vs. M's: Prospect Style

Sometimes relying on pure performance can come back to bite MLB's top talent evaluators if tools and other factors are ignored. With pitching it's a whole different ballgame, but with the game's best offensive players, things begin deep in the minors.

In recent times, it's been a rare sight to see an all-star player come out of nowhere. They've more-than-normally proven their skills in the minors prior to earning superstar status.

From Alex Rodriguez to Albert Pujols, the superstars put up the numbers. Sometimes those numbers were as nasty in the minors as they became in the big leagues. Sometimes they got even better.

But, at the very least the stars of the game displayed similar abilities as prospects that they have gone on to do as future Hall of Fame talents.

A look at the game's best lends quite a bit of evidence that a prospect that shines in the upper levels of the minors has a pretty good chance become an all-star quality major leaguer.

Pujols was a 13th round pick in the 1999 draft and spent just one season in the minors, putting up ridiculous numbers at three stops.

His first stop was in the Midwest League with Peoria in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization. After hitting .324 with 17 homers as a 20-year-old, the Cardinals sent Pujols to the Carolina League for 21 games.

The right-handed hitting corner infielder finished the year with three games played at Triple-A Memphis where he'd never return, busting into the big leagues in 2001.

Pujols hit .314 in 133 minor league games, with 19 home runs and 96 RBI. But where his performance speaks best is in the slugger's 46 walks and just 47 strikeouts in 542 plate appearances.

A 20-year-old first-year pro that puts up a .378 OBP and a .543 slugging percentage, and whiffs less than 10% of his trips to the plate, is superstar waiting to happen.

No surprise that he's the game's most unstoppable offensive force after five straight big-league seasons with at least 34 homers and 117 RBI - and 401 career walks to just 344 strikeouts.

Pujols is Edgar Martinez with nearly twice the power and in his short stay in the minors it was clear he was going to be a big-time bat.

Alex Rodriguez's minor league stay proves more of the same. A-ROD slugged .593 in 426 at-bats in his first year in the Mariners' organization. He was just 19 years old and even hit .311 with a .588 slugging percentage in 32 games in Triple-A Calgary late that season before getting a cup of coffee with the M's in September.

Rodriguez ended any doubts that may have remained about his abilities when he tore through the Pacific Coast League in 54 games in 1995.

After hitting .360/.415/.654 with 15 home runs for Tacoma, the M's called up their future at shortstop.

The super blue-chippers typically waste little time in proving their worth and forcing their way into the majors. Pujols and Rodriguez are jusy two of the many examples.

But what about the borderline stars of the game? How about a lead-off type such as Kenny Lofton or Craig Biggio? How did Derek Jeter do as a minor leaguer?

Lofton started slow, mostly due to half his focus staying on his basketball career at the University of Arizona.

As a 21-year-old in the short-season NYPL in 1988, Lofton hit just .214 with 51 whiffs in only 187 at-bats.

He didn't fair much better the following year, hitting .264 in a return to Auburn. But in 22 games at Class A Asheville, Lofton began his ascend, hitting .329/.409 with 14 stolen bases.

At 23 and 24, Lofton went from Advanced-A ball to AAA, swiping 102 bases in 136 attempts in two seasons, and vastly improving his extra-base skills, which became his biggest hole.

Lofton's career minor league numbers are pretty solid - .300/.437/.391 with 168 steals in 211 attempts. The speedy center fielder also proved he could handle the middle of the outfield while cutting down his strikeouts and drawing more walks the more experience he gained.

Lofton enters 2006 with a career .299 MLB average with an impressive .373 OBP and 567 stolen bases.

Not to say he has the same natural gifts, but M's 2004 8th rounder Sebastien Boucher put up similar numbers at the same age at similar levels as Lofton - maybe even better.

Don't sleep on Boucher turning into a pretty useful player, even if he isn't a regular.

Boucher put up a tally of .340/.432/.466 with 26 steals in 100 games in 2005. He struck out 83 times and drew 62 walks. A fun guy to watch develop over the next few years - but his time in AA will tell all.

Lofton is a borderline hall of fame type talent with his priduction at the top of the lineup since the early 90s and his minor league time suggested he had the skills.

Miguel Tejada put up some solid minor league numbers. But they don't even come remotely close to the type of blue-chip production he's been up to the past five years in the show.

His minor league numbers - .275/.367/.457 with 291 strikeouts and 184 walks, spending time in AA at 21 years of age after a solid year (.279/.344/.459) in the California League at age 20.

Sound familar? Both Jose Lopez and Adam Jones played in the Texas League at 19. Lopez played the entire season in AA, while Jones hit .295/.374/.494 in the California League before his .298/.365/.461 showing in San Antonio.

One prospect observer compares Miguel Tejada, and while the numbers are certainly parallel, there might be a better comparison for Tejada in the Mariners' organization.

While Lopez is built more like a third baseman than Tejada, which forced the switch from shortstop to second base, Jones is the athletic performer - much like Tejada has been as the game's premier shortstop.

Naturally a shortstop as well, Jones makes the permanent switch to center field in '06, but it's the offense that bleeds the Tejada comps.

At 20 in the Cal League, Tejada fanned 93 times and drew 51 walks in 519 plate appearances - or a strikeout rate of 18 percent.

Splitting the California and Texas Leagues, Jones, at 19, drew 51 walks and fanned 112 times in 572 plate appearances - or a strikeout rate of 19.5 percent.

Tejada belted 37 extra-base hits, 20 of them long balls. Jones tallied 53 extra-base hits, 15 of them home runs.

While there was certainly some differences in the talent in the leagues for the different seasons (1996 versus 2005), Jones did split his season, nearly down the middle, with a level Tejada didn't see until the following season at 21 years of age.

While Jose Lopez certainly has a bright future ahead of him, one that will probably reflect his solid numbers in AA in 2003 at age 19 and his AAA numbers from the past two season, his best comp maybe shared with Jones.

In 1997, Tejada repeated his '96 numbers as a 21-year-old in the Texas League.

What will Jones' encore be in 2006? I'll take the over.

And both 'Pez and Jones blow Derek Jeter's MiLB totals out of the water. Jeter tallied a .308/.359/.418 line in parts of seven minor league seasons.

Chris Snelling, injury problems aside, has been the best offensive prospect to come through the Mariners' system since Jose Cruz, Jr. more than a decade ago.

His career minor league average of .327 with a .411 OBP are enough to prove the kid can hit. But is a he a borderline hall-of-fame talent?

Were these minor league numbers the statistics of a future borderline HOF'er?

.300/.433/.439


Those are the career minor league numbers of a player that will hit the hall of fame ballot in four years, and get quite a bit of support. In many ways, his career mirrors the tendencies of Snelling, including the injuries, the propensity for walks and doubles, and the top-drawer all-around plate skills.

Snelling's future may call for him to DH quite a bit, whichis exactly where Edgar Martinez spent the best years of his career, compiling more than 2,000 hits, 300 homers, 1200 RBI, two batting titles and the reputation as the game's best designated hitter.

Martinez was especially astute in avoiding the strikeout as a minor leaguer, fanning just 253 times in more than 2800 plate appearances - or just 8.8 percent of the time he strolled to the plate.

Snelling has a decided advantage in power at this point in both players' careers. Snelling is a doubles freak and his home run rates are rising as he matures.

Martinez sacrificed some of his contact prowess for more power, as evidenced by his 309 career long balls and a career-best of 37 in 2000.

Snelling has already given away a few small percentage points, striking out just under 12 percent of his minor league plate appearances, but posting a slugging percentage nearly 60 points higher than that of The Edgar.

They each doubled in just over five percent of their plate appearances, but Snelling has a slight advantage in homers and a rather large edge in triples and steals, which were never a part of Martinez's game.

Snelling's career path is not unlike that of Edgar Martinez, with the obvious exception of which side each hitter bats from.

Other stars that follow the path of good minor league careers into all-stars in the majors include Manny Ramirez, who hit .311/.421/.621 with 169 walks and just 229 strikeouts (13%) in parts of three seasons in the Indians' organization.

Ramirez has nearly duplicated those numbers in the bigs, hitting .314/.409/.599 in 13 seasons with Cleveland and the Boston Red Sox.

Scott Rolen hit .303/.389/.473 with 171 walks and 225 strikeouts (13%) in parts of four season in the Phillies' farm system.

In 10 seasons with Philly and St. Louis, Rolen has hit .284/.375/.515 while playing in some solid hitter's parks.

Tejada has pretty much carried his minor league numbers right over into his big-league career, hitting .280/.338/.477 in nine MLB seasons versus .275/.367/.457 in five minor league seasons.

Can Shris Snelling slug near .500 for his big-league career? Might Jose Lopez pop a .290+ career MLB average with 20-homer power to equal his .453 career minor league slugging percentage? Nobody knows for sure, and putting up minor league numbers guarantees nothing.

But it's a pretty safe assessment that if a prospect does put up those types of minor league numbers, his chances of being that type of big leaguer aren't very spicy.

Translation: Big time stars put up bigtime numbers in the minors... Don't fall sleep on the position prospects in Mariners' farm system and don't run Jeremy Reed (.327/.401/.478 in 322 minor league games) or Jose Lopez out of town.

They might become quality Major League Baseball players, and if the moon sits just right, they might becomes all-stars.

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