Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Prospect Preview: 1994

The upcoming season marks the fifteenth anniversary of the strike-shortened 1994 season. There's a lot of things to remember about that season - the canceled World Series, Tony Gwynn's run at .400, Matt Williams' 43 home runs in 112 games - but what no one seems to remember from that year are the postseason awards. Sure, some of us remember Maddux's third consecutive Cy Young, or Bagwell's lone MVP award, and we can all go over and check out the list at Baseball Reference, but the award winners are usually the last thing on our mind when we think of '94. It's almost as if, with the canceled World Series, we forget that the rest of the season was ever "officially" wrapped up.

But it was, and one of those awards that was handed out that November was the Rookie of the Year award. Raul Mondesi took home the third of five consecutive awards given to Dodgers' rookies, and, for those of us not living in Kansas City or members of the immediate Hamelin family, the illustrious Bob Hamelin of the Kansas City Royals took home the award in the AL.

The winners of the 1994 Rookie of the Year award are less than memorable fifteen years later, but that doesn't mean that there were no memorable rookies breaking into the bigs. Here's a look at the 1994 Sporting News preview guide, and the players that they highlighted as top prospects:
Alex Rodriguez: "Top pick in last June's draft could be in bigs by September"
As with other 1990s TSN preview guides, the 1994 guide gave only brief scouting reports for each team's top prospects. This is the synopsis given to A-Rod. It seems a little underwhelming, considering he has become the highest paid player in baseball history and, arguably, the best player in baseball.
Javier Lopez: "The Braves are sufficiently committed to the 23-year-old Lopez that they released Greg Olson and did not offer a contract to Damon Berryhill, the veteran catching duo they employed in '93. Catching an established pitching staff this season should help Lopez, who still needs to work on his defense but has the arm strength necessary to play the position. Offensively, he has blossomed the last two seasons, hitting a combined .314 in Classes AAA and AA with 33 home runs, 51 doubles and 134 RBIs."
The magazine also highlights the top five Rookie of the Year contenders from each league, including a longer report on each of them. Javy Lopez was one of the NL's top five rookie contenders this year, and he actually finished the season 10th in ROY voting. The scouting report seems fairly spot on, praising his offense and giving a mild warning about his defense. Maybe Braves fans would be able to say more about it than me, but that sounds about right.
Carlos Delgado: "Management is more certain about the hitting of Carlos Delgado, who clubbed 25 homers en route to winning Most Valuable Player honors in the Class AA Southern League. The 21-year-old Delgado is still being tutored on his defense, but there's little doubt that Delgado will get some playing time in Toronto this year."
Another top catching prospect of the year, Delgado was actually close enough to the majors that this preview was included in the Blue Jays section and not just the "prospects" section. Delgado didn't actually make it to the majors as a regular player until 1996, however, and he only ever played in 2 games behind the plate (one in '93 and one in '94). Regardless, I doubt that any Toronto or New York fans are really complaining about his catching prowess.
Armando Benitez: "Has powerful fastball that a legitimate stopper must have."
"Also has the uncanny ability to give up mammoth home runs in the biggest possible moments." (Okay, please forgive the snark. Let's just say that I am not a big Armando Benitez fan.)
Manny Ramirez: "With or without Manny Ramirez, the Indians have every right to be excited about their outfield.

Named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year after hitting a combined 31 homers between Class AA Canton/Akron and Class AAA Charlotte, Ramirez hit two home runs and a double at Yankee Stadium in his second big-league game. However, his fortunes took a steep decline and he finished his brief major league stint with a .170 average. Ramirez, 21, likely will polish his considerable skills in Class AAA, possibly getting another crack at the majors late in the season."
And, of course, we have to end with Manny. Like Delgado, this scouting report was included alongside the rest of the Indians lineup, indicating just how promising he was as a young kid. Manny did start the '94 season on Cleveland's roster, and he came out swinging, hitting .312/.397/.672 in April. He slowed down as the summer began, but he was hitting .269/.357.521 with 17 HR and 60 RBI as August began. His season ended prematurely, though, in early August, and I can only imagine it was due to injury (though I can't find anything to verify that). Despite that, Manny finished a very respectable 2nd place in ROY voting. It was the first in a long string of years that Manny's offensive prowess, defensive struggles, and personality "quirks" were on full display to the world, for better or worse. I'll take "better."

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