Back in 1980, an accountant from British Colombia had been bitten with the baseball bug, having spent time covering the sport and being a general manager of a Pioneer League team, but he was an accountant in 1980. He figured his best way back into baseball was to start a baseball publication. Noticing the lack of minor league coverage by The Sporting News, he would fill a niche not occupied by the market: minor league baseball, the draft, and college baseball.
He lived closed to Seattle, had a Mariners writer help set up a network of correspondents and six months later, All-America Baseball News was born. After struggling through the first six issues, the paper was bought by Durham Bulls owner Miles Wolff, the enterprise was moved to Durham, and it was shortly after re-named Baseball America. That was in July of 1982. Before the 1983 season, they put out their first top 10 prospect lists for each team. They didn’t do a Top 100 until the 1990 season, after The Sporting News put out a Top 150, but they did have a Select 70 from 1985-1989.
But I wanted to look at that first top 10 from the Cardinals, which has aged surprisingly well. I don’t know whether to credit manager Whitey Herzog, who by 1983 had stepped down from general manager but was GM for the previous three seasons, or the writers from Baseball America from being able to recognize the players. Apparently, in those days, scouts and the front office were delighted to speak with Baseball America, because they were happy someone was recognizing an important element of baseball. In any case, there are some familiar names.
#1 Jose Uribe
There was a debate, even back then, whether to prioritize players close to the MLB or players with the largest potential. Uribe represents the former. Uribe was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Yankees in 1977, but after four months on the DL, he was released. He didn’t find a new home until 1980, in the first year of Whitey Herzog’s tenure as GM. He made his professional debut the next year and found his way to AAA by the end of 1982.
Uribe was on this list for his glove, because his bat was not particularly good. I couldn’t even begin to guess the offensive environment of the minor leagues in 1981 and 1982, but I’m guessing a .617 OPS in Low A and a .622 OPS in AA was not considered good even then. Not that anybody was using OPS, although a .247 average in AA was definitely not considered good either. But he’s #1 on the list.
There is no chance in a million years he would ever be #1 on a team list nowadays with his profile, because he ended up spending the next two years in AAA. He did made his MLB debut in 1984, playing in just 8 games. But the Cardinals got great value of him: he was later in a package for Jack Clark. Uribe’s defense was merely above average and he was a 6.6 fWAR player in 1,000 career games, nearly all of them for the Giants.
#2 Andy Van Slyke
Now, putting Uribe ahead of Van Slyke was never going to age well, because of how their careers ended up being, but even putting myself into 1983, it’s kind of hard to see why exactly Van Slyke wasn’t ahead of him. Van Slyke was not a difficult player to miss. He was the 6th overall pick in 1979 out of high school, and though he had a poor year in 1981, he was more or less on track after the 1982 season, being well-positioned to spend 1983 in AAA.
In other words, he wasn’t really farther away from the big leagues. He also batted .279 (.849 OPS) with 16 HRs in 123 games. 16 homers doesn’t sound impressive and maybe it was a HR-happy park, but I’m pretty sure that is way better than it sounds given how few homers were hit in the early 1980s. He ended up destroying AAA and was promoted after just 54 games and while he was a good player with the Cards, he really broke out after being traded to the Pirates. He accrued most of his 41.8 career fWAR with them.
#3 Terry Clark
Clark was less easy to see coming. Clark was a 23rd round pick out of a community college in the 1979 MLB Draft. He was still just 18, despite being drafted out of a community college and in fact was able to pitch in the 1979 season. He spent three seasons in A ball, though two different teams because the Cardinals didn’t have a High A team. High A may not even have existed yet.
Regardless, Clark was a late inning reliever who had 19 saves in 1982, and threw 88.1 innings of 2.55 ERA ball. He was well-positioned to make AA the next season, which he did, and was just 21-years-old in 1982. And this was maybe the height of overvaluing late innings relievers, if you’ve seen who won certain Cy Young and MVP awards around this time. So in that way, it’s more understandable why a reliever was this high.
But Clark never did make the majors as a Cardinal. He did well in AA in 1983, but pitched poorly in AAA the next year. They put him back down in AA the next year, where he lost whatever was working for him before and he was granted free agency at the age of 25 at the end of the season. He signed with the California Angels, who put him in AA again, but the next year he went to AAA and converted to starter and he even made 15 starts in 1988. He barely pitched the next two years, changed teams, managed to hang around in the minors for five years before appearing again in the majors in 1995 at 34-years-old and he pitched for six different teams the next three years. 1.9 fWAR in 233 career innings total
#4 Todd Worrell
The story on Worrell is a lot shorter. Because at the time of publication of the top 10 prospects of 1983, Worrell had recently been drafted 21st overall in the 1st round. He was sent to short season A ball to finish out the year, and he was relatively dominant in 8 starts, striking out over a batter per inning with just 2.6 BB/9. You know the rest of the story though. He ended up battling control problems through his minor league career, and ended up moving to the bullpen during the 1985 season.
Worrell was actually a really consistent reliever, with a 3.00 or less ERA in his first six seasons. Of course, that sixth season came after not pitching at all in the previous two seasons. He didn’t actually have his first bad season until he was 33-years-old, and it wasn’t with the Cardinals.
#5 John Adams
Here we have our first true miss. Although, I would not have guessed this guy would never pitch in the majors back in 1983, so I can’t blame them. He was a 20th round draft pick out of Ole Miss and didn’t debut until the 1981 season. He had a good first year in short season A ball, striking out over a batter per inning and ended up splitting the 1982 season nearly equally between A ball and AA. He was better in A ball, but not by much. He still had a 3.32 ERA in 13 starts in AA. And then he never got out of AA. He had a 5.30 ERA the next year and spent three years there before the Cardinals released him after his age 26 season.
#6 Ralph Citerella
This guy has some draft history. He was drafted out of college in 1978 - 15th overall - and didn’t sign, and then was drafted in the secondary draft of 1978 in the 2nd round and didn’t sign. The Cardinals drafted him 12th overall in the 1979 draft. Must feel good to be drafted that high by three different teams.
I’m guessing his arm was tired by the time he pitched in 1979, because he wasn’t very good in either rookie ball or A ball, and at least by K/BB, he was a vastly different pitcher in 1980. Also by ERA. He had a 1.64 ERA in 126 IP. He spent most of 1981 in AA, with just a spot start in AAA. And in AAA, at 24-years-old, he was not good at all. So I assume, on some level, his ranking reflects a hope that he would adjust to AAA. He did not. He didn’t really get better. He did make his MLB debut though in 1983. He ended up pitching 44 career innings, 33 of which were with the Cardinals.
#7 Terry Pendleton
Pendleton’s placement on this list is easily the most impressive by the writers. They clearly talked to scouts who loved him. Pendleton was a 7th round draft pick in the 1982 draft, so the writers had about 43 games in rookie league and 20 games in A ball. He did bat .320 with 12 stolen bases in rookie league, but was pretty punchless in A ball. He was 21 and would be going on 22 going into the 1983 season. That’s young, but not really prospect young given the levels.
But like I said, they had good sources. The Cardinals jumped Pendleton all the way to AA in 1983, and though injuries limited to just 48 games, he still was promoted to AAA the next year and they promoted to the majors after just 91 games in AAA. Pendleton spent the next seven seasons in St. Louis, with his hot-and-cold offense determining how good of a season he had. He had MVP level seasons in his first two years with the Braves, then returned to alternating good and bad offensive seasons. Of course his calling card was his defense throughout.
#8 Bob Meacham
Meacham was another 1st round - he was the 8th pick of the 1981 draft. Starting with the past few years 1st rounders probably gives you a decent start with a top ten. The Cardinals were aggressive with him. I know at least a rookie and short season A ball existed, but he was sent to an A ball team. And he sucked. He was just 20 and batted .183 in his first season. They sent him to a different A ball team, where he did rebound, but his stats were really nothing special.
And based on that, he was #8. When he was ranked, he had already played his last game as a Cardinal. The Cardinals traded him with Stan Javier for three minor leaguers who never made it. Meacham was traded to the Yankees, where he mostly acted as a bench player, though he got starter minutes one year. He led the league in sacrifice bunts twice. Just to give you an idea of what type of hitter he was. The Yankees skipped him all the way to AAA and he made his MLB debut later that year. He was with the Yankees until 1988, and that was the end of his MLB career.
#9 Rafael Santana
Another light-hitting and I assume great defender. Or that was his reputation I assume. He rated as below average at SS for his career, where he mostly played. Not that below average, but enough to make him a 0.1 fWAR player for his entire career over 2,183 PAs. Because, as I said, he was light-hitting.
Santana was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Yankees in 1977 and before the 1981 season, he was traded to the Cardinals for a player to be named later. He had made it to AA by the 1980 season, though hit .233 and the Cardinals had him repeat AA, where he hit .233 again. He spent the 1982 season in AAA and batted .286. So on that basis, he was put on the top 10 prospects, entering his age 25 season. Understandable actually.
He must have been injured most of 1983, because he barely played, though he did end up making his MLB debut. After the 1983 season, he was released. He signed with the Mets, played for them for three seasons, then was traded to the Yankees where he played a year. He was oddly enough a starter for most of these seasons. That was pretty much the end of his career.
#10 Randy Hunt
Another guy with a long draft history. Before they combined the college drafts into one, it was rather confusing. He was drafted in the January phase in 1980 in the 5th round, but went unsigned. He was then drafted in the secondary phase in the 3rd round by the Yankees that same year, and then was drafted 2nd overall in the secondary phase of 1981. To be clear, the secondary draft is not the “main draft” so 2nd overall is not what you think.
But Hunt was a catcher who was sent to short season A ball, batted .297, and then batted .290 in A ball in all of 1982. He wasn’t that young, at 22-years-old, but a catcher with that high of an average - almost surprised he wasn’t ranked higher. Of course, scouting factored in, because he was sent to AA the in 1983 and batted .225. He actually played most of 1984 in A ball again. There is weird non-data in 1985, but he did make his MLB debut with the Cardinals that year in 14 games and 20 PAs. He was purchased the next year by the Expos, and he managed to appear in 21 games. Though that was the end of his career then.
Well here’s kind of a big one, although I would call them Nostradamus if they put this name up. Vince Coleman, a 10th rounder in the 1982 draft, made his debut in rookie ball and batted just .250, but did still 43 bases to 3 caught stealing. He was #3 on the top 10 the next season.
He didn’t do any of it with the Cards, but on that same team was Stan Javier, who ended up with nearly 20 career WAR. Though it did take him a while to become any good, and he went through two more organizations before he had his first good year with the Dodgers in 1990.
Well this one is fair enough because he was just drafted in the 8th round and Randy Hunt truly did look more impressive at the time of the ranking, but Tom Pagnozzi had just split his season between short season A and A ball. He didn’t make the majors until 1987 and wasn’t actually good until 1990.
Hard to really call him a “miss,” but Curt Ford had a few good years as a backup outfielder. He was a 4th rounder from the 1981 draft, and had just batted .275 in A ball at 21. But these rankings really aren’t for good backups, so can’t fault them. Another guy you can’t really call a miss is Joe Boever, who only played a couple years with the Cardinals and ended up playing for seven MLB teams, all out of the bullpen, for 5.5 career bWAR.
13th rounder from the 1981 draft Danny Cox was on one of the A ball teams. He had a 2.56 ERA in 84.1 IP and he ended up starting in six seasons for the Cards, so I would in fact call that is a true miss. Less of a true miss, but a decent MLB career was Ricky Horton, at the time coming off his age 22 season in AA. Though he made a few starts in AAA and was horrendous at that level.
And that’s it. Baseball-Reference helpfully highlights players who end up making an MLB appearance and 31 of the 40 players who appeared in a AAA game in 1982 were MLBers at one point or another. Most of them were not good, but they could say they made their MLB debut. Nearly the entire pitching staff was former MLBers trying to crack their way back into the big leagues. Different times.