Jim Callis’ all-time prospect team

March 27th, 2020

If the first question in this week's Inbox looks familiar, it's because Andrew also asked it of Jonathan Mayo in last week's Pipeline Inbox. I wanted to take a crack at it as well.

I'm taking a different approach with this than Jonathan did. He concentrated more on how players produced in the big leagues and went back to 2004, when MLB.com began ranking prospects. I'm focusing more on how good the prospects were when they entered pro ball and rose through the Minors, and I'm going all the way back to 1988, when I was a summer intern at Baseball America.

My team:
Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
John Olerud, 1B, Blue Jays
Yoán Moncada, 2B, Red Sox/White Sox
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays
Alex Rodriguez, SS, Mariners
Ken Griffey Jr., OF, Mariners
Mike Trout, OF, Angels
Andruw Jones, OF, Braves
Bryce Harper, DH, Nationals

Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
Mark Prior, RHP, Cubs
Ben McDonald, RHP, Orioles
Josh Beckett, RHP, Marlins
Brien Taylor, LHP, Yankees

Rodriguez is the most talented prospect in my three-plus decades covering baseball and I doubt I'll ever see anyone better. I remember talking to Mariners scouting director Roger Jongewaard for BA's Draft Report Cards after he took A-Rod with the No. 1 overall pick in 1993. Jongewaard was a great guy and a great scout who wasn't given to hyperbole, and he likened Rodriguez to Cal Ripken Jr. with more speed and a strong arm.

That description took my breath away and it proved accurate. A-Rod first surfaced in Seattle 10 months after signing out of high school, making his big league debut at age 18.

Among the position players, Olerud and Trout provided two other vivid memories for me. Olerud was one of the best hitters of my era, not to mention a standout pitcher at Washington State who batted .464 as a sophomore in 1988 while becoming the first college player with 15 wins and 20 homers (he hit 23) in the same season.

A brain aneurysm wiped out most of Olerud's junior year and his chances to go No. 1 overall in the 1989 Draft, but the Blue Jays gambled a third-round choice on him and landed him with a then-astronomical $575,000 bonus as part of a $800,000 big league contract. He went straight to Toronto and got a chance to provide the AL East-clinching hit on the final weekend of the season. My first huge feature for BA detailed his comeback and whether the Jays would allow him to become the Majors' first two-way player since Babe Ruth.

Trout was a first-round pick as a New Jersey high schooler in 2009, albeit just 25th overall -- and don't believe all the clubs who now say they were on him and almost picked him. He had a strong pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League but it wasn't until 2010 when we started to realize just how good he might be. I covered the Midwest League for BA and managers rated him the best hitter, best and fastest runner, best defensive outfielder and most exciting player in the low Class A circuit, where he also won the batting and on-base titles as well as the MVP award.

There was actually some question at the time as to how much power Trout would have because he homered just six times in 81 games before he got promoted. Bill Mosiello, his manager at Cedar Rapids (and now the associate head coach at Texas Christian), scoffed at that notion. He told me Trout easily had the strength to hit at least 20-30 homers per season once he looked to drive more pitches and got more aggressive early in counts, and he dropped a Mickey Mantle comparison on him that proved prescient.

In my first year as a full-time employee of BA, McDonald was acclaimed as the best college pitcher ever, a tag Prior would eventually earn and that Strasburg later would claim and may never relinquish. All three had size, stuff, polish and dominated in college and with Team USA. McDonald and Prior fell short of Cooperstown but both had better big league careers than most people realize.

Beckett's curveball and mean streak are still legendary among scouts who saw him in high school and he's the best prep pitcher I've covered, though the long-forgotten Taylor is close. He wrecked his shoulder in an off-field fight and several scouts will tell you he's the best lefty pitching prospect they've ever seen. I still remember the shock at BA headquarters when we learned Taylor had signed with the Yankees as the No. 1 overall pick in 1991 for $1.55 million, almost three times Olerud's previous record.

I've talked to several scouting officials, and the consensus is that there will be no more game looks at college or high school players. There's talk of trying to put together combines for top prospects, but some executives think that many of the best players may decline to attend.

It's quite possible that teams already have all of the game and performance details they're going to get before the Draft, whenever it winds up being held. Between now and the Draft, they'll probably dig more into video than they would in a normal year. While that's not optimal, all teams face the same situation.

Tigers GM Al Avila, whose club owns the No. 1 overall pick for the second time in three years, told reporters that Detroit already has compiled hundreds of scouting reports and would be prepared to draft immediately if needed. Scouting executives I've spoken to said their teams would be ready whenever they're told to draft.

"Is this ideal? Of course not," a scouting official with an American League club said. "But we've all seen players and built some kind of database on most of them."

I don't know that I would have made that comparison, but I see the parallels. Both Madrigal and Mauer went at or near the top of the Draft in large part because of their excellence at the putting the bat on the ball, both are definite hit-over-power guys, both are more athletic than most at their position and provide quality defense up the middle.

I definitely could see Madrigal, a White Sox second baseman who ranks No. 40 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, winning batting titles and Gold Gloves just like Mauer did for the Twins. Where the comparison doesn't hold up as well is that the 5-foot-7, 165-pound Madrigal isn't nearly as physical or strong as the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Mauer. The latter averaged 12 homers per 162 games and peaked with 28 in 2009, and I don't think Madrigal will approach those numbers.