Category Archives: I Was a Teenage Prospector

I Was a Teenage Prospector: Ben McDonald

McDonald UD

1990 Upper Deck

Ahhh, Ben McDonald. In 1990, there was a rookie battle afoot: the forces of John Olerud (me, mostly) versus the forces of Ben McDonald (everyone else). It was tough for me to appreciate what the guy was capable of when everyone in town was treating him like the second coming. I thought Olerud was a much more solid prospect: good swing, strong college pitcher, great fielder…oh, and he played in those awesome late 80s/early 90s Blue Jays uniforms. What wasn’t to love? He rapidly became my favorite player while others went down the McDonald path, fueled by the 1990 Upper Deck error.

We know how their careers turned out: Olerud had a much more solid path, while McDonald got injured and flamed out somewhat early in his career. But every time someone mentions McDonald or I see one of his cards, I’m that 13-year old kid again, standing in the backyard catching flak for my choice of player. Still, that didn’t stop me from eventually seeing what was there and at least pursuing one of his autographs as a sort of badge of honor. Today, for me, McDonald is one of those “could have been” stories that intrigue me. What if his body had held up? He posted pretty good ERA+s from 1993 onward, cursed by playing for some lousy teams. I don’t know. It’s an interesting quandary.

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Filed under Baltimore Orioles, I Was a Teenage Prospector

I Was a Teenage Prospector: Phil Plantier

Plantier 90 Debut

1991 Topps 1990 Debut

I’m starting off the blog with this guy, as he represented a whole approach to collecting and baseball in general for me at one period in my life. Phil Plantier sums up everything about my teenage prospecting years: killer power numbers in the minors with a horrific OBP (we didn’t know any better back then). I’m amazed when I look at how far things have come when predicting the success of young players, though there’s still quite some ways to go.

Still, over the years since Plantier’s debut (and even further back), I’ve played the what-if game: what if Plantier had mastered his strikeout issues? What if he had learned to take a walk? That kind of fun has kept these prospects alive in my hearts over the years, and it’s what inspired me to create this site.

So, to Plantier himself. I don’t remember exactly where I read about him first, but I think it was in a magazine that touted rookies of the upcoming year issued in 1989. From my first time in baseball card collecting, I had been fascinated with young players because while the older players were great, I felt they belonged to a time that wasn’t mine. These were my kids, my generation, even though I was much, much younger than them. So I read these magazines and memorized the names and tried to imagine what they looked like – what their batting stances might be, or their pitching motion. I flipped out when I would see them on cardboard and buy up or trade for every copy I could find. I still remember when I first found out Ray Lankford was black…it was those moments that made my prospecting worthwhile.

When I first saw a Plantier card in the 1990 Procards minor league set, I flipped out and got as many as I could, then scooped up his 91 cards as they were issued, breathlessly waiting for the guy’s major league debut. After all, he’d knocked 33 homers in AAA in 1990 at the age of 21. How on earth could the guy miss? Then he came up and tore the cover off the baseball in limited time…I thought that I’d found the star of the future, and I had the corner on his rookie cards.

Well, then we know what happened. He had a great year with San Diego in 1993, hitting 34 homers, but that .240 average was troubling (still, he OPS+ed 121, so he was doing something right). Then I think the strikeouts and low average got to the teams he played with, even though he was hitting well enough, way above league average. He was finished by 1997 at age 28, even though he had a career 103 OPS+. Not outstanding for a corner outfielder, but surely enough to stick around. I blame the low OBP partially and partially also an ignorance of how players like him worked back then. I think he would have a much longer career today, and those rookie cards…well, they’d still be worthless because of the era they were issued in, but such was our ignorance back then.

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Filed under Boston Red Sox, I Was a Teenage Prospector