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Thursday, April 25, 2019

The most-anticipated debuts in MLB history

Gregg Jefferies, Mets—Sept. 6, 1987

Former Mets manager Davey Johnson once stated that Jefferies could hit .300 standing on his head, and those were the expectations for the California native after the Mets drafted him 20th overall in 1985. Jefferies was the first two-time winner of Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Award and graced the publication’s cover five times before he reached the big leagues, thanks in large part to his .353/.401/.549 slash line across Class A and Double-A in 1986. The Mets brought Jefferies up from Double-A just 36 days after his 20th birthday, but he found the majority of his success—including two All-Star seasons—later on with the Cardinals and Phillies.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 25, 2019 at 05:50 AM | 43 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. salvomania Posted: April 25, 2019 at 09:36 AM (#5835185)
I wonder if Jefferies is the only player to receive Rookie of the Year votes in two years---he finished 6th in 1988, when he had a 178 OPS+ in 118 PA, then 3rd in 1989 in a full season.

His only season with more than 2.8 WAR came with the Cardinals in 1993, when his .342/.408/.485 line was good for 5.1 WAR.

And I wouldn't say he had much success in his four years with the Phillies---only one season with an OPS+ above 98 (110, in a strike-shortened 1995), which is pretty bad for a starting 1b/corner OF.

He ended up almost the definition of an average player, accumulating 19.4 WAR over his 10 full seasons.
   2. PreservedFish Posted: April 25, 2019 at 09:54 AM (#5835192)
My favorite childhood player - went to one of his first games, or possibly his very first game, and my dad told me that he was "the next Pete Rose," or something like that. Actually knowing my dad's tendency to exaggerate he probably said "the next Babe Ruth."
   3. Tom Nawrocki Posted: April 25, 2019 at 10:20 AM (#5835201)
I think it's pretty obvious what Jefferies' problem was: He wasn't a good defensive player, which the Mets exacerbated by constantly shifting him between second and third, which also had the effect of derailing his growth as a hitter.

In his rookie year of 1989, he put up a 106 OPS+ as a 21-year-old second baseman, which you'd think would be good enough to build on. But the Mets just kept futzing around with him for four years, never giving him a full-time job at a position and watching his bat stagnate. When the Cardinals got him in 1993, they moved him full-time to first base, and he was immediately one of the better hitters in the league.

He started having injury problems two years later, so he only had two really good years. If the Mets had handled him better, I think he could have been a star from day one.
   4. puck Posted: April 25, 2019 at 10:29 AM (#5835208)
Were really young guys like A-Rod, Griffey Jr, Andruw Jones and even Gooden much anticipated? I'd guess they were a big deal in the sense of "they're calling up a 19 yr old!" But there was not much time for build up.

Guys like Strawberry certainly fit the bill. We had been hearing about him for a long time. I don't remember the anticipation of Jefferies, I just remember the hot start.

   5. PreservedFish Posted: April 25, 2019 at 10:32 AM (#5835211)
Well, back then, you had to have a subscription to Baseball America. But if you did, you knew all about some of these guys.
   6. Zonk isn't Defacing the Nation Posted: April 25, 2019 at 10:44 AM (#5835213)
IDK.... as a Cubs fan, I think I'd put Kerry Wood's debut ahead of both Bryant and Prior on the anticipation level. It's close, I suppose....
   7. Jose is an Absurd Time Cube Posted: April 25, 2019 at 10:56 AM (#5835216)
Given the era and what went into it I think David Clyde has to be on the list.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: April 25, 2019 at 10:57 AM (#5835220)
I remember Strasburg as the most anticipated debut. Seemed like things had reached a fever pitch with him. Of course it's a little unfair to compare pitchers with position players, because with a SP he is the absolute focus once or twice a week. Vladito may only see a few hittable pitches in his first game, but with a SP debut you know you're gonna see everything they've got.
   9. the Centaur Nipple Paradox (CoB). Posted: April 25, 2019 at 11:04 AM (#5835223)
Joba. Didn't turn out how anyone wanted, but I remember following him in the minors and waiting and waiting for him to come up.
   10. jmurph Posted: April 25, 2019 at 11:07 AM (#5835226)
I remember Strasburg as the most anticipated debut.

And he also totally delivered- 14Ks in his first start!
   11. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: April 25, 2019 at 11:19 AM (#5835234)
I remember Strasburg as the most anticipated debut.

And he also totally delivered- 14Ks in his first start!

That's the only Nats game I ever recorded, pausing during all the commercials.

For maximum anticipation, I'd say Strasburg, Ben McDonald,** Harper, but more than any of them, Mickey Mantle. The buildup for those first three was based on what they'd done prior to signing their contracts, but the buildup for Mantle was based on a month's worth of tape measure home runs against Major League pitching. If ESPN had been around in 1951 they would've devoted an entire new network to covering him.

** McDonald's actual debut was a mopup job at the end of the 1989 season, but his debut as a starter was even better than Strasburg's, a complete game shutout in 2:23 and an 83 Game Score.
   12. Brian C Posted: April 25, 2019 at 11:28 AM (#5835238)
IDK.... as a Cubs fan, I think I'd put Kerry Wood's debut ahead of both Bryant and Prior on the anticipation level. It's close, I suppose....

I actually didn't even know who Kerry Wood was until they called him up. I didn't follow prospects much back then, and I was in my second or third year without WGN, so I barely got to see the Cubs broadcasts; if they were talking him up in anticipation, I wouldn't have heard it. I lived in Florida so didn't have access to Chicago media, and the internet was still in its infancy, so I didn't use it for much except to check box scores. Basically I never heard of anything back then until it had already happened. I don't remember Wood being hyped endlessly on ESPN though until after the 20K game.

I think Prior was a bigger deal than Bryant at their respective moments in time, just because there were so many anticipated Cubs prospects when Bryant came up, he was one of many and attention was so focused on how the Cubs had so many pieces falling into place, even if Bryant was certainly one of the biggest. Prior was a much more exclusive focus of attention, the best young pitcher to come along since [insert preferred inner-circle HOFer here]. Starlin Castro is also a sleeper when it comes to the Cubs - his debut was a huge deal at a time.

The most anticipated prospects almost definitionally need to be for teams that are bad or at least hit a ceiling lower than consistent playoff success. The ones that people really go crazy for can't just be potentially great players, they have to be the savior, the guy that will finally turn things around or get them over the hump.
   13. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 25, 2019 at 11:31 AM (#5835242)
Griffey was much anticipated - having a dad in MLB helped a bit. I don't remember A-Rod being as anticipated. I don't remember anything about Andruw Jones' making his debut.

I think the more interesting stories are the most anticipated debuts for guys that kinda fizzled. Jefferies was a decent player, but he certainly didn't live up to the hype.
   14. Zonk isn't Defacing the Nation Posted: April 25, 2019 at 11:53 AM (#5835249)
OK, 12 is fair.... I was in Chicagoland (and was also a BA subscriber and yada yada). I suppose I would agree with Prior over Wood (indeed, it wasn't even broadcast on TV - but BA ran an audio feed on the Prior draft and I took a day off work to stay home and listen to the draft).

I would (wood?) slot Kerry over Kris though.... but behind Prior.
   15. Jose is an Absurd Time Cube Posted: April 25, 2019 at 12:00 PM (#5835253)
Daisuke Matsuzaka was a huge thing. I remember a huge line for his first start in spring training and the Japanese media was everywhere for that first year. I don't remember if Nomo had that same kind of immediate attention or sort of grabbed it quickly based on performance (like Valenzuela).
   16. PreservedFish Posted: April 25, 2019 at 12:07 PM (#5835254)
Prior was called "the best pitching prospect ever" a few times. Wood was a big prospect but I don't remember that level of hype.
   17. Baldrick Posted: April 25, 2019 at 12:08 PM (#5835255)
Were really young guys like A-Rod, Griffey Jr, Andruw Jones and even Gooden much anticipated? I'd guess they were a big deal in the sense of "they're calling up a 19 yr old!" But there was not much time for build up.

Griffey, absolutely. It was a huge deal. A-Rod was more of a 'okay, they're giving the kid some time in the big leagues, I guess' thing.
   18. JJ1986 Posted: April 25, 2019 at 12:09 PM (#5835256)
I made it a point to go-to Matt Wieters debut. Obviously, it was the greatest debit in sports history.
   19. Nasty Nate Posted: April 25, 2019 at 12:09 PM (#5835257)
I think there was probably a decent amount of buzz around Felix Hernandez' debut. He was a hyped prospect and was called up mid-season as a teenager and put right into the rotation.
   20. winnipegwhip Posted: April 25, 2019 at 12:57 PM (#5835282)
If we are talking debut I guess he doesn't qualify because he came up late in 1985 IIRC, but by the spring of 1986 Jose Canseco was the rookie everyone was talking about.

   21. winnipegwhip Posted: April 25, 2019 at 12:58 PM (#5835283)
No one has mentioned Vincent's arrival in KC in 1985.
   22. Karl from NY Posted: April 25, 2019 at 02:11 PM (#5835317)
I remember the story being that Jefferies was pretty lackadaisical about working on his game, which is why he never really improved. And obviously the 80's Mets weren't exactly the most disciplined example to follow.
   23. Austin Kearns: The Spy Who Shagged Flies Posted: April 25, 2019 at 02:37 PM (#5835336)
I think Bo Jackson's debut was pretty heavily hyped, given his two-sport fame.

Edit: I guess he was already mentioned in TFA.
   24. The usual palaver and twaddle (Met Fan Charlie) Posted: April 25, 2019 at 02:55 PM (#5835343)
[3]

If the Mets had handled him better, I think he could have been a star from day one.


It also would have helped if he didn't act like an entitled jerkwad crybaby while he was in New York either.
   25. The usual palaver and twaddle (Met Fan Charlie) Posted: April 25, 2019 at 02:58 PM (#5835344)
[4]

Were really young guys like A-Rod, Griffey Jr, Andruw Jones and even Gooden much anticipated?


Gooden kind of came out of nowhere, but he made the jump from AA to the bigs.
   26. Tom Nawrocki Posted: April 25, 2019 at 03:15 PM (#5835349)
I remember the story being that Jefferies was pretty lackadaisical about working on his game, which is why he never really improved.


I remember it as just the opposite. He was famous for a training routine where he swung a bat in a swimming pool to build up his strength. And there's this from SI in 1994:

Maintaining that stroke is an obsession with Jefferies, although he doesn't like to call it that. When the Cards are hitting, he goes to the clubhouse and studies his last at bat on a VCR, frame by frame. If ever his swing feels off, he phones his father, Rich, the baseball coach at Parkside Intermediate School in San Mateo, Calif. And like the fabled Lou Piniella, who treated every mirror as a teaching aid, Gregg always has hitting on his mind. Entering a St. Louis restaurant with his visiting parents recently, he suddenly assumed a batting stance and asked Rich for a critique.
   27. gef, talking mongoose & vexatious litigant Posted: April 25, 2019 at 03:23 PM (#5835357)
Going way back, my impression is that Bob Feller's debut was a Big Deal nationally.

ETA: TFA says as much, I see.
   28. My name is RMc and I feel extremely affected Posted: April 25, 2019 at 05:56 PM (#5835469)
I made it a point to go-to Matt Wieters debut. Obviously, it was the greatest debit in sports history.


Best typo ever.
   29. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: April 25, 2019 at 06:23 PM (#5835477)
Prior was called "the best pitching prospect ever" a few times.
With ideal mechanics that would keep him from ever breaking down!
   30. Meatwad Posted: April 26, 2019 at 12:01 AM (#5835531)
And the the inverted "w" came into fashion as a term. Us common folk call it an "m"
   31. Perry Posted: April 26, 2019 at 12:09 AM (#5835532)
Gooden kind of came out of nowhere, but he made the jump from AA to the bigs.


Single A, actually -- he struck out 300 batters in 194 IP at age 18 at Lynchburg in 1983, which landed him on the cover of Baseball America. The next year he went 17-9, 2.60 with 276 Ks for the Mets.
   32. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: April 26, 2019 at 12:18 AM (#5835536)
I remember Strasburg as the most anticipated debut.


I remember this, too -- I went over to my dad's house so I could watch it on his huge TV. He didn't disappoint.
   33. Perry Posted: April 26, 2019 at 12:18 AM (#5835537)
Well, back then, you had to have a subscription to Baseball America. But if you did, you knew all about some of these guys.


Very much this. People were anticipating Jefferies for some time (thanks to the 5 BA covers mentioned in the article), he was supposed to be the next Pete Rose (when that was unambiguously a good thing).
   34. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 26, 2019 at 06:30 AM (#5835549)
IIRC the Mets vets were complete dicks to Jefferies, which led to him never getting settled on the team. And there's no way Jefferies could have been the biggest jerk on the Mets around that time, since they had Kevin Cat-Beheading Mitchell in '85 and '86 just before Jefferies came up.

I remember watching Strasburg's debut while at my grandparents, and my Granddad (a Dodgers and then Mets fan) thought he was one of the most impressive pitchers he'd seen since Seaver. Strasburg had that whiffleball two seamer going that day, it was a thing of beauty.
   35. bunyon Posted: April 26, 2019 at 06:31 AM (#5835550)
While I agree with Tom that the Mets jerked him around by not giving him a stable defensive job. But I also seem to recall a lot of that was because he wasn't that gifted with the glove and that he didn't work very hard at it. He worked obsessively on hitting (and had amazing talent) but was indifferent to defense. Classic example of working on what you're good at and ignoring areas of weakness.

And, as it turned out, while he could hit well enough (healthy) to play 1B, he didn't hit well enough to be a superstar at 1B. The idea was he'd be a 2B hitting .370. It turned out he was a 1B who hit .330. Cool and all but not the next Babe Ruth. And then he got hurt.

Life, man.
   36. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 26, 2019 at 06:32 AM (#5835551)
Also, I think it's just because of the age I was when I was collecting baseball cards, but it seemed like every pack had a BJ Surhoff "future hall of famer" card.
   37. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: April 26, 2019 at 09:04 AM (#5835570)
And there's no way Jefferies could have been the biggest jerk on the Mets around that time, since they had Kevin Cat-Beheading Mitchell in '85 and '86 just before Jefferies came up.
I’ve got a Lenny Dykstra on line 2 for you?
   38. Tom Nawrocki Posted: April 26, 2019 at 09:43 AM (#5835576)
And, as it turned out, while he could hit well enough (healthy) to play 1B, he didn't hit well enough to be a superstar at 1B. The idea was he'd be a 2B hitting .370. It turned out he was a 1B who hit .330.


I've come to think of this as Gregg Jefferies Syndrome: When a prospect can't handle the defensive position where his bat would be an asset, but his bat isn't really an asset at the position he can handle. See, for instance, Dustin Ackley.
   39. PreservedFish Posted: April 26, 2019 at 10:18 AM (#5835583)
Daniel Murphy is an interesting counterpoint - he couldn't really handle 2B, but the teams showed confidence in him anyway and let him stay there through thick and thin, even after his awkwardness on the DP caused him a couple serious injuries. And his bat sure blossomed.
   40. Hysterical & Useless Posted: April 26, 2019 at 12:52 PM (#5835644)
My recollection is that it was Davey Johnson's idea to move Jeffries to 2B, and that he worked with him extensively before the '89 season. Although he had a decent OPS+ that season, it was viewed as a big disappointment (nobody knew OPS+ back then, just that his BA was way down). But I also recall reading that he was right up among the leaders in "hard outs." Yeah, people were starting to pay attention to the notion that guys who hit the ball hard all the time might actually just be unlucky.

He should've been better than he turned out.
   41. flournoy Posted: April 26, 2019 at 01:13 PM (#5835649)
Were really young guys like [...] Andruw Jones [...] much anticipated? I'd guess they were a big deal in the sense of "they're calling up a 19 yr old!" But there was not much time for build up.


I'm a Braves fan, so I'm sure I had a heightened awareness, but yes. He was the consensus #1 prospect in baseball. Then he hit demolished A-ball, moved up to AA-ball, demolished that, moved to AAA-ball, demolished that too, and was called up to the reigning World Series Champion to help fill the void left by David Justice's injury.
   42. PreservedFish Posted: April 26, 2019 at 01:16 PM (#5835654)
Yes I think Jones is clearly in the Top 10 Hyped Prospects of my lifetime.
   43. phredbird Posted: April 26, 2019 at 01:37 PM (#5835666)

I had the good fortune of being present at the debuts of both Clayton Kershaw (2008) and Bryce Harper (2012).

IIRC there was a fair amount of anticipation for Clayton in LA, not so much nationally. he pitched against the cardinals, i believe he struck out the first guy he faced, went six, but i forget who won.

*checks BBREF* -- dodgers won in the 10th, so he didn't get the decision.

i definitely remember there being a lot of anticipation about bryce, so i felt especially lucky to have tix that day. he didn't get a hit first time up, but then later in the game his first hit was a line drive double to the wall, and he got around so fast i thought he was going to run out of his shoes.


i also was present at the MLB debut of Matt Adams.

what a trifecta!

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