Robin Ventura

When They Were Prospects: Frank Thomas

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USA TODAY

When They Were Prospects: Frank Thomas

With such a strong focus on current White Sox prospects, we thought it’d be fun to take a look back at statistics and scouting reports of other South Side stars on their journey to the MLB. Our Chris Kamka dug deep into the numbers.

If the 1989 MLB Draft could be done over again, Frank Thomas would’ve gone first overall. 

And he would’ve been a Baltimore Oriole.

Luckily for the White Sox and all their fans, Thomas was selected 7th overall. The hulking first baseman dominated the SEC, hitting .382/.514/.725 in three seasons for Auburn, with 49 home runs in 178 games. Baseball America’s 1989 pre-draft take on Thomas cut right to the point.

"If it's power a team is looking for with an early first-round pick, then Auburn's 6-foot-5, 250-pound 1B Frank Thomas is the man. He's the top power prospect in the draft and shouldn't last past the first 12 or 13 picks."

His power wasn’t questioned by scouts. Although whether he’d be able to hit for average was another story. From a May 1989 scouting report:

"One excellent tool and fair in the field -- .250 hitter tops if that but will hit HR's 20 on bad year if he gets 500 AB's...”

All in all, Baseball America had Thomas pegged as the 29th ranked prospect in its pre-1990 top 100 list (though he was 3rd among White Sox.  Robin Ventura was 15th and Wilson Alvarez was 26th). He started the year in Birmingham, where in 109 games he walked 112 times (with only 74 strikeouts), hitting .323/.487/.581 with 18 home runs. There was no doubt he was ready. Once he reached the Majors in August, he picked up where he left off, hitting .330/.454/.529 in 60 games for the White Sox.

His first seven seasons were the stuff of legend. Twenty-plus home runs, 100+ runs, 100+ RBI, 100+ walks & .300 BA in all seven. He was arguably the most prolific Major League hitter since Ted Williams.  He won the 1993 & 1994 AL MVP awards, led the AL in OBP four times and won the 1997 batting title.  He finished his White Sox career in 2005 with a World Series title, though injuries prevented him from playing in the postseason. His 448 home runs remain a White Sox record. Quite clearly, he is the greatest hitter in franchise history.

The Big Hurt (a nickname bestowed upon him by Hawk Harrelson) finished his Major League career with 521 home runs with a career slashline of .301/.419/.555.  Only six players in MLB history have had 500+ HR with .300/.400/.500. The other five are Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Mel Ott & Manny Ramírez.  The White Sox retired Big Frank’s #35 in 2010, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014. 

When They Were Prospects: Robin Ventura

When They Were Prospects: Robin Ventura

With such a strong focus on current White Sox prospects, we thought it’d be fun to take a look back at statistics and scouting reports of other South Side stars on their journey to the MLB. Our Chris Kamka dug deep into the numbers.

In a baseball discussion, a simple mention of the number 56 is all it takes. You know exactly what is being discussed. Joe DiMaggio's MLB record hitting streak in 1941.

In 1987, Robin Ventura set an NCAA record (since broken) by hitting in 58 straight.

A year later, he was the Golden Spikes Award winner, given to the top collegiate player. And he was drafted 10th overall by the White Sox.

He concluded his NCAA career at Oklahoma State with a .428 batting average, 68 Home Runs, 301 RBI and a .792 slugging percentage in 210 games.

White Sox Director of Scouting and Player Development Al Goldis commented on the team's number one pick:

“Obviously, we were looking for a quality player. It just so happens we got a player to fill a need. He’s the best pure hitter in the draft, and we need hitting.”

Goldis added: “He’s a Boggs-type guy. His hitting fundamentals are excellent.”

He hit .278 with a stellar .403 OBP in a 129-game tour through Birmingham (AA) in 1989, striking out only 51 times compared to 93 walks. He finished the season with the White Sox. He hit only three home runs over his 145 combined games in the minors & majors.

[MORE WHEN THEY WERE PROSPECTS: Ron Kittle, Magglio Ordonez, Harold Baines, Jose Abreu

Entering 1990, Ventura was Baseball America’s #15 Prospect (Frank Thomas was ranked 29th). He hit .249/.324/.318 with 5 Home Runs in his first full Major League season.

Robin took it to the next level as the White Sox moved into New Comiskey Park in 1991. He hit .284/.367/.442 and his power arrived with 23 HR and 100 RBI. Ventura took home the first of his six career Gold Gloves at the Hot Corner. He made his first All-Star team the next year. For several years, Robin's sweet left-handed swing was the perfect compliment to the booming bat of Frank Thomas.

Ventura's 10-year run in Chicago concluded in 1998, finishing with 171 HR, 741 RBI, more Walks (668) than Strikeouts (659), and a slash line of .274/.365/.440 before moving on to the Mets for 1999.

Robin returned to Chicago to serve as White Sox manager from 2012-16.

 

When They Were Prospects: Alex Fernandez

When They Were Prospects: Alex Fernandez

With such a strong focus on current White Sox prospects, we thought it’d be fun to take a look back at statistics and scouting reports of other South Side stars on their journey to the MLB. 

The White Sox run of first round draft picks from 1987-90 is one of the best four-year stretches in the history of the MLB Draft.

Jack McDowell (1987), Robin Ventura (1988), Frank Thomas (1989) and Alex Fernandez (1990). Hard to do better than that.

While Fernandez is the only one of the quartet never to receive All-Star honors, make no mistake about it, the White Sox 4th overall selection in the 1990 Draft was a solid choice.

[When They Were Prospects: Jose Abreu]

He was 1987 Gatorade Florida State Player of the Year at Monsignor Edward Pace High School. 

He transferred from the University of Miami to Miami-Dade South Community College in order to be draft eligible sooner, and ended up the 1990 Golden Spikes Award winner (awarded to the best amateur baseball player in the country). He was the first to win the award at a junior college; a feat unmatched until Bryce Harper did it 20 years later.

After the draft, Fernandez tuned up with eight minor league starts, putting up a sparkling 1.81 ERA (in 49.2 IP) including a 17-strikeout performance in A-ball. He was ready to go.

The hefty right-hander was the first player from the 1990 MLB Draft to reach the Majors -- he and Frank Thomas both made their MLB Debuts for the Sox in Game 1 of an Aug. 2, 1990 doubleheader in Milwaukee.

Fernandez pitched for the Southsiders through his age 26 season (1996), compiling a 3.78 ERA and 951 strikeouts in 1,346.2 innings during that time. It's a workload that only four pitchers since have been able to match through their age 26 season. 

Most innings through age 26 season (1990-present):

1620.1 - Felix Hernandez

1406.1 - CC Sabathia

1397.2 - Madison Bumgarner

1378.1 - Clayton Kershaw

1346.1 - Alex Fernandez

From 1991 through 1996 (with the exception of the 1994 strike-shortened season), Fernandez put up at least 180 innings every year. In 1995 and 1996, the Miami native started the White Sox season opener. He reached a career-high of 200 strikeouts in 1996 as he was ready to test free agency.

Fernandez signed a 5-year, $35M contract to pitch for his hometown beginning in 1997. He pitched well in his debut season with the Marlins, posting a 3.59 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 220.2 frames. A badly torn rotator cuff was diagnosed after a rough start in Atlanta in the NLCS. He was only 28 years old, but his shoulder would never be quite right again.