Before there was the Internet, before the mammoth Baseball Prospectus annuals, it was much more difficult to identify the top young stars in Major League Baseball. To me, as an elementary school-aged kid of the '80's, the yearly Donruss Rated Rookies baseball cards told me which players to watch.
Here's a review of each Sox & Cubs' Rated Rookies card from the first installment of 1984 through 1990. For each player are the comments right off the back of the card (in italics), followed by a summary of where his career went from there.
1984 Joel Skinner, C, White Sox
The heir apparent to the White Sox's catching job... Selected by Baseball America Magazine as the top major league prospect in the American Association last year after he hit .260 with 12 HR and 50 RBI for Denver... Made only 5 errors in 108 games last year... Is the son of former Pittsburgh outfielder, Bob Skinner, who now serves as Pirates batting coach... White Sox tabbed him over 2,000 other available players in the first-ever compensation pool... Signed originally by Pirates in June '79... Rated top prospect in Eastern League in '82 when he hit .254 with 65 RBI in 120 games at Glens Falls.
As part of the 1981 strike agreement, teams could select from a compensation pool to replace lost free agents. After losing Ed Farmer to the Phillies, the White Sox were the first team to reap the benefits. Plucked from the Pirates, Skinner hit .213 over two separate stints totaling 40 games in 1984, then stepped in as backup when Marc Hill got injured in '85 and hit an eye-opening .341 down the stretch amid whispers of discontent regarding Carlton Fisk's slipping defense. Skinner was your 1986 starting catcher, with Fisk manning left field for the first quarter of the season. Unfortunately, Skinner just didn't hit, and on July 30, he and his .201 season average were shipped to the Bronx along with Ron Kittle and Wayne Tolleson for Ron Hassey, Carlos Martinez and a player to be named later. Skinner's major league career ended in 1991 with Cleveland, finishing with a .228 career batting average. He's been a successful minor league manager in the Indians system (even serving as Indians' interim manager in 2002), and in 2012 enters his first season in the White Sox system as manager of the Charlotte Knights.
1984 Joe Carter, OF, Cubs
Cubs' No. 1 prospect for '84... Batted .307 with 22 HR and 83 RBI at Iowa last year to earn a brief trial with Cubs in midseason... Led the American Association in total bases in '83 (265), was 2nd in stolen bases (40) and hits (160), 6th in HR and 11th in RBI... Hit .319 with 25 HR and 98 in 110 games for Cubs Double A Midland farm in Texas League in '82... Cubs made him the No. 2 player in the nation selected in '81 amateur draft.
The 23-game trial in '83 was the extent of Carter's big league experience with the Cubs. Carter went on to have a very good major league career (396 HR, 1,445 RBIs) after the fateful midseason six-man deal with the Tribe which netted the Cubs Rick Sutcliffe. With the Red Baron, the Cubs went on to win the division and just missed the World Series, while the Indians later flipped Carter to San Diego for a few valuable pieces (Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Carlos Baerga) from their successful run atop the AL Central.
1985 Daryl Boston, OF, White Sox
White Sox project him as their starting CF in '85... Defensively he has all the tools to play CF in the majors for years to come... Batted .312 for White Sox' Denver farm in '84 with 15 HR and 82 RBI plus 40 stolen bases... Batted .239 with 18 HR and 50 RBI for Chicago's Glens Falls farm in Eastern League in '83 and Sox attribute his hitting improvement to decision to wear glasses... Passed up a football scholarship to Oklahoma St. to sign with White Sox.
Boston was the 7th overall pick in 1981 out of the same Cincinnati High School which produced Leon Durham. He played in 500 games in parts of seven seasons with the White Sox, posting a .239 batting average, 38 home runs and 123 RBsIs. Selected off waivers by the Mets after five games in 1990, Boston also played with the Rockies (1993) and Yankees (1994), before playing two more seasons in the minors to finish his career. He currently serves as a defensive coordinator in the White Sox system.
Bonus Daryl Boston fact: Bert Blyleven's the only pitcher to allow 50 HR in a season (50 in 1986), and Boston hit number 50 on October 4.
1985 Shawon Dunston, IF, Cubs
Top-rated prospect in Cubs organization... Was the No. 1 player in the nation selected in June '82 amateur draft... Split the '84 season between Midland (where he hit .329 with 34 RBI and 11 stolen bases) and Iowa (where he hit .233 with 7 HR and 27 RBI)... Scouts say he has all the tools to be a fine all-around major league SS, but still has to learn to be more selective at the plate... Batted .321 at Sarasota in '82 and .310 at Quad Cities in '83.
Dunston had an 18-year career in the majors and was a two-time All-Star. While he never won a Gold Glove (Ozzie Smith was a contemporary during Dunston's prime), he was a fine defensive player, boasting perhaps the National League's top infield arm. As far as the back of the baseball card is concerned ... Dunston still has to learn to be more selective at the plate. Still waiting on that one ... The Cubs drafted Dunston's son, also named Shawon in the 11th round of the 2011 draft.
1985 Billy Hatcher, OF, Cubs
A fine season at Iowa in '84 projects him as a backup OF candidate for '85 Cubs... Hit .276 with 9 HR, 59 RBI, 26 doubles and 56 stolen bases at Iowa in '84 to win late-season promotion to Cubs... Batted .299 at Midland in '83 with 80 RBI and 56 stolen bases and hit .311 at Salinas in '82 with 59 RBI and 84 stolen bases... Led Texas League in runs scored (132) at Midland in '83.
Hatcher hit .238 in 61 games for the Cubs before being swapped with a player to be named later for Jerry Mumphrey in December of 1985. Hatcher swiped 30 or more bags four times in his career, including a career-high 53 for the Astros in 1987. Hatcher is perhaps best known for his incredible 1990 World Series MVP performance, where he went 9-12 (.750 BA) with four doubles and a triple against Oakland. He finished a 12-year Major League career in 1995 with Texas. He's currently the Reds' first base coach.
1986 Johnny Abrego, P, Cubs
Called up to Cubs in Sept. of last year after compiling 6-6 record and 2.76 ERA at Pittsfield of the Eastern League... Was 2nd in California League in strikeouts (139) when moved from Cubs' Lodi farm to Iowa in Aug. of '84... Had combined 10-10 record in '84... Missed all of '82 season due to bone chips in his elbow, prompting Phillies to leave him unprotected in the minor league draft the following year... Was Phillies' No. 1 amateur draft pick in June '81.
Unfortunately, the back of Abrego's 1986 baseball card includes his entire career's worth of statistics, which consisted of six appearances (five starts) with a 1-1 record and a 6.38 ERA in 24 innings.
On the other hand, it's always important to keep this in perspective: all the players to ever appear in the Major Leagues (a number aseball-Reference.com lists as 17,736) would fill just 43.1 of Wrigley Field's capacity (according to the 41,159 listed in the 2011 Cubs media guide).
1987 Greg Maddux, P, Cubs
Had standout season at Iowa last year (10-1, 3.02 ERA), earning late-season call-up to Cubs and figures to win a spot in their '87 starting rotation... In '85 at Peoria was 13-9 with 3.19 ERA, striking out 125 in 186 innings... Spent the '84 season at Pikesville where he was 6-2 with a 2.63 ERA... Is the brother of Phillies' pitcher Mike Maddux.
Greg Maddux was picked in the second round (31st overall) in the June 1984 Draft; sandwiched between a man named Christ (Pitcher Mike Christ, selected by the Mariners) and current Blue Jays skipper John Farrell. Over his age 20-21 seasons with the Cubs, he went 8-18 with a 5.59 ERA in 186 23 innings. After that, he was fine. And now, we refer to Mike Maddux as Greg's brother. Well done, Donruss.
1987 Rafael Palmeiro, OF, Cubs
Made a strong bid for Cubs' OF spot in '87 after being named Most Valuable Player in the Eastern League last year... Batted .306 in 139 games at Pittsfield in '86 (3rd best in league) and led Eastern League in hits (156), total bases (225) and RBI (95) while striking out only 32 times in 579 plate appearances... Was a two-time All America at Mississippi St. and won the Southeastern Conference triple crown in '84, hitting .415 with 29 HR and 94 RBI... In 73 games at Peoria in '85, hit .297 with 5 HR and 51 RBI.
Rafael Palmeiro was selected with the 22nd overall pick in 1985. With the 23rd pick, the Padres took Joey Cora.
Cubs' starting Leftfielder 1988: Rafael Palmeiro, 8 HR
Cubs' starting Leftfielder 1989: Dwight Smith, 9 HR
Dwight Smith Career HR after 1989: 37
Rafael Palmeiro 37-HR seasons after 1989: 10
1988 Jack McDowell, P, White Sox
Made the quick jump to major leagues in less than half a season of minor lg. Prep last year, then hurled 7 shutout innings vs. Twins in his major lg. Debut 915... Split the rest of the '87 season between White Sox' Sarasota (0-1, 2.57 ERA, 12 strikeouts in 7 innings) and Birmingham (1-2, 7.84 ERA, 17 strikeouts in 20-23 innings) farms... Had sensational collegiate career at Stanford, leading Cardinals to NCAA championship in '87 with 13-5 mark... Hurled 2-1 victory over Oklahoma St. in NCAA World Series championship game... Was 35-13 with 3.58 ERA and 337 strikeouts in 392-23 innings in 3 years at Stanford.
The back of the card boasts a fine line; 3-0, 1.93 ERA run in four 1987 starts. McDowell then regressed to 5-10, 3.97 before refining his stuff in the minors in 1989. But in 1990, he arrived. He spent the next five seasons as the Sox ace, bagging the 1993 Cy Young Award along the way.
After leaving Chicago, like Palmeiro, McDowell achieved notoriety with one of his fingers.
Palmeiro (index) wagged his finger at Congress saying he did NOT use steroids. Black Jack (middle) displayed the digit to the Yankee Stadium faithful after enduring a chorus of boos following a 9-run, 13-hit pounding at the hands of the White Sox.
1988 Mark Grace, 1B, Cubs
Touted by one Cubs' scout to be the organization's best prospect in 15 years after his 2nd straight outstanding minor lg. Season last year... Batted .333 (5th in lg.) and won the Eastern Lg. RBI title (101) in 123 games at Pittsfield last year... Also had 81 runs, 29 doubles and 17 HR... Won the Midwest lg. Batting title with .342 mark in his 1st pro season at Peoria in '86... Also led lg. In hits (159) and had 81 runs, 15 HR and 95 RBI.
That Grace led the majors in hits (1754) during the 1990s has become trivia clich (Palmeiro was second with 1747). That aside, he had a very solid career with a .303 lifetime batting average and a .383 OBP despite lacking the power bat usually reserved for first base. Three All-Star Games and four Gold Gloves makes for a pretty successful call by Donruss.
1989 Mike Harkey, P, Cubs
Regarded as Cubs' No. 1 pitching prospect after working his way from Class AA to the majors last year... Began '88 season at Pittsfield where he was 9-2 with 1.37 ERA before being promoted to Iowa (7-2, 3.55)... Had 12 starts at Peoria in '87, his 1st pro season, and compiled 2-3 record and 3.55 ERA... Signed by Cubs out of Cal St.-Fullerton.
Finishing fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 1990, Harkey looked like he'd make good on the Donruss designation of Rated Rookie with a 12-6 record. Unfortunately, those 12 wins ended up as one-third of his career total; he was continually plagued by injury, most famously a serious knee injury sustained on Sept. 6, 1992 while turning a cartwheel at Wrigley Field before a game. Harkey now preaches the danger of acrobatics in his current role as Yankees bullpen coach.
1990 Robin Ventura, 3B, White Sox
Batted .278 with 3 HR and 67 RBI in 129 games at Birmingham in '89 in his 1st full pro season... White Sox made him the 10th player overall selected in the June '88 draft after a standout collegiate career at Oklahoma St.... Won the Golden Spikes Award, symbolic of college baseball player of the year, in '88... In his junior year at Oklahoma St., batted .391 with 26 HR and 96 RBI... Batted .409 for U.S. Olympic team in .'88 Seoul games.
The Cubs' inability to find stability at third base after Ron Santo left has been well documented. The White Sox had a similar problem after the departure of Bill Melton. Between Melton (who left after the 1975 season) and the arrival of Robin Ventura in September 1989, no fewer than 36 different players started a game at the hot corner for the Southsiders. Ventura solidified the position for nearly a decade; combining Gold Glove defense (five while with the Sox) with a potent lefty bat (171 home runs from the left side trail only Harold Baines in White Sox history).