Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Revisiting the Cardinals Top 10 Prospects from 1990

Its good to be a Cardinals fan.  Not only is the team poised to make another run at the NL Pennant, but a recent report from Derrick Goold indicates that Baseball America will unveil the Cardinals as having the #1 ranked farm system in all of baseball when their annual 2013 Prospect Handbook comes out next month.

I've already given you a flavor of the Cardinals Top Prospects and how they rank amongst the Top 100 Prospects in baseball, but what intrigued me about Goold's article is that he mentioned that the Cardinals previous high ranking by Baseball America was #5 way back in 1990. 

Here are Baseball America's Cardinals Top 10 prospects for 1990:
  1. Todd Zeile, c
  2. Ray Lankford, of
  3. Geronimo Pena, 2b
  4. John Ericks, rhp
  5. Brian Jordan, of
  6. Mike Milchin, lhp
  7. Alex Cole, of
  8. Rheal Cormier, lhp
  9. Mark Clark, rhp
  10. Bernard Gilkey, of
Since it was so long ago, all of the above players have finished their careers, so we can now look back and and see exactly how they panned out.

Todd Zeile

Zeile was probably one of the most hyped Cardinals prospects that I can remember (I think I owned about 10 of his rookie baseball cards) and, although he had a fine career, he never really lived up to those lofty expectations (to be fair, how many highly touted prospects do?).

Zeile hit .267/.349/.415 in 7 seasons with the Cards.  Although he was the Cardinals primary catcher in 1990, he was shifted to third late in the year to make room for Tom Pagnozzi, who was much better defensively.

He was traded to the Cubs in 1995 for Mike Morgan and a couple minor leaguers who never reached the majors.

He enjoyed his best season in 1997, when he hit .268/.365/.459 with 31 homers for the Dodgers.  He finished his career with 253 homers and an OBP+ of 104.  Oh and he married former Olympic gymnastic champion Julianne McNamara.  Not too shabby.

Ray Lankford

Lankford had the best career of all of the Cardinals Top 10 prospects from 1990.  Ray was a fixture in center field for the Cardinals for 10 years from 1991 to 2000, before being traded to the San Diego Padres for Woody Williams in 2001.  He then made a brief return to the Cards in 2004 before retiring.

With the Cardinals, Lankford hit .273/.365/.481 with 228 homers and 250 stolen bases. His best season was (arguably) his 1997 season in which he hit .295/.411/.585 with 31 home runs and 21 stolen bases.  He also had 98 RBI's and 95 runs scored to go with a 159 OBP+.  He then followed that up with an almost identical .293/.391/.540 season in 1998 with 31 homers, 105 RBI's, 94 runs and 143 OBP+.

He posted five 20 homer/20 stolen base seasons and finished with a career 123 OBP+ and 35.7 WAR.

Geronimo Pena

Another guy with some speed (he stole 80 bases in the minors in 1987) and some pop, Pena was mentioned as part of the Cardinals youth movement in 1991.  However, he could never take hold of the second base position.

During his 6 seasons with the Cardinals, he split time at second with Jose Oquendo and Luis Alicea.  He never saw more than 254 at bats in any one season, with his best season coming in 1992 when he hit .305/.386/.478 in 203 at bats.

A career .264/.346/.427 hitter with the Cardinals, Pena finished his career in Cleveland with a 1 for 9 performance (with the one hit being a homer), giving him a career .262/.345/.427 line.  He finished his career with 30 homeruns and 54 stolen bases. 

John Ericks

A first round pick out of the University of Illinois in 1988, Ericks had a blazing fastball that sat around 98 mph.  However, he also had control issues.

He was all over the prospect lists after posting a 2.04 ERA and 211 K's, while only allowing 90 hits and 4 homeruns in 167.1 IP at low A Savannah in 1989.  However, he also had 101 walks.

After bouncing around in the Cards minor league system for a few years, he was released in September 1992 and missed all of 1993 with an injury.

He latched on with the Pittsburgh Pirates and entered the 1997 season as the Pirates closer.  Then, according to Ericks, "my agent was working on a deal with the Pirates for two years and $3.5 million,” said Ericks, now 42. “Then I got hurt.”

Two major shoulder surgeries ensued, and just like that, Ericks’ once-promising career was over.

He finished his major league career with an 8-14 record, 14 saves and a 4.78 ERA in 162 IP.

Brian Jordan

Another first round pick, Jordan split time between the Cardinals minor leagues and the Atlanta Falcons from 1989-1991 before the Cardinals convinced him to give up football in June 1992.

Jordan spent 7 seasons with the Cardinals, starting in 1992, and compiled a .291/.339/.474 line to go along with 84 homeruns and 86 stolen bases.

He went on to play 8 more seasons in the majors, retiring at the age of 39 with a career line of .282/.333/.455 with an OBP+ of 105.  He also finished with 184 homers and 119 stolen bases in his career.

Mike Milchin

Selected in the second round of the 1989 draft, Milchin was on the fast track in the Cardinals system reaching AA in 1990 before toe and shoulder injuries slowed him down in 1991.

He battled more injuries in 1992 and, after another mediocre season in 1993, the Cardinals waived him in October.

He was picked up by the Dodgers, but missed all of 1994 after reconstructive elbow surgery.  He pitched fairly well for the Dodgers AAA affiliate in 1995, including a 7 inning no-hitter, and signed with the Twins as a free agent.

In 1996, he finally got his first (and only) taste of the big leagues, posting a 7.44 ERA in 32.2 IP with the Twins and Orioles before hanging up the cleats for good.

Alex Cole

After spending 6 years in the minors with the Cardinals without setting foot in the majors, Cole was traded to the Padres in February 1990 and then traded again to the Indians in July 1990.  He was promoted to the majors shortly thereafter and became the Indians real-life version of Willie Mays Hayes from Major League.

A small, lightning fast slap hitter, he hit .300/.379/.357 with 40 stolen bases in just 63 games for the Indians in 1990.  He then hit .295/.386/.354 in 1991 with 27 stolen bases as the Indians primary leadoff hitter.

After hitting just .206 in 41 games to start the 1992 season, Cleveland shipped him off to the Pirates.  He finished the 1992 season strong (.278/.334/.361 in 64 games with the Pirates) and had a couple more decent seasons in the majors before his career tailed off.

He never played in the majors again after the 1996 season and finished his career with a .280/.360/.351 line and 148 stolen bases.

Rheal Cormier

The Canadian born Cormier made the Cardinals top 10 prospects on the strength of his 1989 season at high A St. Petersburg in which he went 12-7 with a 2.23 ERA.  He reached the majors in 1991 and had a decent 4 year run with the Cards (24-23 with a 4.12 ERA before being traded to Boston.

Cormier started 40 more games in the majors before being converted to a reliever full time in 1999. 

His best season as a starter came in 1992 (with the Cardinals) when he went 10-10 with a 3.68 ERA.

His best season as a reliever came in 2003 when he went 8-0 with a 1.70 ERA for the Phillies.

Overall, he finished with a career 71-64 record and 4.03 ERA.

Mark Clark

A 9th round pick in the 1988 draft, Clark made his big league debut in 1991 with the Cardinals.  He pitched 27 games (22 starts) with the Cardinals, posting a 4-11 record and 4.38 ERA before being traded to Cleveland after the 1992 season.

He pitched 8 more seasons in the majors with 4 different teams.  His best season was 1996 with the Mets when he posted a 14-11 record and a 3.43 ERA.

For his career, he finished with a 74-71 record and a 4.61 ERA. 

Bernard Gilkey

A local kid who made good, Gilkey was born in St. Louis in 1966 and signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 1984.

After making his big league debut in 1990, Gilkey spent 6 years with the Cardinals hitting .282/.354/.431 with 52 home runs and 80 stolen bases.

He was traded to the Mets prior to the 1996 season and proceeded to have his career year in which he hit .317/.392/.562 with 30 homers, 17 stolen bases and an OBP+ of 155.  He topped it off with a cameo in the 1997 film Men In Black.

From there it was all downhill and he finished his career with a .275/.352/.434 line across 12 seasons.  He amassed 118 homers and 115 stolen bases in his career along with a 110 OBP+.


Although the Cardinals 1990 Top 10 Prospects did not have any Hall of Famers or even any perennial All Stars, one can still see why the Cardinals system was rated so high.  Its rare that all of a team's top 10 prospects make it to the majors.  The list of can't miss prospects who do just that is pretty long.  In addition, 6 of the top 10 played 10 or more seasons in the majors and 8 lasted 5 or more seasons.  A pretty good track record anyway you look at it.

Here's hoping that the 2013 class can live up to (or even surpass) those standards.

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