1996 Leaf Signature Series
I learned about Matt when he was a prospect in the Padres system, with High Desert back in 1991, where he had hit .341 with 15 home runs and looked like a great prospect. I was a bit surprised when he was part of the Gary Sheffield deal, but he was with Milwaukee by 1993, putting up a .687 OPS in 23 games. He only really managed to stick for a full season in 1995, and only got over 100 OPS+ in 1998, for two years. So he turned out to not be that great after all.
Still, I have fond memories of him in a fantasy baseball game that I created way back in the day, and was giddy at the prospect of getting his autograph.
Saved my favorite for the last one here. Klesko was considered a two-way threat coming out of high school – a capable pitcher and batter, in the mold of John Olerud when he was with Washington. Hearing about someone that was like Olerud (since I had liked Olerud for that whole two-way threat thing) excited me, and I scooped up all the Klesko cards I could get my mitts on. This, however, was the crown jewel of my Klesko collection. For some reason, I loved this Greenville Braves design, and the jersey and the colors just absolutely popped. I mean, look at that photo, it’s awesome.
Of course, Klesko was a highly-valued Braves prospect at the time. He had hit .333 with a .503 SLG at two levels in 1989, showing great power promise, then .315/.480 between two levels in 1990 with 17 home runs. He wouldn’t see the majors permanently until 1993, and would have a decent if not stellar career, but he sure looked promising at the time.
And that finished up the 1991 Gold Leaf set (minus the two non-prospects in the set). I’m going to take a break for awhile before moving on to 1992.
Man, this card baffled me even more than the Mike Huff card. Who on earth thought Scott Leius was a more worthy candidate than a lot of other prospects in 1991? I could think of a handful of players even on the Twins that I would pick. I mean, the guy never slugged above .413 in the minors before he appeared on this card. I mean, seriously – why? Was it the 116 OPS+ in 1991? Because no one thought that was sustainable. Surprisingly, he did not have a productive career. This shot is not even that great. Bleh.
Another repeat offender card. I get the impression that Kelly was seen as something of a fluke by Yankees fans, but he was actually pretty highly regarded coming up through the minors. Looking back at his numbers, though, I’m not entirely sure why; after a hot start to his career in 1988 with Oneonta, he fell off in 1989, slugging only .267 with Prince William. Advanced to the Albany-Colonie Yankees in AA the next year, he jumped up to a .402 slg, which I suppose is fair for a second baseman in his era, but still. He only had a 73 OPS+ with the Yankees in 1991, but improved to a decent-for-a-second-baseman 89 in 1992. I guess Yankee fans got annoyed with him in the mid-90s, when he seems to have fallen off a cliff. Oh, well. A shame. I thought he had some potential.
This is a rather pedestrian shot for this set. A fairly generic shot without the vibrant colors or contrasts that set off some of the other cards in the set.
I remember Henry Rodriguez being a fairly heralded Dodgers prospect back in the day; I know I was excited to see what he would do. In 1990, he had hit 28 home runs with a .291 average and .541 slugging at AA. Kind of odd, then, that he fell off in AAA in the PCL in 1991, slugging only .410. I think that kept him out of the majors until 1992, when he came up and had a 66 OPS+ in 53 games. In fact, he never really did much with the Dodgers at all. Of course, he was eventually dealt to the Expos for Joey Eischen and Roberto Kelly, the latter of whom I don’t remember on the Expos or the Dodgers. Rodriguez finally started living up to his potential in Montreal, and I have covered him on my Natstown blog.
I realize this is a fairly weak shot for a Gold Leaf card, but I give it a pass due to some first-base action, which doesn’t get enough play on cards in my opinion (former first baseman talking here). Funny that they list Rodriguez as an OF and show him as a 1B. Only three gold leaf cards to go!
Was this card a fluke? I never, in my life, understood how Mike Huff slipped into this set. Did they decide they needed an Indian? First of all, Huff’s rookie cards were abundant in 1990, when he was a Dodger, and he wasn’t that highly rated a prospect then. I mean, just look at his minor league numbers. I’m guessing his .318 average with Albequerque in 1989 fooled some people, but come on, he was playing in the PCL. It’s not that hard. I think he may also have had some speed, but I don’t have his SB numbers in front of me. Still…no power, not much of a bat. Was he a good fielder? I’m guessing yes, as he’s shown here with his glove. But I was never high on him and looked down on his cards.
Still, this is one of my favorite shots in the set. I love how it takes one of those old chestnuts of baseball cards and turns it into something a little more vibrant. When I look at it, I can smell the grass, feel the hopefulness of a spring game. It’s just a cool little shot.
Anybody remember Anthony Young? This was the guy that seemed like a more logical choice for Mets Gold Leaf rookie. Young went 15-3 with a 1.65 ERA in the minors in 1990 and looked ready to beat the world in 1991. And he did pretty well, going 2-5 with a 3.10 ERA and 118 OPS+ in 10 games in 1991. He had a rookie learning curve in 1992, going 2-14 with a 4.17 ERA and 83 ERA+ in 1992, but rebounded in 1993. Unfortunately, so much of pitching back then was about WINS so all people saw was his 1-16 record and not the fact that he had a 107 ERA+. Sure, he had some issues, no question, but unfortunately that was it for him in New York.
This is another example of how beautiful those all-blue Spring Training uniforms were for the Mets back then, and the pose is pretty crazy, on top of it. Unfortunately, it loses some points for his face being obscured, but I still think it’s a solid example from the set.
1996 Leaf Signature Series
Butch was a sensation in New York for a hot minute when he went crazy one spring training. Of course, I knew of him before that, but thought he was finally living up to his potential. Uh, no. When he actually faced major league pitching that year, he ended up with a 52 OPS+ and an anemic .189 BA. He did manage to hang around until 2000, which is a lot longer than I thought, and even posted some above-100 OPS+s over the years, but his defense was absolutely abysmal. Was it his weight? Who can say for sure.
Anyway, the Leaf Signature set was a dream for getting autographs of some of the prospects from my early days of collecting, and this was one of the first autographs I picked up from that set. I’m not as crazy about this one as some of the others in the set (which I will be showing over time), but hey, it was a way to get Huskey’s auto.
For the purposes of this post, I will focus only on Gonzalez the rookie and not the guy who came much later, because I have some strong opinions on who he became. Gonzalez the rookie, however, was one of my favorite players of 1991. He was something of an unheralded rookie, and I can see why: sure, he hit 24 home runs in 1990, but that came with a .265 average. Of course, in 1991, he only had a .254 average, but that was paired with a rather impressive (for that average) .320 OBP. IsoD, folks! And a 117 OPS+. In other words, he was just as worthy as I thought he was.
This was another example of the beauty of the Leaf Gold photography. The pose, the colors, the expression…just excellent. Very worth it.
Here’s another dynamo from the 1990 draft that I thought would make far more of an impact than he did. The overall 8th pick in 1990, Costo was drafted as a shortstop with power potential, but the thinking was that he would eventually move over to third. You can see here that he had already been moved to 1B because of his atrocious fielding. And what did he do with the bat? Well, 1990 looked decent, as he had a .316 average and a .447 SLG at high-A Kinston, then had a .271 average with a .370 SLG at AA Canton-Akron before getting shipped to Cincinnati’s minor league system, where he improved a bit. The power never really did develop, though, and he only got a shot in 1992 and 1993 in Cincinnati, where he had a combined 64 OPS+ before getting sent back down for good.
So this card stands as a testament to what could have been, and of the folly of trying to project baseball players. Being a first baseman when this card came out, I liked it, but now I see it’s not that great a photo, which especially stands out against the excellent photography of the gold rookie set. Ah, Tim. What you could have had.