Twenty years ago Friday, the New York Yankees used the sixth pick of the draft to draft a high school shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Mich. His name was Derek Sanderson Jeter and he'd go on to have the type of Hall of Fame career that makes the conceit of this intro kind of cliché.
Still, there's no denying the certain type of allure that comes in looking back at greatness before it was fully realized. As we prepare for the first round of MLB's amateur draft next Monday — a day when we'll hear a lot of evaluation speak about both future All-Stars and future busts — it's cool to see what kind of lines were being said about a 17-year-old Jeter.
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So what was being said about Jeter long before he filled an entire hand with championship rings? Did scouts see more than 3,000 hits in his bat? The leadership qualities that would take his intangibles myth to an even higher level?
Here are two takes that Alan Schwarz collected for ESPN.com back in 2004 (the link has draft scouting reports for many other stars, so check it out) :
Nick Corasaniti of the New York Times, meanwhile, notes that the Royals compared Jeter to a "young Shawon Dunston" (don't laugh, it was a compliment) while the Braves rated the Captain's hitting mechanics as just "fair."
Report 1: "Gliding runner w/ burst type acceleration. Very qk. feet, very gd. lower body control. Arm strength to spare! Excellent carry and can throw from all angles + body positions."
Report 2: "Slender, agile body with long arms and legs. Large feet ... Outstanding infield instincts. Soft hands and strong, accurate arm. Bat has quickness with little long stroke. Makes contact with gap power. Will hit occasional long ball. Comes to play."
"Both scouts, however, noted Jeter as a pull or straightaway hitter, a far cry from the opposite-field, inside-out swing Jeter has perfected through his ... career."
So how did it come to pass that five players — Phil Nevin, Paul Shuey, Billy Wallace, Jeffrey Hammonds and Chad Mottola — were drafted before Jeter?
Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News told the story within an article he wrote about Dick Groch, the Yankees scout who covered Michigan at the time:
The Yankees had some competition for Jeter, who had spent a lot of time in New Jersey as a youngster and loved going to Yankee games. The Astros held the No. 1 pick overall and their scout who trailed Jeter, Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser, pushed for Houston to take Jeter.
The Reds had a scout who lived in nearby Battle Creek, about 20 miles away, who had been a regular to see Jeter, too and they picked fifth, one spot ahead of the Yankees. But the Astros took Phil Nevin and the Reds chose Chad Mottola and the Yanks took Jeter, the first high school player chosen. Newhouser resigned after Houston passed on Jeter.
As the famous story goes, Groch was asked in the Yankees draft room about the possibility of Jeter not signing so he could head to play for the University of Michigan instead.
"The only place he's going is Cooperstown," Groch reportedly said.
Jeter eventually signed with the Yankees for $800,000 — a relative pittance when you consider he'll have made well over $250 million from the team when all is said and done — and reported to Single-A Tampa where he promptly posted a .210 average and made 56 errors. (It couldn't have been a fairy tale all the way through, could it?)
A number of other notable players are celebrating their 20th anniversary of being drafted including Jason Kendall (1/23 Pirates), Johnny Damon (1s/35), Todd Helton (2/55 Padres, but didn't sign) and Jason Giambi (2/58 A's).
But it's Jeter who will always rank as the No. 1 find from the 1992 draft.
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