Topps tried something a little different in 1989 when they created cards for some No. 1 picks from the 1988 Major League Baseball Draft. It was something other sets (like Classic) would pick up on a little later in the 1990s.
Today, we’re used to seeing all kinds of “prospect cards” of players that are created within months of the draft. But it was a different idea at the time and one that really put the baseball draft on the radar of fans and collectors. When you think about it, it was one of the more unique subsets at the time.
Not all of the first round picks got a card. Topps only made them for the first ten picks in the 1988 draft. That seemed like a fair strategy but also left out some other draftees who would go on to nice careers, such as Tino Martinez, who was selected 14th. And in case you’re wondering, the player that just missed being included in this unique subset was No. 11 pick Pat Combs, who spent a few years pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.
It’s important to note that several players that were featured actually had earlier cards. They were in the 1988 Topps Traded set as members of Team USA’s baseball squad. To some collectors, that technically did not even make all of these draft pick cards rookie issues.
Here’s a look back on the players who were on those draft pick cards 30 years ago.
While no one from the 10-card subset has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, a few guys did have pretty good careers.
The top position player in the set has to be Robin Ventura. The Oklahoma State star was the No. 10 overall pick so he just barely got into the subset. But his career included two All-Star appearances and six Gold Glove appearances, making him a clear standout here.
Three of the first four picks were pitchers and all were generally okay. No. 1 overall pick Andy Benes won 155 games in a 14-year big league career. No. 3 pick Steve Avery didn’t last as long, winning only 96 games. But he put together two very good seasons in 1991 and 1993, with 36 wins against only 14 losses. He also made an All-Star team and helped the Braves to the 1995 World Series.
Gregg Olson was the No. 4 overall pick and he wound up winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1989, besting players like Tom Gordon, Jim Abbott, and some guy named Ken Griffey, Jr. Olson would also be named to an All-Star team and had 217 career saves. And speaking of Abbott, he’s there, too. The one-handed hurler instantly became a favorite of collectors and the No. 8 overall pick highlighted a ten-year career with a no-hitter in 1993.
Not everyone that was featured had a solid career. The other half of this list produced some guys that were mere footnotes in baseball history.
It may technically be unfair to label No. 2 pick Mark Lewis a bust. He did, after all, last ten years in the majors. But as the first position player taken in the draft, the expectations were higher. He was largely a part-time player and with a .263 career batting average, he never became the star he was projected to be.
While Lewis’ status as a bust is a bit murkier, No. 6 overall pick Monty Fariss undoubtedly fits that label. He lasted only 104 games in the majors spread out over three seasons, retiring with a meager .217 batting average. Fariss was expected to be a power hitter as his 53 combined home runs as a sophomore and junior at Oklahoma State led us to believe. But in his three major league seasons with the Texas Rangers and Florida Marlins, he managed only four long balls. Still, what Fariss accomplished is borderline Hall of Fame material compared to the final three guys in this subset.
For Ty Griffin, Willie Ansley and Bill Bene, making the Topps set would be their only big league highlight. All played several seasons of minor league ball but could never get to the major leagues. Griffin, the No. 9 overall selection, did win a gold medal with Team USA in 1988. But none of the group ever ‘made it,’ so to speak and to add insult to injury for the No. 5 pick Bene, he was sentenced to jail several years ago with tax issues related to a karaoke business.
Much like the cards collected during the era, the top 10 1988 draft picks held plenty of promise but in the end, it was more proof that there are no guarantees when it comes to prospecting.