Where did they wind up? Looking back at the Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects List from 1985
11 months ago
With MLB Pipeline releasing the first version of the Top 30 Prospects Rankings for the 2023 season, I thought it would be fun to dive back into the archives and see previous rankings list pertaining to the Blue Jays. This rankings list is not the only one. Numerous sites like Baseball America, Prospects Live, Prospects1500, and Kiley McDaniel at ESPN also release top prospect lists each season and update regularly.
Back in 2013, Baseball America released from their archives the top ten prospects for each MLB team and Sportsnet.ca compiled the lists for the Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos from 1983 to 2000 per the link here.
While there are no set rules that I am following as to which seasons I am highlighting, I thought it would be fun to look at historically important years in Blue Jays’ history. For this article, I chose to start with 1985, as this was the first year the Jays made the postseason under manager Bobby Cox, with the club losing in the ALCS to the Kansas City Royals. The majority of the players on the top prospect list did not play with the Jays this season, there are a few names on this list that are key figures in the organization’s history, whether it be for the feats on the field (or off in some cases) or their involvement with future Jays teams that won the World Series in 1992 and 1993.
1. Fred McGriff – 1B
In 1982, a year after being selected in the ninth round by the New York Yankees, the Blue Jays and the Bronx Bombers made a deal that sent Dale Murray and Tom Dodd to New York while the Jays acquired Dave Collins, Mike Morgan, and prospect Fred McGriff.
McGriff was a staple on the Blue Jays’ top prospect list after being acquired and from 1983 to 1986 he worked his way through the Minor League ladder and eventually made his big league debut on May 17th, 1986, appearing in three big league games that year. “Crime Dog” would earn full-time playing status in 1987 and played five years with the Toronto Blue Jays, amassing a .278/.389/.530 slash line with 125 home runs, 305 RBI, and a .919 OPS while occupying first base. He earned a Silver Slugger Award during the 1989 season and his 153 adjust OPS+ leads the Blue Jays’ organizational leaderboards.
During the 1990/1991 offseason, general manager Pat Gillick traded McGriff and Jays legend Tony Fernandez to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, with the two returning players helping the Jays win the World Series in 1992 and 1993. For McGriff, he would spend 19 years in the big leagues across six big league organizations, winning three Silver Slugger Awards, earning five All-Star appearances, and winning a World Series title with the Atlanta Braves in 1995.
To cap it all off, McGriff will be heading into Cooperstown this summer, as he was unanimously voted into the Hall of Fame via the Contemporary Era Ballot (with no logo on his plaque).
2. Matt Williams – RHP
A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in the 1981 MLB Draft, right-hander Matt Williams struggled to live up to the expectations of being such a high draft pick. He made his MLB debut in 1983, making four appearances and allowing 13 earned runs through 8.0 innings, before being returned back to the Minor Leagues.
Williams never made another appearance for the Blue Jays, as he was traded to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Cliff Johnson in 1985. He made six appearances with the Rangers that year, putting forth a 2.42 ERA, but he never made another MLB appearance after 1985 and was out of baseball following the 1986 season.
3. Santiago Garcia – SS
Not much is known about former Blue Jays prospect Santiago Garcia. The shortstop made his professional debut with the Blue Jays Rookie League squad in 1984 and never made it past AA with the organization. Following the 1987 campaign, Garcia joined the Chicago White Sox and spent all season with their AAA organization. He did not play in 1999 and had a cup of coffee with Cleveland in 1990 but never appeared with an affiliated organization after that stint.
4. Kelly Gruber – 3B
Drafted by Cleveland in the first round of the 1980 MLB Draft, Gruber spent three seasons climbing through their organization’s farm system. During the 1983/1984 offseason, the Blue Jays selected Gruber in the Rule 5 Draft and the Texas product made his MLB debut that season, splitting the 1984 and 1985 campaigns between the big leagues and Minor Leagues.
The third baseman would take over full-time duties in 1986 and spent parts of nine seasons with the Jays organization, crafting a .259 batting average with 114 home runs, 434 RBIs, and a 102 wRC+. He was the first player in Blue Jays history to hit for the cycle against the Kansas City Royals on April 16th, 1989 and later won a World Series with the Jays in 1992. Gruber will also be remembered by Jays fans for his diving play on Braves baserunner Deion Sanders, in which he appeared to tag Sanders on the foot and would have ended the inning via a triple play, but he was ruled safe. Gruber tore his rotator cuff on the play and in the following offseason he was traded to the California Angels in exchange for Luis Sojo. The infielder would make his Angels debut in June but would go back on the disabled list shortly after with shoulder troubles, with the club placing him on waivers later that season. He attempted a comeback in 1997 but retired shortly after.
With the Jays, Gruber earned two All-Star appearances and won a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove during the 1990 season.
Off the field, Gruber made headlines in 2018 after a controversial interview where he made inappropriate remarks during a Pitch Talks event that led to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame removing the former Jays infielder from its weekend festivities, where teammate Lloyd Moseby was being inducted in the St. Marys establishment.
5. Mike Sharperson – 2B
A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in the 1981 MLB Draft, infielder Mike Sharperson spent six seasons in the farm system and eventually made his debut in 1987. In late September, Sharperson was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for pitcher Juan Guzmán, with the right-hander becoming a staple in the Jays’ rotation during the World Series a few years later.
Sharperson would spend the next seven seasons with the Dodgers, authoring a .287/.363/.373 slash line through 1100 at-bats with a .736 OPS while splitting time across the infield, mostly at third base. He would be named to one All-Star game (1992) and won one World Series with the Dodgers back in 1988.
Los Angeles would release Sharperson prior to the 1994 season and he split some time across a few organizations before getting finishing his career with a short stint with the Atlanta Braves. After signing a MiLB deal with the Padres for the 1996 season, Sharperson was in Las Vegas with the AAA squad and was driving to the airport to join the big league team and was involved in a single-vehicle car crash. The Blue Jays infielder passed away due to the accident.
6. Glenallen Hill – OF
Drafted in the ninth round of the 1983 MLB Draft, outfielder Glenallen Hill would not make his Blue Jays debut until midway through the 1989 campaign. Hill spent parts of three seasons with the Jays, crafting a .714 OPS through 411 at-bats with 16 home runs. Midway through the 1991 season, the California product would be traded to Cleveland alongside Denis Boucher and Mark Whiten in exchange for Tom Candiotti and Turner Ward.
Through 13 years, Hill played for seven different organizations and crafted a .271/.321/.482 slash line with a .804 OPS through 1162 games, eventually retiring after the 2001 season. He later joined the Colorado Rockies in various coaching and managing capacities, managing the AAA affiliate until the end of the 2019 season.
Hill also gained notoriety after he was listed on the Mitchell Report as an alleged PED user during his career, with Hill denying that he used HGH during his playing career. His son, Glenallen Hill Jr., was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fourth round of the 2019 MLB Draft but was released by the organization midway through the 2022 season.
7. Alexis Infante – SS
A product of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, infielder Alexis Infante joined the Blue Jays in 1982 and made his way through the Minor League system, flirting his way between the AAA and the MLB through most of his time with the organization. Known for his speed and his defence, Infante made his big league debut in 1987 and was later moved during the 1989/1990 offseason to the Atlanta Braves.
Starting in 1993, Infante began playing in the Mexican League and later coached/managed numerous organizations both in the Dominican Summer League and back in Venezuela.
8. Jack McKnight – RHP
Hailing from Bee Branch, Arkansas, right-hander Jack McKnight began his pro baseball career with the Blue Jays Single-A affiliate in 1981. Over the next three years, McKnight worked his way to AA and was pitching well, authoring a 3.81 ERA through 24 starts in 1984, his last season in the Jays organization. Prior to the 1985 season, McKnight would be traded to the San Francisco Giants alongside Jim Gott and Augie Schmidt in exchange for Gary Lavelle, who became a force in the Jays bullpen that season.
McKnight spent the next three seasons in the upper levels of the Giants Minor League system but never cracked the MLB, eventually out of baseball by 1988.
9. David Wells – LHP
A high school senior at Point Loma High School in San Diego, California in 1982, the Blue Jays used their second-round pick that year on southpaw David Wells. The left-hander began working his way up the farm system later that year, which was interrupted by Tommy John surgery in 1985, before debuting with the Jays as a reliever in 1987, making 18 appearances that season. Over the next two campaigns, Wells continued to pitch in relief before seeing an increase in starts by 1990. In 1992, Wells was part of the Blue Jays squad that won the organization’s first World Series Championship, making four relief appearances during the World Series and allowing just one hit over 4.2 innings of work. He would be released just prior to the 1993 season and later signed with the Detroit Tigers.
Fast forward to 1999 and Wells was once again a member of the Blue Jays as he was acquired alongside Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd from the New York Yankees in exchange for right-hander Roger Clemens. Years later, Wells would reveal that the trade back to Toronto was one of the worst days of his career, upset by the deal that brought him back to the Jays (although he never really clarified the reason why). The California product would later be traded to the Chicago White Sox in the 2000/2001 offseason alongside Matt DeWitt in exchange for Kevin Beirne, Brian Simmons, Mike Sirotka, and Mike Wiliams.
Through parts of eight seasons with the Jays, “Boomer” posted a 4.06 ERA through 306 outings (138 starts) with a 1.275 WHIP, a 3.84 FIP, and a 6.1 K/9 through 1148.2 innings of work. He currently sits seventh on the Jays franchise leaderboards in terms of innings pitched and ninth in games started. Throughout his 21-year tenure, Wells suited up for nine different organizations and finished with a career 4.13 ERA through 660 appearances (489 starts), amassing a 53.5 bWAR. He received five votes on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot and was dropped due to being under the minimum 5% threshold.
Amongst his resume are two World Series championships (the other with the Yankees in 1998), three All-Star appearances, and the 15th perfect game in history, earned on May 17th, 1998 against the Minnesota Twins by a score of 4-0. He currently runs his own foundation (Perfect 33 Foundation) and provided colour commentary for the YES Network while also coaching for Point Loma back in 2014.10.
10. Kevin Sliwinski – 1B
Kevin Sliwinski has a pretty interesting draft story, as the first baseman is one of the few players in history to be drafted five or more times (twice in 1981 and twice in 1982 with the January/June drafts in place at the time).
Born in Garden Grove, California, Sliwinski would later attend Orange Coast College and after foregoing signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, and Houston Astros, Sliwinski was drafted by the Blue Jays in the third round of the 1982 June MLB Draft.
From 1983 to 1987, Sliwinski had climbed from Single-A to AA ball, with the first baseman/outfielder spending the 1985-1987 campaigns with the Knoxville Blue Jays. In 1988, Sliwinski moved to the Oakland Athletics organization and was out of baseball after that season. Through six MiLB seasons, the 1B/OF earned a collective .275/.364/.461 slash line with 100 home runs and a .825 OPS.
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