Albert Pujols Went From “Unknown Prospect” to One of MLB’s Best in a Single Spring Training

Earlier today, we re-lived Miguel Cabrera’s historic, Triple-Crown 2012 season:

In that post, I made sure to mention that Cabrera’s 67.9 career WAR (to date) ranks 71st among players all-time.

But what I didn’t mention is that his 67.9 career WAR also happens to be fourth among all active players.

In other words, he’s been crazy impressive, but not quite the best.

Instead, that distinction belongs to Albert Pujols – by quite a bit:

Pujols first came up to the big leagues back in 2001, after playing just one season in the Minor Leagues (Class-A), and utterly dominated Major League pitchers.

But it’s not as though that was expected.

In fact, the story of his surprise-arrival onto the scene (as told by Joe Posnanski at MLB.com) is pretty fascinating:

“Pujols shouldn’t make the club,” La Russa teased on Feb. 15. He paused. “But,” La Russa added, “I didn’t think McGwire was going to make the club in 1987.”

Well, that got everybody’s attention. Of course, Pujols in 2001 and McGwire in 1987 were nothing alike. McGwire was a college superstar, an Olympic team member, a high first-round Draft pick. By ’87, he’d crushed the ball for a half-season in Triple-A, and he’d even got a few games in the big leagues. It might have been a surprise for McGwire to make La Russa’s Oakland A’s in ’87 … but it wasn’t much of one.

Pujols, on the other hand, was a thirteenth round pick out of a unheralded community college, without much experience or fanfare surrounding him. Heck, he’d spent most of the previous season in A-ball!

Of course that didn’t stop him from almost immediately becoming one of the best players in baseball – not in the slightest.

In his rookie 2001 season, Pujols slashed .329/.403/.610 with 37 home runs and a massive 7.2 WAR – which was eighth best in baseball behind names like Barry Bonds (73 home runs), Sammy Sosa (64 home runs), Jason Giambi (19.2% walk rate), Alex Rodriguez (52 home runs), and Larry Walker (.350 batting average).

So, yeah. He was in some company.

But it all goes back to the unsuspecting St. Louis Cardinals organization that gave a young, unknown prospect the shot of a life-time when the established left-fielder went down with an injury.

So head over to MLB.com and read about Pujols’ call-up, because the back and forth between the manager, coaches, front office, and media is pretty fascinating. And remember, this active legend came almost completely out of nowhere.

It’s fun to dream about that happening this Spring Training for some other unknown youngster.

Tags:

« | »