Slugging designated hitter Jim Thome clubbed career home run No. 600 tonight, leading the Minnesota Twins to a 9-6 victory over Detroit. The historic round-tripper reminded me of a conversation I had with Atlanta Braves scout Stu Cann more than a decade ago.
Thome was a raw, wiry prospect when Cann trailed him through the dusty Midwestern junior college scene. The Illinois native ripped vicious line drives but he also whiffed viciously, foreshadowing his Three True Outcome future. Flawed but seductively powerful, his style was the ultimate tease.
As Thome’s historic blast sailed into the Michigan night sky, I couldn’t help but think of Cann and his final opportunity to watch the shortstop from Illinois Central College in May 1989. With draft day approaching, Thome struck out three times and Cann filed his final evaluation.
In Round 13 of the 1989 MLB Amateur Draft, Atlanta selected Tony Valle, a right-handed pitcher from Southwest Texas State University. Nine picks later, Cleveland drafted Jim Thome. Atlanta’s decision was regrettable to say the least. But that’s the agonizing challenge unique to the player evaluation game. It’s part mystical clairvoyance and success is measured through the cruel lens of hindsight.
Fortunately for Cann and the Braves, Thome represented one of the organization’s only mistakes during an epoch that produced 14 consecutive division championships and one World Series title.
– Jayson Hron