Kenny Lofton is often talked about is revered tones from Cleveland Indians faithful. He was the tone setter for the success of the 90′s Indians with his speed and brashness. Yet many don’t remember that he was not drafted by the Tribe and even fewer realize that Lofton was not a high draft pick at all, with very low expectations given to him though his athletic talents were obvious. Lofton’s time as a basketball player in college was one of the reasons these expectations were low but oh how the Indians benefited from his return to baseball.
SI just came out with a list of late round draft picks, with some very surprising names on it such as Albert Pujols, Andy Pettitte and more. Lofton is ranked #10 but the Indians are also a part of another interesting tidbit in the article:
The latest pick to have a 10-year career in the majors. Former Indians reliever David Riske, taken in the 56th round, appeared in 462 games over 11 seasons, posting a 121 career ERA+.
Many Tribe fans remember Riske but, like me, don’t realize that he made it through 11 seasons in the majors. That is quite an accomplishment for a player drafted so far down in the draft. Riske last pitched in MLB in 2010. He was a part of the Coco Crisp deal that got the Tribe Andy Marte, a player who never panned out after being a high draft pick. Yet Riske didn’t come close to the Top 10 of best late round picks where Pujols is ranked #9 and right after him came out guy Lofton:
10. Kenny Lofton, CF, Astros, 1988
17th round, 428 overall
Lofton was a pitcher and centerfielder in high school, but he went to the University of Arizona on a basketball scholarship and left baseball behind until coming off the bench in five games in his junior year. His rekindled interest in hardball combined with his obvious speed and athleticism was enough to prompt the Astros to draft him, and since he could play short-season minor league ball in the summer and still play basketball for the Wildcats his senior year, he signed with Houston. The Astros deserve a great deal of credit for taking that flyer on Lofton, who, like Keith Hernandez, had a career that very easily could have landed him in the Hall of Fame (career JAWS 55.7, CF standard: 57.2). However, they undermined that achievement by trading Lofton just 20 games into that career. Spending most of his time with the Indians, Lofton ultimately made six All-Star appearances, won four Gold Gloves, stole 622 bases, picked up 2,428 hits and posted a .372 on-base percentage while playing for 11 teams that reached the postseason in his 17-year career.
Two things jump out from that write up about Lofton: The Astros traded him only 20 games into his career and that the speedster had a 17 year career. Trading any player 20 games into a career is taking a huge risk that they will develop into something special, as Lofton did. That a speed oriented player was able to adjust him game and be successful for 17 years is far more amazing. Most speed players can’t figure it out as they age and their speed goes away. They languish for a little while before hanging it up. Those that watched Lofton play know that wasn’t his style. His performance went down as he aged but he figured out how to continue to make an impact of the field.
What is your favorite memory of Kenny Lofton?
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