Straight to the Majors: Jim Abbott
Over the extended weekend of the Field of Dream series the Yankees played against Garrett Crotchet, a relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox who throws hard, pitches well, and has yet to ever play a game in the minor leagues. After getting drafted 15th Overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, he signed, and went straight to the majors.
This got me wondering about what other players were who went straight to the MLB, of which there have been 22 since the MLB Draft was implemented in 1965. Over the next few weeks there are 11 players who have played for the Yankees while making their professional debut at the MLB level.
Today’s player is: Jim Abbott
Road to the Show:
Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Jim Abbott’s story is one of overcoming unfortunate circumstances and putting in the work and effort to excel regardless. Born without a right hand, Abbott still went on to be an extraordinary athlete while playing quarterback and being a pitcher at his High School while also playing on a few different local ball clubs. He was drafted in the 36th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1985, but instead went on to play at the University of Michigan.
While pitching at Michigan, Abbott saw his collegiate and amateur career flourish. While with the Wolverine’s from 1985 to 1988, Abbott helped the team win 2 Big Ten titles and in 1987 was named the top amateur baseball player and athlete in the United States while winning both the Golden Spikes Award and the James E. Sullivan Award (also becoming the first baseball player to take home the later). He would also be named the Big Ten athlete of the year in 1988. Outside of school, Abbott played for the United States National Baseball Team in 1987 and 1988. In 1987 he was the flag-bearer for the USA at the Pan-American games while helping to take home the silver medal. In 1988, Abbott would beat this while helping the USA take home a demonstration gold-medal in baseball at the Seoul Olympics (baseball wasn’t officially recognized on the Olympic program). All of these honors helped Abbott to become the 8th Overall selection in the 1988 MLB Draft by the California Angels.
Beginning his professional career in 1989, Abbott skipped playing any games in the Minor Leagues and was immediately slotted in as a member of the Angels starting rotation. While a risky move with any young player, Abbott proved to be a solid option, going 12-12 with a 3.92 ERA (98 ERA+) over 29 games and 181.1 innings while also placing 5th in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Abbott would spend the next three seasons with the Angels while posting the best two seasons of his career in 1991 (+7.6 bWAR) and 1992 (+5.7 bWAR). He would place 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting in 1991 around his 18-11 record, 2.89 ERA (142 ERA+) and would follow that up with another great season in 1992 with a 2.77 ERA (143 ERA+) but his 7-15 record in a time before SABRmetrics meant no acknowledgement during voting season by the BBWAA.
That offseason Abbott was traded away from the Angels for a package including J.T. Snow, Jerry Nielsen, and Russ Springer. Abbott was going to the Yankees.
Road to the Yankees and Afterwards:
Abbott would be a solid starting rotation piece for the Yankees in 1993 and 1994, but it was nothing like his previous two years with the Angels. In 1993, Abbott pitched to an 11-14 record around a 4.37 ERA (95 ERA+) and in 1994 he pitched to a 9-8 record around a 4.55 ERA (101 ERA+).
While both seasons were up-and-down for Abbott, he did cement himself into the record books during that first season on September 4th when he no-hit the Cleveland Indians. And, unfortunately while on an AL East leading Yankees team in 1994, the players strike prevented Abbott from reaching the postseason. And this would spell the end of his time with the Yankees.
In 1995 Abbott signed on as a free agent to play with the Chicago White Sox and then was traded back to the California Angels in a 6-player deal near the trade deadline. Abbott would again just miss the playoffs as the Angels would lose in a one-game playoff to determine the winner of the AL West to the Seattle Mariners. Then, after struggling through the first half of 1996 with the Angels (and his 7.24 ERA/66 ERA+), Abbott retired.
Although, briefly. After taking the 1997 season away from baseball, Abbott returned in 1998 again with the Chicago White Sox, signing in late May. After spending most of the season getting back to form while playing at nearly every level of the minor leagues, Abbott did well while winning all 5 games he started.
This helped to earn Abbott a spot on the 1999 Milwaukee Brewers of the National League…as a one-handed pitcher. Again, Abbott would struggle while going 2-8 with a 6.98 ERA (66 ERA+), but he also collected his first and second career hits– both RBI singles, coming in different games, against the same pitcher (Jon Leiber).
At the end of the 1999 season, Abbott retire and officially step away from baseball.