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Four newest Hall members started in Minors

Johnson, Martinez, Biggio, Smoltz breezed through lower levels
January 7, 2015

Randy Johnson, he of the 6-foot-10 frame, 303 career wins and 4,875 strikeouts, can only recall visiting Cooperstown, New York, the one time. The year he was taken by the Expos in the second round of the 1985 Draft out of the University of Southern California, the lanky left-hander was sent to Class A Short Season Jamestown to begin his professional career. The New York-Penn League isn't exactly known for its exotic locales, but at the time spots like Oneonta and Utica sat within an hour's drive of the national pastime's mecca.

So the then-21-year-old took a visit. He hasn't been back since.

"I'm assuming that it's a little bit bigger now," Johnson said in a New York press conference Wednesday.

On July 26, 2015, he'll get his chance to find out. That's when Johnson will be inducted into the Hall along with fellow legends Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio, each of whom traveled through the Minors en route to Cooperstown, as the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2015.

Randy Johnson

Given his overpowering look and fastball on the mound, Johnson was plenty to dream on when the Expos made him the 36th overall pick in the 1985 Draft, but he was also considered a project. His delivery needed a lot of work, as did his control and that was evident from the start. In his first three years in the Expos system with Jamestown, Class A West Palm Beach and Double-A Jacksonville, Johnson averaged 7.7 walks per nine innings.

"Intimidation was a big part of my game, but it wasn't until I actually harnessed my ability early on when I started with the Expos. ... I was a major project for that organization to get me to be consistent with my delivery at 6-foot-10," he said. "The one thing I had going for me is I was able to throw really hard. I was kind of like that Sports Illustrated story that came out a long time ago that there was a kid wearing overalls in a hay field or whatever that threw 100 mph. That was me. And I was like Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham that hit the mascot. I was a combination of all that until it finally came together for me."

But like the fictionalized Durham Bulls hurler, boy, was there plenty of talent. In his first three pro seasons, Johnson averaged 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings and had a 3.70 ERA. In 1988, he went 8-7 with a 3.26 ERA, 8.8 K/9 and much-improved 5.7 BB/9 across 113 1/3 frames at Triple-A Indianpolis before making his Major League debut on Sept. 15 against the Pirates. He began 1989 in the Majors with Montreal but was returned to Triple-A in May after a rough start (0-4, 6.67 ERA, 7.9 BB/9 in seven appearances). In June of that year, the win-now Expos, believing Johnson was too much of a project, sent the left-hander to Seattle with two other players in exchange for left-handed starter Mark Langston.

Langston went 12-9 with a 2.39 ERA for the 81-81 Expos that year but left the following offseason as a free agent. Johnson spent 10 seasons in Seattle, becoming a four-time All-Star and winning the 1995 AL Cy Young Award there. He would also win four straight Cy Youngs with the D-backs from 1999-2002 and the World Series MVP award in 2001. So yes, the rest really is history.

Pedro Martinez

Now there is no doubt about who is the most famous Martinez brother. Back in 1988 when Pedro Martinez signed out of the Dominican Republic with the Dodgers, there wasn't much of a doubt either. Then, it was Ramon, who was making his Major League debut with the Dodgers that year after blowing away the competition in the Minors for the latter half of the decade. Pedro, at that point still only 16, was just the scrawny kid brother.

By the turn of the '90s, Martinez was starting show plenty of his own potential. As an 18-year-old right-hander, he made his stateside debut in 1990 at Rookie-level Great Falls, where he went 8-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 77 innings. The following seasons was Martinez's breakout campaign as the 19-year-old climbed three levels to Triple-A, putting up an 18-8 record, 2.28 ERA, 9.7 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 177 1/3 frames at Class A Advanced Bakersfield, Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Albuquerque. National eyes started to turn his way as Baseball America pegged him to as the No. 10 prospect in baseball ahead of the 1992 season. That was one spot behind Frankie Rodriguez (5.53 career ERA) and one spot ahead of future All-Star Reggie Sanders. Upon returning to the Pacific Coast League in 1992, Martinez was solid with a 3.81 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 125 1/3 frames for the Dukes.

The dimunitive right-hander with a killer fastball-curveball-changeup mix made his Majors debut on Sept. 24, 1992, and went on to spend most of 1993 in the Dodgers bullpen, where he owned a 2.61 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 10.0 K/9 across 65 appearances. Los Angeles dealt the 22-year-old right-hander to the Expos for second baseman Delino DeShields. Martinez spent four seasons with the Expos, winning the 1997 NL Cy Young award, before moving onto the Red Sox with whom he became a superstar, thanks to all-time-great 1999 (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts) and 2000 (18-6, 1.74 ERA, 284 strikeouts) seasons and helping the club to win the 2004 World Series. Martinez moved onto the Mets and Phillies before finishing with a 219-100 record, 2.93 career ERA and 3,154 strikeouts (10.0 K/9) over 18 Major League seasons.

Aside: Martinez, one of the best storytellers in the modern game, spun a yarn on one of his favorite Minor League stories, coming from the time when the Dodgers bumped him up to Bakersfield for the 1990 playoffs. It involves his Minor League wages, a silent auction and a Reggie Jackson-signed baseball. Video of the three-and-a-half-minute story is embedded below. 

Craig Biggio

For Biggio, the Class of 2015 member who spent by far the fewest games in the Minor Leagues, the call to Cooperstown represents somewhat of a homecoming (at least regionally).

The Astros legend grew up in Kings Park, New York, on Long Island and played his college ball at Seton Hall before Houston snagged him with the 22nd overall pick in 1987. It didn't take long at all for the 21-year-old catcher to show his stuff as a professional. He owned a .375/.471/.597 line with 31 stolen bases in 64 games at Class A Asheville in his debut season in 1987, leading the Astros to believe he could jump straight to Triple-A in his first full season. The young right-handed hitter didn't exhibited many issues in the PCL, hitting .320/.408/.456 in 77 games with the Tucson Toros. 

The Astros called up Biggio for his Major League debut on June 26, 1988, to make him their starting backstop, and he never played in the Minors again, not even for a rehab assignment. Biggio,who became a second baseman by 1992, played 20 seasons with the Astros, accruing 3,060 hits, 668 doubles (fifth-most in history), 1,844 runs (15th-most) and 285 hit-by-pitches (second-most). He was a seven-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and three-time Gold Glover.

John Smoltz

Smoltz joins Hall Class of 2014 members and fellow dominant Braves hurlers from the 1990s Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in Cooperstown, although it wasn't always a given that the trio would be on the same team, never mind in the same Hall.

Of the three, only Glavine was originally Drafted by Atlanta. Maddux came from the Cubs via free agency, and Smoltz was dealt from the Tigers, who took the Michigan native in the 22nd round in 1985, in exchange for Doyle Alexander in 1987. Before the trade, it had been a down year for Smoltz, who struggled in his age-20 season with the Tigers' Double-A affiliate in Glens Falls where he was 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA, 6.0 K/9 and 5.6 BB/9 in 21 starts. Still, the Braves felt the right-hander was ready for a bump to Triple-A Richmond upon acquisition, and it was there in 1988 that he showed his big-time potential. Smoltz went 10-5 with a 2.79 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 20 starts (135 1/3 innings) in the International League. By July 23, he was making his Major League debut, holding the rival Mets to one earned run in eight innings, and the following season, he was a full-time starter in what would be the most exciting rotation of the 1990s.

Smoltz finished his 21-year career with a 213-155 record, 154 saves, 3.33 ERA and 3,084 strikeouts in 21 seasons with the Braves, Red Sox and Cardinals. He was an eight-time All-Star and won the 1996 NL Cy Young award, 1992 NLCS MVP award and a World Series ring in 1995.

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to