Until recently, Jim Fuller was one of those names that didn't really register with me. Then I saw a few mentions of his prodigious minor league power in Dave Pugh's book, and decided to give him a closer look.
Though he was born in Bethesda, Fuller played high school and college ball in the San Diego area. The Orioles chose him with their second round pick in the secondary phase of the draft in January 1970. He climbed steadily through the organization, winning Most Valuable Player honors in his league twice. In 1971, the 20-year-old picked up his first MVP when he hit .326/.431/.611 (that's a 1.042 OPS, folks) with 28 doubles, 33 home runs, and 110 RBI for the class A Florida State League's Miami Orioles. The following year he bashed 34 homers and drove in 107 runs between AA Asheville and AAA Rochester. Then in 1973, he took home the hardware as the International League's best player when he clubbed 25 doubles and 39 home runs for Rochester. At age 22, he also posted 108 RBI in his first full season with the Red Wings. He didn't hit much in a nine-game trial with the Orioles, but did open eyes with a two-homer effort against the Tigers on September 25.
Jim's utter lack of plate discipline, on the other hand, was troubling. While he piled up strikeouts in the minors (including a league-leading 197 at Rochester in 1973 that accounted for 38.3% of his plate appearances), he was able to draw walks and produce big hits against inexperienced young pitchers. That wasn't the case when he reached the majors, obviously, and Fuller never seemed to adjust. Spending most of the 1974 campaign in Baltimore, Fuller hit just .222 and struck out 68 times in 202 plate appearances while walking only eight times. When he did make contact he still hit the ball hard, evidenced by the fact that 18 of his 42 hits went for extra bases (11 2B and 7 HR). But Jim just couldn't get the job done with any consistency.
Spending the following two seasons back at Rochester, Fuller's performance declined. He missed a chunk of 1976 with a broken thumb and was released by the O's at the end of that year. He signed with Houston before the next season and didn't hit there, either (.160, 2 HR, 9 RBI in 100 AB). After a miserable start at AAA in 1978, he hung up his spikes. He was only 27 at the time.
It's incredible to think that somebody who put up such eye-popping numbers at every stop in the minor leagues could hit the wall so suddenly, but baseball's an unforgiving profession. If you have a flaw in your game, it will catch up with you.