Thinking they had the next Bo Jackson, the Cardinals turned down the chance to draft Frank Thomas.
With the next pick, No. 7, the White Sox chose Thomas, a first baseman from Auburn University.
Thomas, a two-time winner of the American League Most Valuable Player Award, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Jan. 8, 2014. Playing for the White Sox, Blue Jays and Athletics from 1990-2008, Thomas hit .301 with 521 home runs and 1,704 RBI in his big-league career.
Coleman never reached the major leagues.
The top seven selections in the first round of the 1989 draft:
1. Ben McDonald, pitcher, Orioles.
2. Tyler Houston, catcher, Braves.
3. Roger Salkeld, pitcher, Mariners.
4. Jeff Jackson, outfielder, Phillies.
5. Donald Harris, outfielder, Rangers.
6. Paul Coleman, outfielder, Cardinals.
7. Frank Thomas, first baseman, White Sox.
All except Jackson and Coleman played in the big leagues. Only Thomas made the Hall of Fame.
The Cardinals had rated Coleman the fifth-best player in the draft, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. So, when Coleman was available at No. 6, the Cardinals felt fortunate.
“We’ve been looking for a power hitter and we think Coleman is the type of guy who is going to come through,” Fred McAlister, Cardinals director of scouting, told Vahe Gregorian of the Post-Dispatch on draft day. “He’s built along the lines of a Bo Jackson.”
Coleman, 5 feet 11 and 215 pounds, hit .498 with 39 home runs in his high school career.
A right-handed batter, Coleman had 119 RBI in 93 high school games. As a senior, he was successful on all 25 of his stolen base attempts. He was 63-for-67 in steal attempts during his prep career.
“We’ve had five of our people look at him,” McAlister said. “I’ve seen him three times myself. He’s an outstanding individual. We’re very fortunate to have had the opportunity to select him.”
Cardinals scout Hal Smith, a former big-league catcher with St. Louis, saw Coleman hit a home run that soared more than 500 feet. “It just went on into the night and you never saw it again,” Smith said to Gregorian. “It left everything.”
Coleman, the first outfielder chosen by the Cardinals in the first round since Andy Van Slyke in 1979, was delighted to be taken so early by St. Louis. “I lost my breath when I heard,” he said.
Said Sonny Perry, baseball coach at Frankston High School: “It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to this town. It’s the biggest thing that ever will happen to this town.”
Coleman spent five years in the Cardinals’ minor-league system, never advancing beyond Class AA.
His best professional season was in 1993 with the Cardinals’ Arkansas club in the Texas League. Playing for manager Joe Pettini as part of an outfield with John Mabry and Allen Battle, Coleman hit .244 with 24 doubles, seven home runs and 30 RBI in 123 games.
Thomas, 6 feet 5 and 240 pounds, had hit .403 with 19 home runs and 83 RBI for Auburn in 1989.
“He’s strong with outstanding power and not that bad defensively,” Al Goldis, White Sox scouting director, said to the Chicago Sun-Times on draft day. “He does need to lose weight, though.”
A year later, Aug. 2, 1990, Thomas made his big-league debut with the White Sox.