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Taking A Gamble: the Professional Sports Draft

Brien Taylor was a "can't miss" prospect

I don’t know about you, but each year I get way too excited for professional sports drafts.  The NFL draft is by far the most enticing with Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay squaring off throughout the year arguing over trivial college football players who in a couple years will be completely forgotten.  There’s also the NFL combine, the live draft show, draft “experts”, mock drafts, and above all gives you a more optimistic look at your favorite team’s likelihood for success with a new solid draft pick.  The NBA Draft is quite fun too, they have a live show, fashionable suits, great highlight reels, some of your favorites from March Madness are there, and of course David Stern, he was great in Home Alone by the way.  Unfortunately, the MLB Draft greatly fails in comparison.   

Major League Baseball for years has carried out their draft with most of us hardly taking notice.  There wasn’t a live show, not much analysis, and about 5 years ago players were still drafted via phone conference.  I applaud the MLB for finally amping up their draft in recent years, as there is a live show broadcasting the results of the MLB draft, and guys like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper have gotten LeBron-esque hype coming into the big leagues.

Aside from Strasburg and Harper, college and high school baseball players rarely get any attention, and as a sport, amateur baseball is not as popular as collegiate football and basketball.   As a result, it’s a bit tougher to know when your team drafts well or crashes and burns.

Once the draft is said and done, it takes a few years to really see if you drafted a future star or a fizzled out player, especially the #1 overall pick.  As we all remember, it only took a few disastrous seasons in Oakland for Al Davis to realize his investment in JaMarcus Russell as an overall #1 draft pick was highly ineffective.  Russell finished his swift meager career with a 7-18 record as a starter and will more than likely not start an NFL game ever again.  Quite frankly, the #1 pick of the draft can easily make or break your franchise.

Similarly, most of us are keenly aware of those big jackpot #1 draft picks in the NBA and NFL (i.e. LeBron James, Peyton Manning) and the whoopsie, sorry about that #1 draft picks (i.e. Kwame Brown, Tim Couch).   Every draft has its great picks and their crap picks, but I’d say more likely than not the NBA and NFL’s #1 draft picks work out successfully.  But, what about the MLB’s overall #1 draft picks?  Do they ever work out?  Can you name more than the two I already mentioned?

With the MLB Draft vastly approaching, I decided to take a look at the last 20 years of the MLB Draft to see if General Managers have had much success with their overall first pick of the draft.  Has the MLB been able to draft players #1 deserving of the title #1 draft pick?  We rank/analyze the top picks of the past 20 years

(ranking 1-10; 10=HOF caliber  8-9=superstar  6-7=above average  4-5=average  2-3=poor  1=awful)  HIT OR MISS

1990:  Chipper Jones, SS Atlanta Braves:  (10) HIT

  • 1993- present, 3B/SS
  • .306/.405/.535, 438 HR, 1,503 RBI*
  • ’99 NL MVP, 6x All Star,’95 WS

1991:  Brien Taylor, LHP, New York Yankees (1) MISS

  • Never played a professional game

1992:  Phil Nevin, 3B, Houston Astros (4) MISS

  • 1995-2006, 3B/1B/OF/C
  • .270/.343/.472, 208 HR, 743 RBI
  • 1x All Star

1993:  Alex Rodriguez, SS, Seattle Mariners (10) HIT

  • 1994-present, SS/3B
  • .303/.388/.572, 617 HR, 1,840 RBI*
  • 3x MVP, 13x All Star, 2x Gold-Glove, ’09 WS

1994:  Paul Wilson, RHP, New York Mets (3) MISS

  • 1996-2005
  • 40-58, 4.86 ERA, 619 K’s

1995:  Darin Erstad, OF, California Angels (5) MISS

  • 1996-2009, OF/1B
  • .282/.336/.407, 124 HR, 699 RBI
  • 2x All Star, 3x Gold-Glove, ’02 WS

1996:  Kris Benson, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (3) MISS

  • 1999-2010
  • 70-75, 4.42 ERA, 806 K’s

1997:  Matt Anderson, RHP, Detroit Tigers (2) MISS

  • 1998-2005
  • 15-7, 5.19 ERA, 26 SV

1998:  Pat Burrell, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (6) MISS

  • 2000-present, OF/1B
  • .254/.362/.475, 290 HR, 962 RBI*
  • 2x WS

1999:  Josh Hamilton, OF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (9) HIT

  • 2007-present, OF
  • .312/.372/.543, 93 HR, 338 RBI*
  • 2010 AL MVP , 3x All Star

2000:  Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Florida Marlins (8) HIT

  • 2004-present, 1B
  • .284/.368/.506. 169 HR, 533 RBI*
  • 3x All Star, 2x Gold-Glove

2001:  Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins (9) HIT

  • 2004-present, C
  • .326/.406/.479, 81 HR, 476 RBI*
  • 2009 AL MVP, 4x All Star, 3x Gold-Glove

2002:  Bryan Bullington, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (2) MISS

  • 2005 – 2010
  • 1-9, 5.62 ERA, 102 K’S

2003:  Delmon Young, OF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (6) HIT

  • 2006- present, OF
  • .291/.324/.431, 59 HR, 350 RBI*
  • 2010 10th in MVP voting

2004:  Matt Bush, SS, San Diego Padres (1) MISS

  • Converted to RHP
  • Has yet to play professional game

2005:  Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (7) HIT

  • 2007 – present, OF
  • .273/.353/.474, 64 HR, 219 RBI, 45 SB*
  • 2009 All Star

2006:  Luke Hochevar, RHP, Kansas City Royals (3) MISS

  • 2007 – present, RHP
  • 21-34, 5.56 ERA, 279 K’s*

2007:  David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (8) HIT

  • 2008 – present, LHP
  • 32-15, 3.30 ERA, 328 K’s*
  • 2010 All Star, 2010 2nd in Cy Young voting

2008:  Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays TBD

  • Has yet to play professional game
  • Currently plays for AA Montgomery Biscuits

2009:  Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals TBD

  • 2010 – present, RHP
  • 5-3, 2.91 ERA, 92 K’s*

2010:  Harper, OF, Washington Nationals  TBD

  • Has yet to play professional game
  • Currently plays for A Hagerstown Suns

* – active; stats as of 4/25/11

According to my thoughts & research, over the last 20 years of draft picks, baseball GM’s have chose wisely 8 times, failed to land a star 10 times, and the last three draft selections are still in limbo.  The draft results were better than I expected, but you never really know if the hyped up prospect you select will have a place in Cooperstown (Jones, A-Rod) or work mainly as a bricklayer (Brien Taylor).

It’s interesting to note that the Nationals chose the last two overall #1’s, and the Rays had two in the previous years.  It got me thinking, what if one team chose first each year since 1990 and money wasn’t an option, what would that team look like?  Kinda like this…

Starting lineup for 1990 – 2010 Overall #1 Draft Picks

  1. Justin Upton – RF
  2. Joe Mauer – C
  3. Josh Hamilton – CF
  4. Alex Rodriguez – SS
  5. Adrian Gonzalez – 1B
  6. Chipper Jones – 3B
  7. Pat Burrell – DH
  8. Delmon Young – LF
  9. Darin Erstad – 2B**

**No #1 overall drafted player in the last 20 years has played any significant time at second base, but if Erstad was able to win a gold glove in the outfield as well as first base, not to mention he was a talented Punter for the University of Nebraska, I’m sure he’d figure out a way to play second base, as a lefty.

That’s a seriously incredible lineup.  Speed, Power, Gloves, oh my.  This team would surely win a few World Series rings, but wait, what about pitching, that’s pretty important too ain’t it?

Pitching rotation for 1990 – 2010 Overall #1 Draft Picks

  1. David Price – LHP
  2. Stephen Strasburg – RHP
  3. Luke Hochevar – RHP
  4. Kris Benson – RHP
  5. Paul Wilson – RHP

Closer – Matt Anderson – RHP

Not the most ideal rotation but a pretty great 1-2 combo.  Hochevar may eventually come around, but 3-5 all have career losing records.  Anderson leads all #1 picks with a paltry career total of 26 saves.

It seems drafting a pitcher is a risk most GM’s should not take.  Most of the pitchers within this research have not been successful in the MLB, and the sure thing known as Strasburg is still a work in process, as we don’t know how he’ll play after Tommy John surgery.  Whatever the case, June is right around the corner, and I’m excited to see what the always remarkable Billy Beane and the other baseball GM’s have in mind for our future stars and bricklayers.

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