Everyone is so quick to call the Major League amateur draft a fool's game, no one stops to view the past results. While factors that scouting directors can't imagine are thrown into the mix when creating a superstar, there's no question that scouts know something. There was a reason Matt Bush was selected first overall this year, and his chance of success is significantly better than the Joe Schmoe selected with the last pick in the 50th round.
You'll often hear people say that you can't evaluate a trade immediately, and the same is true for a draft. In fact, I think it takes six years before you can ever begin to break it down. My reasoning:
Year 1: Drafted, short-season ball
This would be an extremely slow and gracious pace for a prospect, who might even lose 'prospect' status by year 5. Most good players would have taken a quicker route, even hitting the Majors as early as year two. While Mark Prior hit the Majors in May of 2002, only 11 months after being drafted, Gavin Floyd (drafted 4th overall in 2001) is still in the minors.
If we replace 'Year 6' with 2004, now would be the proper time to begin evaluating the 1999 draft. With the help of the Baseball Cube, one of the Internet's best resources, I was able to go through all 50 rounds of the 1999 draft. My results follow...
1999 Draft: A Recourse
After clawing and scratching through their first year of existence in 1998, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were given the first overall draft pick in the June 1999 draft. Behind them were the Florida Marlins, who with only 54 wins had the worst record from 1998. This prevented the Arizona Diamondbacks, who joined the Majors alongside Tampa, from picking until fourth overall. Detroit, who has had problems since the strike year of 1994, split the two NL teams with the third overall choice. You have to believe there was some animosity felt in Florida that year, as everybody around the Devil Rays wanted a piece of the Josh Hamilton pie.
Hamilton, an high school outfielder from North Carolina, was a lock for the top pick in '99. He had it all: a powerful bat, rocket arm, and perfect makeup. Originally from Raleigh, Hamilton was an icon in the state, tearing through every high school record ever created by the state. And he did it all smiling, never escaping the Catholic boy image that scouts fell in love with. He was a scout's dream, and had 80s across the board. And then injuries came, and with injuries time, and with time corruption. His life went slowly down the wrong path, taking the unexpected turn into drugs. Still in rehab, Chuck Lamar is still praying his bonus baby will again pick up a bat.
Behind Hamilton stood another high school phenom in the form of Josh Beckett. Most of my knowledge of Beckett comes from this article by Ryan Levy, one of the "30 players to get a hit of [Beckett] during his senior year." Beckett was almost as big as Hamilton, though a town filled with baseball superstars prevented Josh from reaching icon status. His makeup wasn't quite up to Hamilton standards, likely the reason the Spring, TX native fell to the Marlins with the second overall choice.
The field narrowed after the first two, though the Tigers seemed please to select the nation's most complete college hitter: Eric Munson. One of about six chosen from USC that year, teams still believed Munson could stay behind the plate. Time has proven this belief to be false, along with the thought that he could hit for average in the Major Leagues. But, for their money, we can at least say the Tigers have received over six extra wins (16 WS) for him.
This is more than can be said for the sorry excuses for baseball players chosen in the 4-6 slots. Arizona's first ever draft choice, Corey Myers, is now in AAA. An infielder out of high school, Myers is currently shuffling between the C/1B/3B positons with a line of 263/323/377. That is more than can be said for B.J. Garbe, Minnesota's toolsy outfielder that is still as raw as the day he was drafted. In AA, Garbe currently has a .291 slugging percentage AND on-base percentage. Finally, despite a relatively productive draft, the Expos' whiffed on their first choice, a HS southpaw named Josh Girdley. Still with the Expos, the leftie hasn't made it through ten games in the Florida State League.
Kansas City selected seventh, surprisingly making Kyle Snyder from USC the first college hurler selected. Ben Sheets and Barry Zito were an argument within themselves, which has worked out to be true. Those two were selected ninth and tenth (Zito then Sheets), with Pittsburgh right-hander Bobby Bradley in the middle. Bradley has yet to avoid arm injury enough to compete, though he has the makings of a Major League pitcher.
Well, that was the top ten in detail. As for choices 11-30, they are below, with players who have made the Major Leagues in bold:
11. Seattle- Ryan Christianson- C
Baltimore and San Diego had seven picks between the two teams, and only one made the Major Leagues. Larry Bigbie looks like a success story, but the rest of the choices look horrible. Alexis Rios, who wasn't considered to have the talent of the rest, looks to be the best player of the bunch. This wasn't true too long ago, seeing as though Jason Jennings once won the Rookie of the Year.
Ben Christensen would have gone in the top 10 on talent alone, but his bad makeup dropped him to the Cubs in the 26th slot. But the right-hander has had injuries derail his career, and the troubled pitcher is currently pitching in the Seattle organization. Howington and Stumm were both thought to be locks in the past December's Rule V draft, but neither's name was mentioned.
Rather than go through every round, I have some final numbers to show. Overall, 93 players have made the Major Leagues from the 1999 draft. About 25 aren't worth a nickel, players like Matt Diaz or Prentice Redman that have little other than a September call-up on their resume. The last player selected to make the Majors was Chad Bentz, originally selected by the Yankees in the 34th round. The southpaw made the Expos Opening Day roster this year, and has been the LOOGY for much of the year. Other players selected below the 30th round are Mike Neu, Nick Green, Erik Eckenstahler, Bo Hart, and Jason Frasor.
Of the 93, 51 of 54.84% are pitchers. The best of the group is likely Sheets, though he draws competition from Cy Young winner Zito and World Series MVP Beckett. The best hitter is undoubtedly Albert Pujols, amazingly drafted in the 13th round. Other good hitters are Hank Blalock, Carl Crawford, and Justin Morneau.
St. Louis found a star in Pujols, and also were one of three teams with six draftees making the Majors. Besides Pujols, the Cardinals also saw Josh Pearce (2nd), Jim Journell (4th), Coco Crisp (7th), Mike Crudale (24th) and Hart (33rd). Seattle also had six make the Majors, with Willie Bloomquist (3rd), Clint Nageotte (5th) and Justin Leone (13th) worth noting. Finally, those teams are joined by Kansas City, who had five players in five rounds make the Majors (Snyder, MacDougal, Gobble, Obermuller, Harvey).
On the other side of the coin, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are the only teams with just one success story. Both aren't exactly heroes either, with J.R. House and Jason Davis representing the two teams. House rose to the top of the organizational rankings before numerous injuries tore his career apart. Davis was a 21st round pitcher from the Cleveland area that threw a fastball just good enough to get noticed. Loads of teams only had two reach the Majors, with my Cubbies containing some of the worst graduates: Steve Smyth and Pete Zoccolillo.
Finally, below is my all-1999 draft team:
C- Josh Bard (3rd)
CL- Mike MacDougal (1st)
It also should be mentioned that fifty of the 93 players to make it came in the top 5 rounds, indicating that scouts have some idea what they are doing.
While the largest superstar of the draft came in the 13th round, most of the best players were selected in the top 3 rounds, which had 36 success stories. Each player has his own timetable, but this lesson should tell us to always keep those top drafted players in the front of our brain.