Picking Apart the Draft: 2001
There is a perception among baseball fans that the first round of the June Amateur Draft is foolproof – or that it should be foolproof. In this series of articles I am taking a look at just how successful teams have been drafting with the first 10 picks of the draft in recent years, starting in 2000 and ending in 2004. Last week I looked at the 2000 draft.
Unlike the 2000 draft, the 2001 amateur talent smorgasbord was piled high with “can’t miss” talent. The Minnesota Twins held the first pick of the draft and knew they had to make a splash. The club had previously failed to sign first round picks including Travis Lee (1996) and Jason Varitek (1993), but it’s simply not acceptable with the first overall pick. As such, the organization decided against drafting the 2001 draft’s supposed ‘Superman’ Mark Prior and chose instead to ‘settle’ for Minnesota native Joe Mauer.
Baseball America’s post-draft coverage stated:
Besides Prior and Mauer, the Twins also considered Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira and Middle Tennessee State righthander Dewon Brazelton for the top choice. Minnesota contacted all four players on the day of the draft to see if a predraft agreement might be reached, but ultimately had to make its decision without a deal in place.
"[Mauer]’s a legitimate No.1 pick," Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff said. "I know a number of teams thought he may be the best guy in the draft. We had four guys we thought were legitimate No. 1 picks. We were fortunate in that regard.
"But let's be honest. We've had trouble signing players in our recent history. We are who we are. We have limited resources and we have to deal with it. Joe was the best fit."
I’d say it worked out pretty well for the Twins, wouldn’t you?
The first 10 picks broke down like this:
1. Minnesota Joe Mauer, C Minnesota high school
2. Chicago (NL) Mark Prior, RHP U of Southern California
3. Tampa Bay Dewon Brazelton, RHP Middle Tennessee State U
4. Philadelphia Gavin Floyd, RHP Maryland high school
5. Texas Mark Teixeira, 3B Georgia Tech U
6. Montreal Josh Karp, RHP UCLA
7. Baltimore Chris Smith, LHP Cumberland University
8. Pittsburgh John VanBenschoten, RHP Kent State
9. Kansas City Colt Griffin, RHP Texas high school
10. Houston Chris Burke, SS U of Tennessee
As you can see, there were much better results for teams drafting in the Top 10 of the draft in 2001 than 2000. However, it still wasn’t without its bombs. Three prospects in the Top 10 never made it to the majors. Two more have barely had more than cups of coffee. As well, Burke and Floyd have yet to establish themselves and Prior has been derailed by injuries. Only Teixeira and Mauer have come close to achieving what was projected for them and that means the Top 10 clubs batted a meager .200 with the coveted picks.
If some of those picks did not look bad enough, let’s take a look at some of the players who were available to other clubs later in the round: Casey Kotchman went to the Angels with the 13th pick, Aaron Heilman was snatched by the Mets with the 18th pick, the Athletics took Bobby Crosby with No. 25 and Jeremy Bonderman with No. 26, and the Reds took, but failed to sign, Jeremy Sowers with the 20th pick. Oh, and the Mets grabbed some guy named David Wright in the supplemental first round after he was passed over 37 times.
Let's take another look at the Top 10:
It usually does not bode well when a club takes a first round pick from its home state… Even fans can smell the stench of the public relations department a mile away. But Mauer was – and still is – a special case. There was no question that he was the best prep hitter in the draft and he played a premium position. Mauer, as a major leaguer, has done nothing to tarnish his reputation… He made it to the major leagues in his fourth pro season, and was established in the majors by the age of 22. If he can stay healthy and if he can remain behind the dish for a significant period, Mauer could be looking at a Hall of Fame career.
Heading into the draft, Prior was considered the best college pitcher on the planet with his “free, easy, effortless delivery,” and knockout stuff. Some even called him the best college pitcher of all time. After signing a major league, five-year contract for a minimum of $10.5 million, Prior made his pro debut in 2002 and was in the majors after only nine minor league starts. By the end of 2003, when he went 18-6 and posted an ERA of 2.43 with 10.43 K/9, Prior looked headed for a Hall of Fame career. But injuries began piling up in subsequent seasons and his inning totals went from 211 in 2003 to 118 in 2004, 166 in 2005 to 43 in 2006. He did not pitch in the majors at all in 2007 thanks to injuries and could miss the first half of 2008. Prior is now in a San Diego uniform after signing as a free agent in the off-season leaving the Cubs with little to show for the investment.
Brazelton was supposed to be the answer to the Rays’ pitching woes. He was supposed to be that advanced college arm that could make it to the majors quickly. Well, he did get there quickly, but it turned out that he wasn’t very good. After not pitching in 2001 due to contract negotiations, Brazelton started 2002 in Double-A and pitched well (3.33 ERA in 26 starts, 7.95 H/9). However, he struck out only 6.72 batters per nine innings and allowed 4.13 walks per nine innings, both warning signs. The next season Brazelton was inconsistent and played at four levels. He posted a 6.89 ERA in 10 major league starts. He turned things around somewhat the next season and pitched 120 innings in the majors and posted a 4.77 ERA. However, he posted rates of 3.95 BB/9 and only 4.77 K/9. Not surprisingly the wheels came off entirely in 2005 and he went 1-8 with an ugly ERA of 7.61. Pitching in Petco Park the next season could not save Brazelton’s career and he posted an ERA of 12.00 in nine games. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The former third pick of the 2001 drafted pitched in the minors in 2007 for both the Royals and the Pirates and neither of the organizations wanted him to stick around.
Floyd is interesting. He was a top high school pitcher who flew through the minors in three seasons and did not posted an ERA above 3.00. However, his K/9 rates dropped as he got closer to the majors, from 7.59 at A-ball to 7.50 at High-A to 7.11 at Double-A to 5.28 at Triple-A. His first taste of the big leagues with the Phillies was OK – a 3.49 ERA in six games but he showed that his control was lacking by walking 16 in 28.1 innings (5.08 BB/9). The next two seasons Floyd rode the shuttle between Philadelphia and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. During that time, he walked 48 batters in 80.1 major league innings. Frustrated with his inconsistencies and lack of control, Philadelphia shipped Floyd off to the White Sox in the Freddy Garcia trade of December 2006. Floyd split 2007 between Triple-A and the majors again, but was respectable in the majors despite a 1-5 record. In 16 games, including 10 starts, Floyd posted a 5.27 ERA and walked only 19 batters in 70 innings. The 10.93 H/9 and 6.30 K/9 rates are worrisome for the future, though.
In 2000, no one would have been surprised to see Teixeira go first overall. But he had Scott Boras as a representative and everyone knew the Twins were tight-fisted. It also didn’t help that Teixeira missed three months of his junior season to a broken ankle. As a result, he slid to the Rangers at fifth overall and they snapped him up, even though they really, really needed pitching. He sat out the rest of the 2001 season after the draft and finally received a four-year major league contract for $9.5 million. One talent evaluator told Baseball America:
"Those two guys [Teixeira and Prior] are awfully, awfully good, so if they don't make it, we've got to start over in how we evaluate talent. Those two were head and shoulders above everyone else.
"I do think they are worth the most of the talent that was out there. But are they worth $10 million? I don't know about that."
Well, Teixeira has held up his end of the bargain and has been a dominating player at times. He spent one season in the minors and has hit 30 or more homers in four of his five major league seasons. His career line was .286/.371/.539 heading into the 2008 season. Texas certainly received value for its $9.5 million and wisely traded Teixeira when he was deemed too expensive. The organization received five young, talented prospects in return.
Karp was a scout’s dream with three solid pitches – a fastball in the 90-94 mph range, a plus change and a curveball that had the potential to be plus. But he never really dominated in college and tended to have a lot of minor injuries crop up. After signing, he made his debut in 2002 and ascended to Double-A after dominating in seven High-A ball starts. After posting OK numbers there, he repeated Double-A in 2003 and regressed. Regardless, he was promoted to Triple-A the next season and posted a 5.95 ERA. After the season, Montreal traded him to Florida and he spent time in both Double-A and Triple-A in 2005. Later that year, Karp underwent shoulder surgery and never pitched again.
Smith is a perfect example of the difference between pitching in NCAA Division 1 and NAIA. He was a two-way player at Florida State and the team wanted him to focus on his hitting where they thought he had greater value. Smith, who could touch the mid-90s, felt his future was on the mound so he left his “dream school” for Cumberland University in Tennessee where he instantly became one of the top pitchers. His four-pitch mix and solid statistics against lesser talent was good enough to get him drafted in the first 10 picks of the 2001 draft but injuries ensured that he was out of baseball within four years. He never rose above A-ball.
After leading the NCAA Division 1 with 31 bombs (in 225 at-bats), most teams expected VanBenschoten to get drafted as a slugging first baseman. But then the Pirates came along and did what the Pirates do best: They screwed up. Oh, sure, you can’t really blame the Pirates for the right-hander getting hurt and needing surgery, but it’s awful hard to turn your back on an offensive player with five tools that rate as average or better. And many scouts had VanBenschoten’s power as a 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale. That 8.78 ERA in 17 MLB games looks really, really bad. I guess the Pirates can take pride in the fact VanBenschoten has hit only .133/.235/.400 in 15 at-bats at the major league level. But it’s kind of funny to think he has as many MLB homers as wins (1).
If this was an episode of Jeopardy, the question to the above name would be: What is a great reason not to use your first round draft pick on prep right-handers based solely on arm strength? The hard-throwing Texan was, of course, the next Nolan Ryan. In his five-year minor league career, though, Griffin walked 278 batters in 373.2 innings. And interestingly enough, he struck out only 273 batters with that once-blazing fastball. The promise was there, as he allowed only 7.86 hits per nine innings in his career… possibly because it’s hard to hit a fastball around your ears.
Personally, I get nervous when I see middle infielders get taken really high in the draft, unless they are so “can’t miss” that their names are Alex Rodriguez or Troy Tulowitzki. There are just too many Russ Adams and Chris Burkes in the world. In his college career, Burke showed the ability to get on base and run. In his junior year, though, he added power, which caused a few clubs to get a little too giddy (Houston being one of them). Not surprisingly, that aluminum bat power disappeared in pro ball and, after his first two pro seasons, Burke stopped running. That pretty much eliminated one of his main strengths, leaving him as a singles hitter who could take a walk. Once he hit Triple-A and the majors, though, Burke stopped walking leaving him as a guy who could hit singles. Welcome to the bench, Chris.
Check back next week when we take a look at the 2002 draft’s Top 10 picks