Picking Apart the Draft: 2003
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 a series of upcoming articles I am going to take 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. Previously, I looked at the drafts from 2000 to 2002.
I’m not sure exactly what to make of the first 10 picks of the 2003 draft, to be honest. Delmon Young is loaded with potential but his lack of plate discipline is really holding him back. Rickie Weeks, quite frankly, has been a disappointment. Nick Markakis is possibly the best pick from the Top 10, and he’s an All-Star, but not a superstar. There were still a lot of misses: Kyle Sleeth, Tim Stauffer, Ryan Harvey, and possibly Chris Lubanski.
The first 10 picks broke down like this:
1. Tampa Bay Delmon Young, OF California high school
2. Milwaukee Rickie Weeks, 2B Southern University
3. Detroit Kyle Sleeth, RHP Wake Forest University
4. San Diego Tim Stauffer, RHP University of Richmond
5. Kansas City Chris Lubanski, OF Pennsylvania high school
6. Chicago (NL) Ryan Harvey, OF Florida high school
7. Baltimore Nick Markakis, OF Georgia high school
8. Pittsburgh Paul Maholm, LHP Mississippi State University
9. Texas John Danks, LHP Texas high school
10. Colorado Ian Stewart, 3B California high school
The first 10 picks don’t look too bad, but we still only have two potential All-Stars (Young and Markakis), maybe three if Weeks suddenly figures things out, and two solid, but unspectacular, major leaguers in Maholm and Danks. You still have four or five players that may never receive more than a cup of coffee in the majors.
But how was the remainder of the first round? Well the Jays finally made a nice first round pick under J.P. Ricciardi and nabbed Aaron Hill, perhaps one of the top three second basemen in the American League. The Mets got Lastings Milledge (now with Washington), for good or bad. Arizona received Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin (now with the White Sox), Montreal drafted closer Chad Cordero, St. Louis found Daric Barton (now with Oakland) and the Dodgers stole Chad Billingsley with the 24th pick.
The supplemental first round saw Cleveland take the oft-injured Adam Miller, Boston took the under-appreciated Matt Murton and Seattle found Adam Jones, who helped them secure the services of Erik Bedard.
Let’s take another look at the Top 10:
The Rays had the enviable task of picking the No. 1 player in the draft in 2003, and if the last five years have shown us anything, they made a pretty good decision as Young has out-performed everyone else in the Top 10 not named Markakis.
Baseball America spoke with the Rays organization after it took Young first overall:
“We thought he was one of the best players long before the draft,” Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. “But we’re in a critical situation, having the No. 1 pick in the country and not winning as many games as we hoped. We made sure we asked all the questions to make sure we got the best player in the country. He was awfully high on our list for a while. We went through everything to see if anyone could unseat Delmon, and the answer was no.”
“He is one of the finest power hitters our scouts have evaluated, not only this year but over the years,” Devil Rays scouting director Cam Bonifay said. “He’s the kind of guy that you don’t get out of your seat and go buy a hot dog when you know he’s coming to the plate. You want to stay there and watch him hit. He lights up your eyes.”
The Rays also used Young to secure what the organization needed most – pitching talent. He was dispatched to Minnesota this past off-season for right-hander Matt Garza, and infielder Jason Bartlett, who adds stability to the infield.
It is not set in stone that Young is going to become a superstar, but the tools are evident. He simply needs time to mature as a hitter and learn the value of patience and waiting for “his pitch.” It’s easy to forget that Young is still only 22 years old. Last season he batted “only” .288/.316/.419 but he drove in 93 batters in a year that he turned 21. He likely has a very bright future.
Weeks was on a lot of teams’ draft boards as the No. 1 player in the nation, narrowly edging Young. In its scouting profile for Weeks before the draft, Baseball America stated:
Weeks has the best tools and is the purest hitter in college baseball. His hands are so quick that he generates amazing bat speed and can turn around any inside fastball.
Those quick wrists are still there but injuries to that very area slowed Weeks early in his pro career. Seemingly healthy now, though, Weeks has yet to turn his potential into reality. Weeks arrived in the majors in 2003, less than half a season after being drafted. However, he remained in the minors (Double-A) for all of 2004. He resurfaced halfway through the 2005 season but batted only .239/.333/.394, a far cry from his .400 college averages. Although he missed time with injuries in 2006, Weeks spent the entire season as Milwaukee’s second baseman and hit a respectable .279/.363/.404, but you expect more from the second overall pick. Weeks showed more patience at the plate in 2007 (.374 OBP), as well as more power (.433 SLG), but he continued to have issues with his batting average (.235 AVG). After playing in the majors for parts of four seasons, Weeks entered 2008 with a batting average a hair under .250. He’ll be playing this season at the age of 25 so there is still time for him to improve, but it’s probably safe to say the Brewers expected a lot more a lot sooner from the second overall pick.
If you read Baseball America’s pre-draft profile on Sleeth, there were warning signs:
“Sleeth's pitching has dropped off slightly since his NCAA record-tying 26-game winning streak ended, but he still has a long track record of success with Wake Forest and Team USA. Not to mention three nasty pitches, a 93-94 mph fastball with life, a low-80s slider that has improved this year and a power curveball… His delivery can get out of whack, and he'll sometimes throw across his body or leave the ball up in the strike zone. Consistency is all that stands between him becoming a frontline starter in the major leagues."
Well, Sleeth never found that consistency and he retired this spring. To be fair, he was beset by injuries from almost the moment he signed his pro contract with Detroit. He began his career in High-A ball in 2004 and pitched well: a 3.31 ERA, 7.94 H/9, 2.38 BB/9 and 8.60 K/9. Sleeth was promoted to Double-A Erie midway through the season and struggled mightily. He posted an ERA of 6.30 with 10.46 H/9, 3.83 BB/9 and 6.41 K/9. He then missed all of 2005 after Tommy John surgery.
The surgery is a lot more successful than it used to be, but it’s not perfect and Sleeth was one of those players that never recovered his velocity. While rehabbing in 2006, he pitched OK in the Gulf Coast League but struggled when he was promoted to High-A ball. He walked 21 batters in 19.2 innings and posted an ERA of 11.90. The next year was more of the same as he walked 40 in 77.2 innings between A-ball and Double-A. His ERA was well over 8.00. After a tough spring in 2008, Sleeth hung up his spikes.
Stauffer was another talented lefty whose career was derailed by injuries. Interestingly, though, he was injured in college. After the Padres selected him fourth overall, he came clean and told them about the injury before he signed his contract. As a result, San Diego signed him to a well-below market value deal. He tried to avoid shoulder surgery, but Stauffer’s stuff never rebounded to what it was in college. He made it to Triple-A in his first pro season, and has pitched in the majors in three separate seasons, but his stuff continues to dwindle. He may have been better off having surgery, missing a year, and hoping for the best. As it stands now, he looks like a Four-A player or major league mop-up reliever.
It was always a little perplexing that the pitching-starved Royals kept drafting raw, toolsy position players with high draft picks. If any team could have benefited from drafting “safe” college pitchers, it would have been that franchise in the early- to mid-2000s. Lubanski was a bit of a surprise pick so early in the draft (although he was ranked by BA as the ninth best player available) but the Royals have been known for taking risks; sometimes it worked (Billy Butler), other times it didn’t (Colt Griffin, Lubanski). To be fair, though, Lubanski is not a lost cause. He’s still only 23, he’s a left-handed batter and he has Triple-A experience. But he was also left unprotected in December’s Rule 5 draft and no one took the risk of drafting him. The 2005 season, in which Lubanski hit .301/.349/.554 (with 28 homers), may have been the worst thing to happen to him in his career, as it set unfair expectations. That season was spent in High Desert, one of the top hitting parks in all of baseball. The problem is that Lubanski probably isn’t a 25-homer guy, nor is he a 20 stolen base guy. That makes him a tweener, and a fourth outfielder at the major league level.
Harvey may have had the most raw power of any player in the 2003 draft. But he may also be the most frustrating. He started his career with two years in short season ball and posted OK, but not great, numbers. He then spent three years in A-ball… never a good sign for any prospect, let alone a top pick. In 2005 at Peoria, Harvey batted .257/.302/.484 and hit 24 homers in 467 at-bats. The Midwest League is not an easy place to hit homers, so the number is impressive. The 24 walks and 137 strikeouts, though, was not good. Regardless, he moved up a small step the next season to High-A ball in Daytona and slammed 20 homers in 475 at-bats but hit .248/.290/.432. Injuries took a chunk out of Harvey’s 2007 season and he repeated High-A ball with poor results as he hit .252/.298/.456 with 11 homers in 224 at-bats. He walked only seven times while striking out 53 times. Entering into 2008, Harvey is still only 23 but he was thrown to the wolves in Double-A despite not really earning the opportunity to move up the ladder. So far the results have not been pretty and he is hitting .216/.268/.395 through 17 games.
The majority of baseball teams that had their eyes on Markakis saw his left arm as being more valuable than his bat, as a two-way player. In fact, in the pre-draft rankings, Baseball America had him listed as a pitcher:
He pitched at 92-94 mph for most of the season, though he sat at 88-90 in May. His slurvy breaking ball is a plus pitch and he has improved his changeup. There's some effort to his delivery, but he has a quick arm and few lefties can match his stuff. He's the second-best draft-and-follow on the market, trailing only Chipola (Fla.) JC's Adam Loewen, and like Loewen he could be an early pick if he were just a power-hitting right fielder.
Chalk one up to Baltimore for making a very wise decision and going against the consensus. Markakis has been a revelation for an organization desperate for some star power. Not only did Markakis succeed as a hitter, he made the switch effortlessly and spent only three seasons in the minors before making his MLB debut. He also did not bat under .283 or have an on-base average under .371 in his career and continues to show improvement every year. Last year, at the age of 23, Markakis slugged 23 homers and drove in 112 runs.
Maholm was a safe college pick – a left-handed starter that didn’t throw hard but was polished and knew how to pitch. He entered pro ball and, for good or bad, nothing has changed. By the end of his second full pro season, Maholm was pitching for Pittsburgh and he posted an ERA of 2.18 in six starts. He struggled in his first full pro season, mainly due to a lack of control by allowing 4.14 BB/9. Maholm rectified that in 2007 as that number dropped to 2.48 BB/9, although his ERA rose from 4.76 to 5.02. Hits have been a problem in the last two years as he has averaged exactly 10.33 each season. At the age of 26, Maholm is what he is: a dependable, back-of-the-rotation starter.
Danks was considered the top prep southpaw at the time of the draft, after passing Andrew Miller as the year wore on. He was hitting 93-94 mph fairly regularly and teams saw him as a potential No. 2 starter. Fast forward to 2008 and Danks looks more like a reliable No. 4 starter, maybe a No. 3 if he can cut down on those hits and walks. In 2007, for the White Sox, he allowed 10.33 H/9 and 3.50 BB/9. He throws more in the 90-92 mph range, albeit with a nice curveball. He has looked much more comfortable in 2008 and has a 3.04 ERA through four starts with much better numbers all around.
It’s funny how quickly we forget what big things were expected from some players, as we can see by this excerpt from Baseball America’s pre-draft scouting report on Stewart:
[Stewart] has exceptional bat speed and more power even than Delmon Young, according to some scouts. Though his swing is flat and lacks tilt, he projects 35-40 homers a year in the big leagues… Stewart's bat compares favorably to two former Trojan left-handed-hitting third base recruits: the A's Eric Chavez and the Padres' Sean Burroughs, both former first-rounders.
Stewart’s numbers looked good in the first two seasons of his pro career, but those numbers were inflated by playing in some very good hitter’s parks. He has never come close to duplicating the 30 homers and 101 RBI he produced in Asheville in 2004. In the last three seasons, he has hit 17, 10 and 15 homers. There also aren’t a lot of scouts that think he can stick at third base on an everyday basis and he lacks the power to be a top option at first base. There was even some talk of moving him to second base, but he lacks the athleticism to succeed at that position. Stewart could end up as a corner utility player or a starter at first base on a lesser MLB team.
Check back next week when we take a look at the 2004 draft’s Top 10 picks