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June 8, 2011

Future Shock

10 Draft Guys We Rushed to Judge

by Kevin Goldstein

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Like everyone else who loves the draft, I had a lot of fun on Monday. Between baseballprospectus.com and espn.com, I chatted for nearly eight hours, pushed out hundreds of tweets, and lost count of the radio appearances by mid-afternoon. At the same time, I judged. I said this pick was great or that pick was bad, and as an analyst in the scouting and player development field, that's what I'm paid to do. Still, properly judging a draft pick can often take years, so here are 10 recent examples of when the industry rushed to judgment far too soon on a first-round pick.

Adrian Gonzalez, Florida Marlins, 2000 (First overall)
The 2000 draft remains one of the worst in recent memory; only five of the first 10 picks even reached the majors. While some saw Gonzalez as the best high school hitter in the draft, his status as a first base-only type among an impressive group of college arms had few seeing him as worthy of the top pick. He only ended up going first because he agreed to a $3 million deal before Florida made their selection, and 11 years later, his 180 home runs tops all picks from that June.

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins, 2001 (First overall)
It's easy to forget how much flak the Twins took for this pick. Though Mark Prior, the best pitcher in a generation, was available to them, the team decided he’d be too difficult to sign and instead went with the hometown hero. That prompted Minnesota Star-Tribune columnist Dan Barreiro to write that the team had, “Surrendered, they choked, they conceded.” Prior had a remarkable, but all-too-short career due to arm problems, while Mauer was a four-time All-Star with an MVP award and three batting titles by the time he was 27.

Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers, 2002 (Seventh overall)
Fielder was seen as a late first-round pick nine years ago. His prodigious power had been on display for years, but his weight was a consistent issue; he ballooned to as much as 300 pounds during his junior year at Eau Gallie High School in Florida. That led one source to ask the scouting service Perfect Game, “If Prince was not Cecil's son, how interested would anybody be?” Under the advice of team advisor Bill Jajoie, who brought Prince's father back from Japan to star with Detroit, the Brewers selected him far earlier than anyone expected. While Fielder’s ability to hit home runs surprised nobody, his pure hitting ability exceeded all projections, and his career OPS is more than 100 points higher than any other first-round pick from 2002.

Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles, 2003 (Seventh overall)
Seen as a mid-first round pick heading into the draft, it was a bit of a surprise to see Markakis go in the single digits, but the reasoning became clear when he quickly signed a deal that was agreed upon before his selection. The big shock was when the Orioles announced him as an outfielder based on a private workout the day before. While he put up big numbers with the bat at Young Harris College in Georgia, teams saw Markakis as a $1 million player based on his power arsenal from the mound, as the lefty led all junior college players with 160 strikeouts in just 97 innings. Markakis has been a key part of the Orioles lineup since 2006, and has more major-league hits than any other 2003 first-rounder.

Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals, 2004, (14th overall)
The 2004 draft was an especially weak one for positional players, and the Royals were soundly criticized for taking Butler in the middle of the first round. His lack of athleticism or defensive skills had most teams pegging him as a second-round pick at best. While he agreed to a pre-draft deal, the Royals believed in Butler’s bat, and it proved to be with good reason, as he has the highest OPS of any first-rounder that year.

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants, 2006 (10th overall)
Lincecum was a polarizing figure in the 2006 draft; some thought he was the top talent on the board, and other teams wouldn't touch him based on his size and unique mechanics. Many of the teams that liked Lincecum thought he should be a reliever, and even scouting director Dick Tidrow was cautious in a post-draft press conference, saying, “Long range he has a chance to start... he's a fast mover who can pitch in either a starting or relief role.” He certainly moved quickly, needing just 13 minor-league games to prove that he's not only a starter, but an elite one. Lincecum has led the National League in strikeouts in each of his first three full seasons.

Ben Revere, Minnesota Twins, 2007 (28th overall)
The Twins threw nearly everyone for a loop when they selected Revere in the first round four years ago, and even scouting director Mike Radcliffe acknowledged the reaction in a press call that night, saying, “I think the rest of the world is a little surprised. He was most likely not going to be picked for another 30, 40, 50 picks.” While the speedster's $750,000 bonus was $250,000 less than any other first-round bonus that year, he proved to be an astute selection. With almost no power, he's not a future star, but Revere is a career .326 hitter in the minors, and by reaching the major leagues, he has accomplished something that 16 of the 27 players selected ahead of him have not.

Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians, 2008 (29th overall)
After an outstanding freshman campaign at South Carolina in 2007, many thought Chisenhall could play his way into the first round of the 2009 draft, but he was kicked off the team after pleading guilty to larceny and transferred to a junior college to go pro a year earlier. Makeup issues were still hanging over him that year, and even the most optimistic projection was a team taking a chance on him in the second round. He has had zero off-the-field issues since turning pro, is one of the top third-base prospects in the game, and will likely make his major-league debut later in the year.

Drew Storen, Washington Nationals, 2009 (10th overall)
After taking Stephen Strasburg with the first selection two years ago, it was understandable that the Nationals needed to save some cash nine picks later. Still, many saw Storen as too safe a selection. Coming off a good year at Stanford, many saw the reliever as having too low a ceiling for 10th overall, with yours truly writing at the time, “They have a chance to look smart if they try to start him. As a reliever, he's not a closer.” Less than two years later, he already has 16 big-league saves.

Gary Brown, San Francisco Giants, 2010 (24th overall)
“But he doesn't walk!” That was the nearly universal cry from the blogosphere when the Giants selected the Cal State Fullerton star last year. Nobody seemed to care about the .438 batting average, the .695 slugging, or the top-of-the-line speed with outstanding center-field defense; all they cared about was the nine walks in 210 at-bats, as no walks equals bad player, right? Here's the thing: When you have a guy hitting .438, do you really need to talk to him about his approach? With 21 walks over 240 at-bats in his pro debut, he's already making adjustments as a pro, and his .363/.430/.529 line in 56 games for High-A San Jose should get him to Double-A this year, and in San Francisco as early as late 2012. 

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

25 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Ian Miller

And this is why I'm pretty OK with a seemingly lackluster draft by the Giants. Barr, Tidrow, and co. have proven to be way better at evaluating talent than most of the rest of everyone else. They've earned my trust.

Jun 08, 2011 10:18 AM
rating: 2
 
Lloyd Cole

8 of these 10 guys are hitters. Interesting.....(although it's a small sample size).

Jun 08, 2011 10:21 AM
rating: 1
 
MJ

You could add Ricky Romero to that list too, since people blasted the Jays for taking him instead of Tulo (and certainly they would have been better off taking Tulo), but he's salvaged his career the last 2-3 seasons after being written off.

Jun 08, 2011 10:54 AM
rating: 4
 
Brian24

These kinds of articles are a great way to avoid hubris. Thanks, Kevin, all of us are always too willing to remember our successes and forget about our mistakes.

Jun 08, 2011 11:03 AM
rating: 8
 
Amos

Awesome. What a fun shut up to inane post-draft chatter.

Jun 08, 2011 11:30 AM
rating: 3
 
acmcdowell

Great article! It also makes me wonder what would have happened to Mauer and Prior if the Twins took Prior instead. Would Mauer still be at C? How much of Prior's injury troubles would have been avoided with a more conservative approach?

Jun 08, 2011 11:43 AM
rating: 4
 
calebw

Prince is only 2 WAR away from surpassing his father...it seems certain that history will remember the younger Fielder first. That's got to be pretty exciting for the guy.

Jun 08, 2011 11:43 AM
rating: 5
 
Scott44

KG - Looking back at last year, I'd say Hayden Simpson was that guy. If your recent scouting report of Simpson holds true, safe to say he won't be in this column.

Who is the "one" from this year's draft you think we will look back in a couple years and say 'boy, the scouting staff really got it right, and we the collective, were wrong?

Jun 08, 2011 11:48 AM
rating: -1
 
Matt

I wonder how deep this list would be if you kept going. You are going back 11 years, and that's a lot of picks. It seems that the record of the industry consensus is not too bad.

Jun 08, 2011 11:48 AM
rating: 0
 
Scott44

Sorry to clarify, was 'that guy' that everyone criticized the Cubs and rushed to judge the pick.

Jun 08, 2011 11:49 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Just to put the current draft, recent foreign free agents, last year's draft into perspective with more seasoned prospects, how would you compare Starling, Springer, Leonys Martin, Guy Brown, Mike Trout, Ben Revere, and Aaron Hicks by long term excellence with rough ETAs?

Jun 08, 2011 11:53 AM
rating: -3
 
Kyle E.

I always wonder what would have happened had the Twins taken Mark Prior. How far would the club have gone in the 2003 playoffs with the 2003 versions of Johan Santana and Prior? The club would have had an adequate backstop in A.J. Peirzynski in 2003 in either case, as Mauer didn't debut until 2004.

Jun 08, 2011 13:04 PM
rating: 1
 
Kyle E.

...or the 2002 post-season in which the Twins reached the ALCS. Prior threw 116.2 innings of 3.32 ball that season.

Jun 08, 2011 13:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Softy Electric

It seems unlikely the Twins would have had him in the majors so quickly.

Jun 08, 2011 15:27 PM
rating: 0
 
marjinwalker

Great article, but how much of the successes here might be due to the fact that teams spent first-round picks on them, and thus gave them a bit more leeway to succeed? This is probably more true for the pitchers (Storen, Lincecum) who with another team might have been moved off their current roles earlier (Storen to middle relief, for example, with almost any other team if he's drafted in say the third round.....). Just goes to show that perhaps it's not just one player's talent, but also enough guys in the scouting department who believe in him?

Jun 08, 2011 13:22 PM
rating: 2
 
Drew Miller

Does Storen still have setup-man stuff, succeeding on command and intelligence, or has it improved since he reached the majors?

Jun 08, 2011 13:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Nick Carter

Mike Minor, anyone?

Jun 08, 2011 14:31 PM
rating: 3
 
Jivas
(649)

The criticism of Ben Revere is only because we were all unaware that he warned the British.

Jun 08, 2011 15:21 PM
rating: 27
 
thegeneral13

And in that capacity his lack of power was actually a blessing, as it made him perfectly suited to fire warning (track) shots.

Jun 08, 2011 17:29 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

This comment is fantastic.

Jun 08, 2011 19:14 PM
 
Brian Cartwright

Revere warned the British that the Colonists were a force that could not be conquered. "The bell's a'ringing! The town's alarmed, and you're all dead men!"

Kevin, you and I have spoken about Gary Brown. As a stat guy, the point to be learned their is not to rely on just one data point. Yes, Brown only walked 9 times in his final year of college, but had better rates in the Cape Cod League and his two previous colleges seasons. All those need to be considered in the analysis. He will likely be below average in his bb%, but around 6% is a reasonable expectation.

Jun 08, 2011 15:48 PM
rating: 3
 
drmorris

Yeah, but is Joe Panik going to make this equivalent list in a few years?

Jun 08, 2011 19:21 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

Ike Davis is another one.

Jun 08, 2011 19:55 PM
rating: 1
 
draysbay

Any chance you want to put Tim Beckham on this list in another year if he continues to flash?

Jun 09, 2011 20:56 PM
rating: 0
 
BigX

No one ripped the Beckham pick at the time. It has all been way after that the questions started to come. If he didn't go #1 he would have gone #2

Jun 09, 2011 21:19 PM
rating: 1
 
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