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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

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