The annual "First-Year Player" draft is occurring as you read
this. Baseball’s draft, unlike the football and basketball ones, brings in
players who don’t make an impact at the major-league level for a few years.
Even the most polished college draftees do not generally appear in the
majors for at least a year.
Even if first-rounders aren’t going to become impact players in 12 months,
it’s interesting to look in and see how they’re doing. That’s what you’ll
find below: the 30 players selected in the first round of the 2001 draft,
and what they’re up to in small towns across America. I’m not going to be
assigning any grades or drawing any conclusions; there’s not nearly enough
evidence to any of that. All I want to do here is update you on the 30
players deemed most attractive by MLB teams a year ago.
(For a look at a draft from a few years out, which is a better timeframe for
evaluation, I highly recommend
John Sickels’s piece on the 1996 draft,
available from ESPN.com.)
- Adrian Gonzalez, Marlins. The first pick in last year’s
draft was far from a consensus one, with the Marlins settling on this tall,
left-handed-hitting first baseman as much for his $3-million price tag as
his ability. Gonzalez has answered questions about his power potential–he
didn’t hit a home run in the minors last season–by hitting ten home runs
and slugging .551 in his first two months in the Midwest League. He looks
like more than a signability pick at this point.
- Adam Johnson, Twins. If you want to make an argument
against the Twins taking Mark Prior that doesn’t revolve
around money, Johnson would be part of it. Their 2000 #1 has added to the
organization’s depth in pitching, and taking catcher Joe Mauer or,
preferably, Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Texeira in this draft
would be a better fit.
When Mark Redman was placed on the disabled list last month, there
was some speculation that Johnson would be given his rotation slot. He’s not
ready for that just yet–a 4.60 ERA in 10 Eastern League starts doesn’t
scream, "promote me!" While Johnson is the type of player most
likely to shoot to the majors quickly–a polished college pitcher–he’ll be
better off with a full season in the minors and a chance to win Redman’s job
- Luis Montanez, Cubs. After a great debut in the Arizona
League last summer, Montanez has been a mild disappointment this season,
posting a .264/.341/.418 at Lansing in the Midwest League, with shaky
defense (13 errors so far). His plate discipline has gone backward as well,
as his strikeout-to-walk ratio has decreased from 42/24 to 50/17.
- Mike Stodolka, Royals. High-school pitchers are high-risk
by design, as the rigors of pitching professionally can be too demanding of
developing arms. Stodolka, the first high-school pitcher taken in 2001, saw
his 2000 season start late thanks to a sore arm in spring training. He’s
made six so-so starts in the Midwest League, posting a 3.73 ERA in 31 1/3
innings, with ten walks and just 15 strikeouts.
- Justin Wayne, Expos. Before the college season started in
2000, Wayne was probably the consensus #1 pick, but slipped to #5 during the
year. His Stanford pedigree sets up the Mike Mussina comparisons, but
Wayne lacks Mussina’s breaking stuff. His performance as a pro so far has
been lackluster: ten fair starts in the Florida State League over two
- Rocco Baldelli, Devil Rays. True to form, the Devil Rays
went with a tools goof in the first round, taking this high-school
outfielder from the baseball hotbed of Warwick, Rhode Island. Baldelli was
one of just three cold-weather high-school players taken in the first round.
Baldelli isn’t playing well enough for Charleston (.288/.345/.449 in 191
at-bats, 13 walks, 40 strikeouts) to separate himself from the better tools
goofs in the D-Rays system. Good sign: he’s played better this year despite
moving up a level from 2000.
- Matt Harrington, Rockies. The Rockies didn’t sign
Harrington, a high-school right-hander with a huge salary demand. They’ll
receive a compensation pick. Harrington made two lousy starts for the St.
Paul Saints of the Northern League, and will be lucky to go in the first
round this time through the draft.
- Matt Wheatland, Tigers. One of two players on this list out
of San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo H.S., Wheatland is on the disabled list in A
ball, expected to miss two months with a strained right rotator cuff. Three
high-school pitchers through eight picks, and we have two arm injuries and a
- Mark Phillips, Padres. The Padres selected the second
cold-weather high-schooler in the draft, taking this left-hander from
Pennsylvania. Phillips was ineffective at rookie-level Idaho Falls in 2000,
with a 5.35 ERA in ten starts, and has yet to pitch competitively in 2001.
- Joe Torres, Angels. High-school pitcher, first-round pick,
injured to start the season. Yes, it was just tendinitis, but Torres has
been limited to three starts so far with Cedar Rapids. It’s especially
disappointing because Torres pitched very well for Boise last year, allowing
just 27 hits in 46 innings, with 23 walks and 52 strikeouts.
- David Krynzel, Brewers. Getting drafted by the Brewers has
been a kiss of death for years, but Krynzel may challenge that. He’s a
toolsy outfielder with some strike-zone judgment, although his power is AWOL
so far (seven extra-base hits in 184 at-bats at two levels this year). He’s
not a great prospect, but he’s the first pick since Baldelli at #6 to do a
damned thing this year.
- Joe Borchard, White Sox. Probably the best position player
in the draft, Borchard slipped to the Sox at 12 thanks to concerns that he
would stay at Stanford and play quarterback. The Sox gave him more than five
million reasons to leave school, and it was a significantly better
than the money spent on Sandy Alomar. Borchard is hammering the Southern League to the tune of .293/.395/.512,
and may challenge for the Sox center-field job by, oh, 3:30 or so.
- Shaun Boyd, Cardinals. Ugh. The toolsy signability pick
has been a complete disaster so far this year, hitting just .155/.274/.239
with Peoria. The Cardinals have moved him back to his high-school position
of second base after a trial in the outfield, but unless he can do both at
the same time, he’ll probably need to hit a little bit better to have a
- Beau Hale, Orioles. In a surprise, the 14th pick of the
draft from a top college program (Texas) was distinctly too good for the
South Atlantic League. Hale had a 1.32 ERA and a 30 to 4 strikeout-to-walk
ratio in five Sally League starts before moving to Double-A Bowie. He’s been
hit harder there (4.50 ERA, 36 hits, nine walks, 20 strikeouts in 32
innings), but is still someone to watch.
- Chase Utley, Phillies. Decent hitter out of a community
college in Los Angeles, it may be early enough to diagnose Utley as having
Prospect’s Disease. His bat (.258/.314/.448 at A-level Clearwater) might
eventually be enough to get him a second-base job in the majors, but it’s
not likely he can play the position, although he is still trying.
The second half of the first round will follow late Tuesday.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by