Draft 2001: The First Round
by Joe Sheehan
The First-Year Player Draft concludes today. The annual allocation of teenaged baseball talent is a decidedly inexact science, especially in a year, like this one, with no clear top tier of players.
Just for fun, let's take a look at the first round of last year's draft and get an idea of how well that crop is doing:
- Joe Mauer, Twins. He wasn't the best player available, but he was affordable, and a hometown boy. After a lights-out performance in rookie ball (.491 OBP), Mauer has followed up with a decent season in the Midwest League (.280/.386/.357). He's gotten good marks for his work behind the plate, but is at least two years away from Minnesota.
High-school catchers have a terrible development record. My personal theory is that the extra innings they catch from 18 to 21 (a pro schedule, rather than a college one) has a deleterious effect on their health. Mauer is facing long odds against his having a successful career.
- Mark Prior, Cubs. You'd think that it wouldn't be surprising when a 21-year-old rookie making his third major-league start (and 12th professional start) gets hammered. It's a tribute to Prior's performance so far that his lousy outing Saturday in Houston (seven runs in less than four innings) was actually unusual.
He's a #1 starter in the making. His downside is a guy like Andy Benes–that's who he reminds me of, physically–with an upside of Mike Mussina.
- Dewon Brazelton, Devil Rays. The tallest pitcher taken in the first round, Brazelton debuted in the Southern League this spring. He hasn't been that impressive so far–64 innings, 54 strikeouts in a pitchers' league–although he's pitched better of late. He's on the major-league roster, which will force the Rays to push him, perhaps more quickly than is warranted.
- Gavin Floyd, Phillies. Floyd is a high-school right-hander who signed very late. He's had command issues in the Sally League (31 walks, nine wild pitches in 57 2/3 innings), and as a 19-year-old, can be expected to get hurt sooner or later.
- Mark Teixeira, Rangers. The best hitter in last year's draft, Teixeira slipped to #5 because of concerns about his signability. He started the year on the DL with a left elbow injury, and has played in just three games in A ball so far. A third baseman now, he'll eventually move to first base.
- Josh Karp, Expos. One of the things I don't think we'll see this year is a spate of late signings. Karp was another 2001 draftee who came to terms too late to pitch last year. As you'd expect from a college draftee, he dominated the Florida State League for two months before his recent promotion to Double-A.
- Chris Smith, Orioles. One of the first-round's reaches, Smith has made just two professional starts, missing all of 2002 so far with a shoulder injury.
- John VanBenschoten, Pirates. The most controversial decision to emerge from last year's draft was the Pirates electing to draft VanBenschoten–the NCAA home-run leader–as a pitcher instead of a hitter. He had the skills to be a prospect either way, but the path to success as a hitter is much less difficult, and besides, a failed hitter can convert to pitching much more easily than a failed pitcher can go back to hitting.
So far, VanBenschoten has had decent success on the mound, although like Floyd and Brazelton, his command has been lacking (30 walks in 63 1/3 innings). Even now, a year later, you have to wonder what a run-starved Pirates organization was thinking in making the conversion.
- Colt Griffin, Royals. The hardest thrower in the 2001 draft, Griffin is a huge project for an organization not noted for its work with young pitchers. After a few weeks in extended spring training, Griffin is pitching in the Midwest League and having a lot of trouble harnessing his 100-mph fastball: 20 walks and 19 strikeouts in 27 innings.
- Chris Burke, Astros. This is what you do with a college prospect: send him to Double-A and let him get on with his life. Burke, a shortstop in college, is mostly playing second base at Round Rock. His stats are unimpressive, but when you factor in his limited experience with a wood bat, a .269/.344/.347 line isn't that bad. The demise of Craig Biggio makes him an important man in this organization.
- Kenny Baugh, Tigers. After being worked like a galley slave at Rice, Baugh is out of action with a shoulder injury. He's managed to avoid surgery so far, and is expected to pitch again sometime this month. Short term, expect nothing. Long term, he'll undergo surgery and eventually have a career.
What we don't know about the usage of amateur pitchers is worth millions of dollars. We're getting there, though.
- Mike Jones, Brewers. High-school right-hander was impressive in the Pioneer League last year, with a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's had more command issues this year, waking 28 batters in 49 2/3 innings. The Brewers are handling him carefully.
- Casey Kotchman, Angels. The Angels nailed this one, getting a player who should fill the hole they've had at first base since Wally Joyner left after the 1991 season. Just one home run so far in 167 Midwest League at-bats, but the 16 doubles show the power to come.
- Jake Gautreau, Padres. College third baseman is learning second base as a pro, with fair results so far. He's hitting .300 at Lake Elsinore, but without walks or much power. His strike-zone judgment—46 whiffs, 12 walks—is definitely a concern.
- Gabe Gross, Blue Jays. After two years of throwing away their #1 picks, the Blue Jays got back on the beam with the Auburn line-drive machine. He's having an awful year at Tennessee: .182/.291/.253, with only his walk rate (29, against 198 AB) meeting expectations.
- Kris Honel, White Sox. One of the reasons Ken Williams was able to trade three arms for Todd Ritchie, Honel, a high-school draftee, has been great as pro. This year, he has 73 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings, allowing just 44 hits, 27 walks, and three home runs in the Sally League. Look for him to move up to Winston-Salem in the Carolina League this summer.
- Dan Denham, Indians. Young, hard-throwing right-hander with all kinds of command issues. He's walked 62 in 84 2/3 professional innings, and doesn't have dominant strikeout numbers to go with that. His 2002 ERA of 4.83 is deflated by a pitchers' league and six unearned runs. Teammate J.D. Martin, less impressive to scouts, is still ahead of Denham on performance.
- Aaron Heilman, Mets. He could be the next member of this draft class to reach the majors. The Notre Dame right-hander has nearly a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Eastern League, to go with a 3.36 ERA. His college workload was high, but so far, it hasn't been a factor.
- Mike Fontenot, Orioles. College second basemen aren't a real good category from which to draft. You want college shortstops, who are generally better players and can move to second base as pros. Fontenot, who had a successful career at LSU, hasn't played well in the Sally League, adding 17 errors to a .264/.330/.346 line. He's young and should get a little better, but the Orioles have a bunch of mediocre infielders; they need great ones.
- Jeremy Sowers, Reds. Didn't sign, instead going to Vanderbilt. Speculation is that the Reds knew this would happen, and just wanted to get out of signing a #1 pick last year. This is becoming popular in the NBA, with the details a bit different.
- Brad Hennessey, Giants. Hennessey is a college draftee and a command guy. A non-cancerous tumor has delayed the start of his 2002 season, but he's expected to take the mound again sometime this month.
- Jason Bulger, Diamondbacks. Now going by "Jay," he signed very late, making just three Arizona Fall League starts last year. He's been ineffective in the Midwest League, although his strikeout-to-walk ratio (33/13) allows for some hope. He is something of a project.
- John-Ford Griffin, Yankees. I wouldn't be surprised to see Griffin traded in a deal if the Yankees continue to have rotation problems. He's just a hitter, kind of thin and still adjusting to the wood bat. Scouts love his swing, and his control of the strike zone (25 walks, 218 AB) marks him as a prospect.
- Macay McBride, Braves. Teenager with great stuff and a local boy, the Braves can't expect much for a few years. McBride has ben OK so far, but his 2.53 ERA hides eight unearned runs. His strikeout rate of around eight per nine innings is encouraging. McBride is a long way off.
- Bobby Crosby, Athletics. He has Gary Huckabay as excited as anything since they opened a Krispy Kreme near his house. Crosby is a legitimate shortstop with good plate discipline. His average and power are only so-so so far—.290 in a hitters' league, along with a .384 slugging average—but both should develop as he gets accustomed to the pros.
- Jeremy Bonderman, Athletics. Pretty young (19) for the California League, Bonderman has been decent so far, with a 4.16 ERA (and seven unearned runs) and 70 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings.
- Alan Horne, Indians. Did not sign.
- Justin Pope, Cardinals. The small right-hander has made just three starts this year, on the disabled list since April.
- Josh Burrus, Braves. Drafted as a shortstop, Burrus is expected to eventually move to a corner. Being an infielder in this organization won't be easy, and he didn't help himself with a .193/.271/.299 performance in the Gulf Coast League last year.
- Noah Lowry, Giants. Fastball/change-up college pitcher doing a good job in the California League. He was on the disabled list for most of May.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.
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