Earlier this year, I took a look at some top picks from the 2003 draft that were facing a make or break season. The overwhelming majority of those players continued their
downward slide in 2006, with only Boston’s David Murphy clearly improving
his prospect status, though one could make arguments for David Aardsma
and Ryan Harvey of the Cubs at least holding their own. With the 2006 season in the books, let’s move the calendar one year forward to the 2004 draft. This was the first first draft in which all first-round picks that signed got a bonus of at least $1 million, and 34 players among the top 100 picks eclipsed that figure, with 11 of them have already in the big leagues. Here’s definitely going in the wrong direction.
Matt Bush, ss, Padres (1st overall
pick, $3.15 million bonus)
The circumstances behind this selection have been well
documented–he was certainly not the top player in the draft, but most teams
did see him as a first-half of the first round talent. Absolutely nothing has
gone right since then. It started with an embarrassing incident outside a Phoenix nightclub before he even played a game. Then he hit .181/.302/.236 in the complex league. He behaved well in his full-season debut last year, but he certainly didn’t play well, batting a miserable .221/.279/.276 for Low Class A Fort Wayne to go along with 38 errors. This year was pretty much a lost season, as a broken tibia in spring training and a severe hamstring injury in the
middle of the year limited him to just 22 games, in which he hit a much-improved
but still pretty bad .264/.354/.306. He deserves one more chance, but at some
point you have to wonder if his 80 arm, which delivered mid-90s fastballs in
high school, might be more valuable on the mound.
Mark Rogers, rhp, Brewers (5th, $2.2
Rogers was the first high school pitcher selected that year,
and if Brewers fans really want to get upset, the next three were Homer
Bailey, Scott Elbert and Philip Hughes. Rogers had the best raw stuff, with an upper 90s fastball and a hard-biting breaking ball, but control and mechanics have been a continuous problem. Rogers had a 5+ ERA in each of the last two seasons, but at the same time, the signs of dominance were still there, as he struck out 205 in 170 innings. Of course, he also walked 123. In mid-June, Rogers seemed to be finally putting things together–in a
three-game stretch he allowed one earned run over 20.2 innings, giving up just
five hits and striking out 29. Then things went south again and he landed on
the disabled list with a sore shoulder, which wasn’t a huge surprise to scouts
who noted how strongly he throws across his body. The good news is he doesn’t
need surgery. The bad news is that he’ll be back at High Class A next year
hoping to re-find the magic.
David Purcey, lhp, Blue Jays (16th,
Purcey was the biggest disappointment in the Toronto system this year. His full-season debut last year was quite promising, as the
six-foot-five, 235 pound southpaw reached Double-A while putting up a 3.41 ERA
in 137.1 innings to go along with 161 strikeouts but a concerning 81 walks.
Because he was a draft-eligible sophomore who returned to college for his
junior year, Purcey was a little behind the curve age-wise, turning 24 in
April, so Toronto started him at Triple-A. The one thing he could not afford
was a worsening of his control problem, but that’s exactly what happened, as he
lasted just 12 starts with a 5.40 ERA and 38 walks in 51.2 innings before going
back down to Double-A. There, things didn’t get better, but also didn’t get
worse, as he had a 5.60 ERA in 16 starts. Big-bodied southpaws with power
stuff are hard to come by, and Purcey will get (and deserves) more chances, but
now he’ll likely begin the year once again at Double-A at the age of 25.
Chris Lambert, rhp, Cardinals (19th,
After being selected out of Boston College, Lambert looked
like an excellent prospect . . . until he got out of A-ball. In his pro debut,
he had a 2.58 ERA in nine starts for Low Class A Peoria with 46 strikeouts in
38 innings, and 2005 started off just as well, with a 7-1, 2.63 record in ten
starts with High Class A Palm Beach. Since a mid-season promotion that year,
everything has gone downhill, including a 6.35 ERA in 18 stars for Double-A
Springfield last year, and a 5.30 mark this year in 23 appearances as his
season ended early with biceps tendonitis. Lambert’s primary issue is the lack
of a consistent breaking ball. At times, his curveball is a plus pitch, and he
dominated on plenty of nights, allowing one or zero runs in six-plus innings
seven times this year. The problem is that when it’s off, he’s totally lost.
Take those seven starts away, and his ERA was a preposterous 7.82. At least
he’s showing flashes of ability at times, so there’s something positive to find
here if one looks hard enough.
Trevor Plouffe, ss, Twins (20th, $1.5
Plouffe has pulled
a bit of a Lubanski in each of his full seasons. Last year, he hit .223/.300/.345 for Low Class A Beloit, and that was just because he hit .256 with a .396 slugging after July 1. This year, his line was just .246/.333/.347 at High Class A Fort Myers, with his season saved by a .304/.385/.461 August performance. His defense
continues to get good reviews, his walk rate is acceptable, and despite the
low batting averages, so is his strikeout ratio. There’s still potential here,
but Double-A will be an enormous test for him, as it will be that much harder
to recover from a third consecutive slow start.
Greg Golson, of, Phillies (21st, $1.475
Golson was about six weeks away from whispers of the ‘B
word’ (rhymes with Cust). At Low Class A Lakewood for the second straight
season, Golson was seemingly going nowhere, batting .220/.258/.333. Sent to
High Class A Clearwater, some things finally came together and he hit
.264/.324/.472 in 40 games, with 19 of his 42 hits going for extra bases.
Maybe it was the change in atmosphere, maybe it was a change in coaching, and
maybe it was just a fluke. We just won’t know until next year. What is
undeniable is that Golson is a still a five-tool athlete with a very high
ceiling, but so little of it has translated into baseball abilities. Fixing
his laughable 160/30 K/BB ratio is the first step.
Landon Powell, c, Athletics (24th, $1
Powell played all four-years of college at South Carolina,
which means he was 22 years old when he was drafted, and then in what was
easily the worst possible scenario, he suffered a knee-injury that cost him all
of 2005, meaning he entered 2006 as a 24-year-old player with 38 games of
professional experience. He began the year at High Class A Stockton and hit
.264/.350/.439 in 90 games, as he got plenty of days off to rest the surgically
repaired joint. Not bad numbers by any measurement, but there is certainly
still and age/level adjustment to be made, despite circumstances out of
Powell’s control. The bigger issue here is conditioning. The reason Powell
played all four years of college is that teams shied away from him after his
junior year when his weight ballooned to the 260-270 pound range. A year away
from the game and unable to exercise, he’s back to that size, and there was
little no sign of his conditioning improving throughout the year. He’s a
switch-hitting catcher with patience, power and defensive skills, but if he’s
that big, it doesn’t mean squat.
Matt Campbell, lhp, Royals (29th, $1.1
Draft Rule #482. Do not select college lefthanders without
power stuff unless their breaking stuff and command are absolutely top of the
line. Few teams but the Royals saw Campbell as a first-round talent, though
it’s hard to blame Kansas City for everything that has gone wrong here. His
full-season debut was marked by a significant drop in velocity and control, and
by the end of June he was on the surgeon’s table getting a torn labrum
repaired. Expected to be ready by mid-season, he instead missed the entire
year rehabbing. He’ll be 24 in December, he’s significantly damaged goods, and
he’s ready for no more than a return engagement to Low A. He’s closer than
anyone on this list to being a total write-off.
Grant Johnson, rhp, Cubs (66th, $1.26
Since undergoing labrum surgery while in college more than
three years ago, Johnson has never been the same. Last year, he had a 3.82
ERA at Low Class A Peoria, but a leg injury delayed his season and he pitched
just 73 innings. This year at High Class A Daytona, he found himself banished
to the bullpen after ten starts and finished with a 4.70 ERA and just plain
awful ratios, including 108 hits allowed and just 56 strikeouts in 92 innings.
The Cubs had no first-round pick in 2004, so they drafted Johnson in the second round, then turned around and gave him late-first round money, despite the fact
that nobody saw him as a first-round talent. You’d think the Cubs would learn
from overpaying Notre Dame pitchers for no apparent reason, but then there is
year’s Jeff Samardzija shenanigans.
Matt Tuiasosopo, 3b, Mariners (93rd,
Various free agent signings in 2004 meant the Mariners
didn’t pick until 93rd overall, and they tried to make up for it by
taking Tuiasosopo and giving him the seventh highest bonus in the draft to sway
him away from playing quarterback at the University of Washington. In his
first 20 pro games, he hit .412/.528/.721 for Seattle’s complex team in Arizona, and was the flavor of the month for a short time, but he’s done little since.
Drafted as a shortstop, everyone knew the big-bodied player would have to move
to third base, but his power potential was very high, and it was thought that
the bat would play. He hit just .276/.359/.386 for Low Class A Wisconsin in
his full-season debut last year, but 2006 started with some promise, as he hit
.306 in 59 games for High Class Inland Empire. The problem was everything else
looked like a line from Omar Moreno without speed, including just one home run
and 14 walks in 232 at-bats, which meant an OPS of .738. As Seattle did with so
many players this year, Tuiasosopo was inexplicably promoted to Double-A San
Antonio for the second half of the season, and it was, as expected, not good.
In 62 games, he hit .185/.259/.218. In 216 at-bats he had five extra-base
hits. While he’s only 20 and has been unduly rushed through the system, this
is nonetheless a player for whom power is his calling card, yet he has eight
home runs over 857 at-bats in the last two seasons. He needs to start 2007
back in the California League, but looking at the Mariners way of doing things,
he’s just as likely to be at Triple-A Tacoma.