Monday, June 3, 2013

Top 10 First Round Draft Busts

In honor of the MLB Draft being upon us (this Thursday!), it's time to take a look at some picks that didn't pan out.  Maybe the team and player were just unlucky, maybe it was just a bad pick.  No matter the circumstance, these players just didn't pan out.  Whatever the case, it's fun to look back and laugh... unless, of course, you are a fan of that team.  On Wednesday, we'll examine some of the better first-round draft picks--fun for everybody!

  • A note: picks that didn't sign don't count for the purpose of this list.  Who knows how Danny Goodwin would have turned out had he signed with the White Sox in 1971?  Maybe he would have had a better career than Frank Tanana, who was drafted at #13 that year.  (Probably not, though.)
  • Also, there are way too many draft picks, even in the first round, for me to assume that this list is anywhere close to conclusive.  For now, just think of this list as an exploration of ten draft picks that panned out poorer than most.  There may be others that are even worse.  That's what the comments section is for!

1. Matt Anderson, RHP, #1, DET, 1997
The 1997 draft may not have had the deepest collection of talent, but it was one of the most top-heavy: J.D. Drew (though he didn't sign), Troy Glaus, now-awesome Jason Grilli, Vernon Wells, Michael Cuddyer, and Jon Garland were all chosen within the first ten picks.  The Tigers, with the #1 overall pick, majorly whiffed with the Anderson pick.  First of all, Anderson was always projected to be a relief pitcher, a big problem no matter where you're picking in the first round.  Unfortunately, he wasn't very good at it.  After an admittedly very good 1998 (he dominated the minors, the Tigers rushed him from AA, and he threw 44 innings in Detroit with a 145 ERA+ and 1.568 WHIP) he looked lost from then on.  He spent 2001 as the Tigers' closer but still pitched to a -0.1 bWAR.  This was a bad pick at the time and it just got worse as the years rolled on.

2. Brien Taylor, LHP, #1, NYY, 1991
Taylor's story is a famous one.  First he was the best young pitcher of all-time (quoth his agent, Scott Boras).  Then, almost as quickly, he hurt his arm defending his brother in a fight and was basically done, struggling with his weight and his arm until finally retiring in 2000, never reaching the majors.  Most of this was bad luck on the part of the Yankees, but two notes must be made.  First, even before he hurt his arm Taylor struggled badly with his control, issuing 5.6 BB/9 with the Yankees' AA affiliate in 1993.  Second, even with the arm injury Taylor reported to Yankees' camp out of shape and with a severely reduced fastball; some of this can be blamed on the injury, but some of it can probably also be blamed on Taylor's demeanor and the Yankees' handling of him.  It was the sad end to a career that had once showed such promise.

3. Matt Bush, SS: #1, SD, 2004
The Padres' choice of Matt Bush in the 2004 draft was inexcusable at the time.  Incredibly, it is even moreso today.  To recap: the cheapskate Padres chose Bush, a local high school product, because they knew they could sign him on the cheap.  This is almost always a terrible strategy: #1 overall picks have a total WAR of 883.9, #2 have 579, #3 have 486, etc...; your #1 draft pick, if he's the best player in the draft, will usually pay for himself in the long run.  It turns out that Bush's character makeup wasn't the best and he's been in legal trouble ever since he was drafted.  This is all unfortunate, but the kicker?  The consensus #1 pick, whom was drafted next by the Tigers, was a pitcher named Justin Verlander.  Oops.

4. Kurt Brown, C: #5, CHW, 1985
Poor Kurt Brown.  It isn't his fault that he, a career minor leaguer, was chosen among many all-time great players in the deepest first round in MLB Draft history.  In the end, that's really only a problem for the White Sox, who have had to live with the fact that they passed up Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro, as well as other great players chosen after Brown.

5. Jeff Clement, C: #3, SEA, 2005
Through 152 major league games, Clement has an OPS+ of 74 and a bWAR of -1.2.  The next four players in the 2005 draft have combined for a 106.2 bWAR, with three of them (Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, and Troy Tulowitzki) netting over 30 points of WAR for their careers.  Clement wasn't expected to be this bad--he had a consistent OBP in the high .300s throughout his minor league career.  He just wasn't ever able to translate that to success at the major league level, either for the Mariners or the Pirates.

6. Clint Everts, RHP: #5, MON, 2001; Bobby Brownlie, RHP: #21, CHC, 2002
The 2002 draft--the Moneyball draft!--was one of the best in recent history.  The Expos drafted Everts, who never made the bigs, ahead of such A+ talents as Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder.  Brownlie was only drafted at #21, and it's reasonable for somebody so low to never pan out, but he was still drafted ahead of Jeremy Guthrie and Matt Cain.  Chris Gruler (#3, CIN) gets an honorable mention in this spot, but his career flamed out due to constant shoulder surgeries, not a lack of big league talent.

7. Donavan Tate, CF: #3, SD, 2009
The Padres didn't skimp this time, giving Tate a $6.7 million bonus.  Unfortunately, Tate was beset by off-field injuries from the beginning of his career, not to mention his poor performance (.620 OPS between A and A+ last season, his age-21 year).  He's currently on leave from the Padres to deal with personal issues, so while there's no guarantee that he won't come back and tear up professional baseball, this prospect is looking increasingly unlikely.  And to think that they (as well as almost every other team) could have had Mike Trout...

8. Bryan Bullington, RHP: #1, PIT, 2002
The Bullington pick has a separate spot from Everts and Brownlie only because Bullington was chosen first overall, though in this case that's not as much of a black mark.  Like Bush, Bullington was seemingly chosen due to signability concerns with the better player, B.J. Upton.  Unlike Bush, however, Bullington was good enough to make it to the MLB, though with a -0.2 bWAR to his name over his career he hasn't exactly lived up to expectations.  This pick would look a lot worse had any of the other top picks panned out, but with the exception of Upton they've all been disappointing.

9. Tommy Boggs, RHP: #2, TEX, 1974
Boggs only had one semi-good season (1980, with the Braves, when he had a bWAR of 2.6), and spent his career as a journeyman starter unable to pitch well.  He opened his career, after a promising rookie year (104 ERA+), with three straight seasons of an ERA+ 70 or under.  He wasn't a complete washout as a player, but the 1974 draft was mighty good: Lonnie Smith, Dale Murphy, and Willie Wilson, among a few others, could have been had by the Rangers with this #2 pick.  The same could be said for the Padres with their #1 overall choice, Bill Almon, but Almon managed to string together a long career as a quality infielder, even placing in the MVP voting in one season.  Boggs never had such success.

10. Steve Chilcott, C: #1, NYM, 1966
Chilcott gets a bad rap from people wanting to mock my beloved Mets.  Yes, Reggie Jackson was the next player chosen.  And okay, Chilcott never actually made the major leagues (he's one of only a handful of #1 draftees to lay claim to that dubious honor).  But it was actually a reasonable pick at the time.  The Mets wanted a catcher and Chilcott was the best player to deliver that for them.  He was also incredibly young--only 17 in 1966--and might have amounted to something with modern baseball knowledge.  His OPS through 22 games in AAA during his age 21 season was a reasonable .826 but that never translated into major league success.  The Mets' gamble with Chilcott didn't pay off at all, and for that he deserves at least a spot on this list, but this pick wasn't as bad as it's often made out to be.

Runners-up: Geoff Goetz, LHP: #6, NYM, 1997; Greg Reynolds, RHP: #2, PIT, 2006; Augie Schmidt, SS: #2, TOR, 1982

1 comment:

  1. This is a good list, though, I think Shawn Abner from the 1984 draft needs to be mentioned. And personally, I'd put Matt Bush as number one.