In Hindsight: Revisiting Past Drafts

hindsight

The first round of the Major League Baseball draft is set for this Thursday June 6th, with the Blue Jays holding the 10th overall pick. In a sport like hockey or basketball, a top-10 pick is coveted. Players have a much higher opportunity at making an immediate impact, or contributing to the big team fairly quickly.

As any fan knows, however, baseball is an entirely different beast. There are so many minor league levels and such a large player pool to draw from, not to mention things like signability issues and slot bonuses. It’s not rare in baseball for the best available player to not go first overall, just as it’s not rare for players to take years to make the major leagues.

With the draft only days away, I thought it would be fun to look back at some prior drafts. Because sports people love round numbers, today we’ll take a look back at the 2008, 2003, and 1998 MLB drafts (5, 10, and 15 years ago). Armed with hindsight, which is always 20/20, we can see how the draft order might have changed knowing how careers played out.

Note – I used Baseball Reference’s WAR stat to rank the players, and my re-ranked top-10 list doesn’t take into account things like signability issues, team needs, or draft strategy (i.e. high school vs. college). I simply re-ranked the drafted players based on career WAR.

2008 Draft

As mentioned above, it often takes several years for drafted players to reach the major leagues. Five years have gone by since the ’08 draft, and while many of the drafted players are still young, one would expect the top talents to have found their way to the big leagues by now.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2008 draft:

2008 Draft

To this point, first overall pick Tim Beckham appears to be a bust as he is the only player in the top-10 yet to appear in the major leagues. Beckham is currently in AAA Durham in the Rays organization, hitting .287 with a .748 OPS this season. Of note, Aaron Crow – drafted 9th overall – did not sign for Washington and was re-drafted in 2009 by Kansas City.

With the magic of hindsight, here is a re-ranked version of the 2008 draft, based on career WAR:

2008 Redux

Buster Posey, taken 5th overall by the Giants, has already won NL Rookie of the Year, the NL MVP, and two World Series titles, and is clearly the best player from the ’08 draft class. However, Lawrie (16th overall), Kimbrel (96th), and Kipnis (135th) have all been good picks as well.

Blue Jay Focus

Though Brett Lawrie currently plays for the Jays, he was drafted 16th overall by Milwaukee – not Toronto. In fact, the ’08 draft – under J.P. Ricciardi – has proven to be a bust for the Jays:

First Round Pick: David Cooper (17th overall) – Career WAR: 0

Total Number of Picks: 44

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 5

– David Cooper (17th), WAR of 0

– Tyler Pastornicky (159th), WAR of -1.5

– Eric Thames (219th), WAR of -0.6

– Evan Crawford (249th), WAR of -0.1

– Danny Farquhar (309th), WAR of -0.2

Total WAR = -2.4

2003 Draft

Looking back at the ’03 draft ten years later, and you’ll see a lot of superstar players still in their prime. Among the top players chosen that year are a few World Series winners and All-Stars, but also a few major busts.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2003 draft:

2003 Draft

Delmon Young at number one has clearly been a major disappointment. On top of many discipline problems (including throwing his bat an umpire in the minors), he has failed to produce consistenly at the major league level and his now on his fourth team. But at least he made the big leagues. Kyle Sleeth never pitched above AA and was out of baseball after 2007. Chris Lubanski actually played a season with Toronto’s AAA affiilate in Vegas, but left the game after the 2011 season. And Ryan Harvey is now playing for the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Independent League.

With the magic of hindsight, here is a re-ranked version of the 2003 draft, based on career WAR:

2003 Redux

The real gems in 2003 came in the later rounds. Ian Kinsler was the 496th overall pick in round 17, and Matt Kemp was taken in the 6th round, 181st overall. While Lincecum was drafted in the 48th round by the Cubs, he chose not to sign (he was taken in the first round of the ’06 draft). But the point is that he was available, and passed over 1,407 times.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2003 draft was also completed under the guidance of J.P. Ricciardi, and it must be said he did a decent job, as two of his picks made meaningful contributions to the team.

First Round Pick: Aaron Hill (13th overall) – Career WAR: 23.9

Total Number of Picks: 50

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 7

– Aaron Hill (13th), WAR of 23.9

– Josh Banks (50th), WAR of -0.8

– Shaun Marcum (80th), WAR of 4.1

– Justin James (140th), WAR of 0.0

– Jamie Vermilyea (260th), WAR of 0.2

– Tom Mastny (320th), WAR of -0.6

– Ryan Roberts (530th), WAR of 5.9

Total WAR = 32.7

1998 Draft

Fifteen years later, a good chunk of the players taken in ’98 are out of the game, having retired after successful careers. There are still a few, however, that are key players for teams this season, including one on the 2013 Blue Jays.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 1998 draft:

1998 Draft

Two thoughts spring to mind when looking at that list: 1) J.D. Drew was that good?, and 2) that is a pretty crappy top-10. Burrell and Mulder had a few decent seasons, and Carlos Pena showed some power, but that’s about it. Jeff Austin appeared in a total of 38 major league games, finishing with a 6.75 ERA, and Ryan Mills left baseball after the 2004 season, never setting foot in the majors.

Here is a re-ranked version of the 1998 draft, based on career WAR:

1998 Redux

There are a lot of All-Stars on that list. Sabathia, Buehrle, Teixeira (did not sign), Lee (did

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not sign), Holliday – all are still playing today.

Blue Jay Focus

Gord Ash was the man in charge of the Jays in 1998, and in a draft with a lot of good talent available, he left most of it on the table.

First Round Pick: Felipe Lopez (8th overall) – Career WAR: 7.5

Total Number of Picks: 48

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 5

– Felipe Lopez (8th), WAR of 7.5

– Jay Gibbons (411th), WAR of 5.6

– Bob File (561st), WAR of 1.5

– Frank Gracesqui (621st), WAR of -0.3

– Adam Stern (651st), WAR of -0.5

Total WAR = 13.8

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