In Hindsight – Reviewing MLB Drafts

hindsight

With the 2014 draft only a few weeks in our rearview mirror, the dust is somewhat settling.  By all accounts, the Blue Jays had a very solid showing, one that will be outstanding if they are able to sign the majority of their selections.  (For 500 Level Fan’s draft expert’s analysis, click here).

I thought it would be a good idea to continue a tradition I started last year, and take a look back at some prior MLB drafts to see how well the Blue Jays – and the rest of MLB – fared using the greatest tool of all: hindsight.  As any fan knows, baseball is entirely different when it comes to drafting players.  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.  So let’s take a look back at the 2009, 2004, and 1999 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.

2009 Draft

As mentioned above, it often takes several years for drafted players to reach the major leagues. Five years have gone by since the ’09 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 2009 draft:

2009 Draft

You can’t fault Washington for picking Strasburg – he was quite possibly the most hyped prospect since Ken Griffey Jr.  Even if they didn’t want to pick him first overall, I think that the Nationals had no choice.  To this point, Strasburg has been pretty good – not legendary like many expected, but very, very good.  Aside from Donavan Tate at #3 (never rose above A ball and now appears to be out of baseball – poor San Diego, as you’ll see later) and Matt Hobgood (currently in single-A) at #5 the rest of the top-10 have all reached the major leagues, with Ackley, Wheeler, Minor, Leake, and Storen looking like pretty good players.  All in all, not a bad job by MLB teams.

Unless, of course, we re-rank the top-10 with the magic of hindsight, based on career WAR:

 2009 Redux

Yep – that hurts.  The nearly unanimous choice for best overall player in baseball was passed over by 24 other teams before landing with the Angels.  Trout has already posted a 23.7 career WAR, nearly double the next best player taken.  That next best player – Paul Goldschmidt – has proven to be a steal for the Diamondbacks in the 8th round, as was 399th overall pick Matt Carpenter for the Cardinals.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2009 draft was Toronto’s final one with J.P. Ricciardi at the helm.  Though Ricciardi messed up many things during his time as GM, the ’09 draft might not be one of them.  A few very good players joined the franchise as a result of that draft.  Though first round pick Chad Jenkins might not end up being a front of the rotation starter, Aaron Loup and Drew Hutchison are pivotal members of the 2014 team, Ryan Goins has made the show, and Jake Marisnick was one of the key pieces in the Reyes deal.  Of course, losing Yan Gomes still stings.

First Round Pick: Chad Jenkins (20th overall) – Career WAR: 0.8

Total Number of Picks: 52

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 8

– Chad Jenkins (20th), WAR of 0.8

– James Paxton – did not sign, now with Seattle (37th), WAR of 1.6

– Jake Marisnick – now with Miami (104th), WAR of 0.0

– Ryan Goins (130th), WAR of 1.6

– Aaron Loup (280th), WAR of 2.8

– Yan Gomes – now with Cleveland (310th), WAR of 5.7

– Drew Hutchison (460th), WAR of 1.7

– Daniel Webb – now with Chi White Sox (550th), WAR of 1.4

Total WAR = 15.6

2004 Draft

Looking back at the ’04 draft ten years later, and you’ll see a lot of superstar players still in their prime, but you will also see a top-10 littered with busts, including perhaps the most famous whiff at #1.  Again – poor San Diego.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 2004 draft:

 2004 Draft

Ouch.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.  The Padres took Matt Bush with the first overall pick, but personal and legal problems led to him never making the majors.  Even after converting from SS to P, being dealt to the Jays, and signing with the Rays didn’t help him.  This pick looks especially awful considering Justin Verlander went to the Tigers at #2.  Verlander, of course has been one of baseball’s best pitchers throughout the past decade.  It is not much of a surprise that the Tigers have made the playoffs four times since the ’04 draft.  But San Diego shouldn’t feel too bad, because other than Homer Bailey, the rest of the first round looks equally terrible. 

With the magic of hindsight, here is a re-ranked version of the 2004 draft, based on career WAR:

 2004 Redux

The real gems in 2004 came later in the first round and into the second.  World Series winners Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, and Hunter Pence, and staff aces Jered Weaver and Gio Gonzalez highlight the selections.  Note – David Price did not sign with the Dodgers and went first overall in 2007.  

Blue Jay Focus

The 2004 draft was also completed under the guidance of J.P. Ricciardi, and it was passable – early round whiffs and late round magic, including two cornerstones of this year’s team, Adam Lind and Casey Janssen.

First Round Pick: David Purcey (16th overall) – Career WAR: 0.1

Total Number of Picks: 52

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 7

– David Purcey – now out of baseball (16th), WAR of 0.1

– Zach Jackson – now in AAA with Washington (32nd), WAR of -0.8

– Curtis Thigpen – now out of baseball (57th), WAR of -0.3

– Adam Lind (83rd), WAR of 7.7

– Casey Janssen (117th), WAR of 8.1

– Jesse Litsch – now out of baseball (717th), WAR of 3.9

– Chad Beck – did not sign (though was later acquired), now in the Independent League (1285th), WAR of -0.2

Total WAR = 18.5

1999 Draft

Fifteen years later, a good chunk of the players taken in ’99 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 a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer that was passed over 401 times.

Here are the top-10 picks of the 1999 draft:

 1999 Draft

Josh Hamilton, of course, is a unique and inspiring story.  The pick didn’t work out well for Tampa Bay, but Hamilton has turned his life around and become a star.  The rest of the first round?  Aside from Beckett, who won a few World Series, and a couple of good years from Zito and Sheets, it was an outright disaster.  Four of the picks never even reached the big leagues, and two others were afterthoughts once they made it.  #3 pick Eric Munson played in parts of nine seasons for four different franchises, and while he hit 37 HR in ’03 and ’04 combined, never hit more than 5 ever again.

Here is a re-ranked version of the 1999 draft, based on career WAR:

 1999 Redux

That’s it – that’s the big one!  Whatever the reason – teams thought he was older than he was, that his power wouldn’t transition to the majors – Albert Pujols, the best hitter of his generation, was passed over 401 times.  There are a lot of All-Stars and World Series winners on that list too.  

Blue Jay Focus

Gord Ash was the man in charge of the Jays in 1999, and in a draft with a lot of good talent available, he left most of it on the table.  Only two players made any impact, and sadly one of them has done most of his damage elsewhere.

First Round Pick: Alex Rios (19th overall) – Career WAR: 29.0

Total Number of Picks: 50

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 4

– Alex Rios – now with Texas (19th), WAR of 29.0

– Matt Ford – now out of baseball (103rd), WAR of 0.4

– Brandon Lyon – now a free agent (433rd), WAR of 6.5

– Reed Johnson – now with Miami (523rd), WAR of 11.6

Total WAR = 47.5

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