Hindsight: Reliving Past MLB Drafts

The early stages of the 2018 MLB draft are in the books.  The Blue Jays used their first pick (12th overall) on highschool SS Jordan Groshans  and their second pick (52nd overall) on Griffin Conine, son of former major leaguer Jeff Conine.  Toronto’s recent early round history has been spotty at best: in the past five drafts only one player selected in the first two rounds has reached the big leagues and he did so as a member of the Rockies (Jeff Hoffman).  Hopes are high for guys like Bo Bichette, Sean Reid-Foley, and Nate Pearson but only time will tell if those players along with this year’s selections will fit into the Success or Bust category.

As we all know by now the MLB draft is the ultimate crapshoot with many early round picks flaming out and many late round picks turning into bargains.  But with the benefit of hindsight we can easily go back and re-grade past drafts.  So to continue a 500 Level Fan tradition, let’s do just that.  To keep it simple I am using Baseball Reference’s WAR stat to rank all players.  It’s not perfect but it’s a nice, convenient stat.  So let’s take a look back at the 2013, 2008, and 2003 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 – 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 (Note: Career WAR totals are as of May 31.

2013 Draft

It often takes several years for drafted players to reach the major leagues. Five years have passed since the ’13 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 2013 draft:

Throwing around terms like “bust” are very subjective, but I think virtually everybody can agree that Mark Appel is quite possibly the biggest draft bust in baseball history.  Drafted first overall to great acclaim by the Astros, Appel is only the third #1 pick to never reach the major leagues.  After scuffling in the minors he was dealt to the Phillies for closer Ken Giles, DFA’d in 2017 and then retired from baseball earlier this year.  Kris Bryant was hands down the best player in the draft and Jon Gray has had a nice start to his career, but other than that the rest of the top-10 leave  a lot to be desired.  Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows are just starting their careers, a few others have had cups of coffee, and the rest have yet to experience life in the majors:

Kohl Stewart – Currently in AA after being sent back from AAA and struggling with a 5.90 ERA and 1.44 WHIP.

Trey Ball – Currently struggling in AA with a 6.66 ERA and 1.68 WHIP.

Phil Bickford – Did not sign with the Jays, was re-drafted by San Francisco, traded to Milwaukee, and is currently languishing in single-A.

This is what the the top-10 looks like with the magic of hindsight, based on career WAR:

Overall, the first round wasn’t too bad with Bryant and Judge reaching superstar status, and Manaea, Gray, Anderson, and Knebel all performing well the last year or two.  Graveman, Bellinger, and Green all have been nice later round finds.  Of note, Benintendi was drafted 945th overall by Cincinnati but did not sign and re-entered the draft.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2013 draft was Toronto’s fourth under Alex Anthopoulos, and has become notable less for who was drafted than for who those players became.  The draft didn’t start well as AA’s first and second round selections were miserable.  As previously mentioned, Bickford failed to sign meaning he re-entered the draft and second round selection Clinton Hollon was twice suspended for PEDs before being released by the team in 2017.  However, Matthew Boyd (175th overall) and Kendall Graveman (235th) were part of packages that became David Price and Josh Donaldson.  Not too shabby.

Total Number of Picks: 40

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 6

2008 Draft

The 2008 draft turned out to be a real mixed bag.  The top-10 produced All Stars, World Series Champions, and several unquestionable busts.  The good news for those GM’s is that each one of the top-10 made the majors.

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

Buster Posey was the real gem.  2018 marks his 10th major league season and the Giants catcher is a 5-time All-Star, has won a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP, four Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove, and three World Series titles.  Eric Hosmer is having a nice career as well, but nobody else in the top-10 really made the leap to stardom.  Three players are no longer active:

Brian Matusz – Released by Arizona in 2017

Kyle Skipworth – Only recorded four career plate appearances

Aaron Crow – Did not sign with Washington, was re-drafted by Kansas City and is currently in the Mexican League.

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

What a great draft for the San Francisco Giants who added SS Brandon Crawford in the 4th round to go along with Posey.  Tanner Roark was the late-round gem, putting up a 15.5 WAR from the 753rd overall drat slot.  Jason Kipnis (San Diego), George Springer (Minnesota), and Anthony Rendon (Atlanta) did not sign with their respective teams and re-entered the 2009 draft.

Blue Jay Focus

The 2008 draft was completed under the guidance of J.P. Ricciardi, and looks pretty bad in hindsight.  In fact, it is downright ugly.

The Jays used their first round pick (17th overall) on 1B David Cooper, who played 72 games over two seasons in Toronto, putting up a career .750 OPS.  With the 63rd pick the Jays selected Kenny Wilson an OF who has yet to appear in the major leagues and is currently in Detroit’s system (his fifth organization).  The only name of note was Eric Thames, picked 219th overall, who is now hitting home runs for the Brewers.

Total Number of Picks: 44

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 8

2003 Draft

To those who say that drafting players should be easy, may I present the 2003 top-10.  Yikes.
Without question the real success of the top-10 was Nick Markakis, taken 7th overall, and still active (and producing) with the Braves.  John Danks, Paul Maholm, and Rickie Weeks all had moderate levels of success and Delmon Young actually had a 2nd place ROY finish and a 10th place MVP finish in his career (but will forever be remembered as the guy who threw a bat at an umpire).  There were some real busts in the top-10 including:

Kyle Sleeth – Never rose above AA where he posted a 10.66 ERA in 12.2 IP before retiring in 2008.

Chris Lubanski – Reached as high as AAA (including a short stint in the Blue Jays system), but last played in 2011.

Ryan Harvey – Never rose above AA, last played in 2013.

Here is a re-ranked version of the 2003 draft, based on career WAR:

Ian Kinsler is a real success story, emerging from the 17th round to become a 4-time All-Star.  Adam Jones and Nick Markakis were both taken by the Orioles in a rare bit of excellent drafting in Baltimore.  The Blue Jays pick of Aaron Hill was also a success.  Of note, Max Scherzer was selected by St. Louis but did not sign.

Blue Jay Focus

2003 was the second draft of the  Ricciardi era and was relatively productive.  As noted above, Aaron Hill was taken with Toronto’s first pick (13th overall) and had a nice career, including a huge 2009 season in Toronto (36 HR, 108 RBI, .829 OPS, Silver Slugger Award).  With his second selection, Ricciardi picked RHP Josh Banks 50th overall.  Banks only appeared in three games with the Jays (7.36 ERA, 1.77 WHIP) before moving on to San Diego and Houston, but at least he reached the majors.  The other notable pick by the Jays was Shaun Marcum 80th overall.  He had a few nice years in Toronto and his legacy lives on as he was dealt to Milwaukee for Brett Lawrie who was in turn traded for Josh Donaldson.

Total Number of Picks: 50

Number of Players to Reach the Majors: 7

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