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When Stephen Strasburg Goes Wrong

Tuesday was one of my favorite days of the sporting year.

It’s not because I love the MLB First-Year Player Draft. But the occurrence of the draft gives us the opportunity to look at all the horrible, under-whelming, blown-out, first-round draft picks from years past.

Stephen Strasberg was selected by the Washington Nationals as the first pick in this year’s draft. But is he the next real deal or will he be just the next big name to ruin his arm in a fight?

No one knows right now, but let’s look at what we already know. The MLB First-Year Player Draft started in 1965, but for the sake of time, let’s start on a good note in 1990.

1990 draft:

The Lovely: Everything started off dandy with Chipper Jones. Amazing, consistent switch-hitter, borderline Hall of Famer. Good times. Mike Mussina was taken with the 22nd pick.

The Ugly: Hey, remember when Todd Van Poppel was the next Nolan Ryan? Career ERA was 5.58.

The Braves took  Chipper only after Van Poppel told them that he wouldn’t sign with them. Fate works in strange ways.

1991 draft:

The Lovely: Manny Ramirez at No. 14 is the best of the first round by far. Who was at 13? Doug Glanville. It’s not like the Cubs could have used a future member of the 500 home run club.

The Ugly: There’s no debate — it’s Brien Taylor. He was profiled on 60 Minutes. He demanded a “huge” signing bonus for the time ($1.55 million). He just was never the same after that fight (see third paragraph). Note of small concern: Taylor was represented by Scott Boras, as was Van Poppel. And now, the always money-hungry Boras is in Strasburg’s corner.

1992 draft:

The Lovely: Phil Nevin was the No. 1 pick and had some decent years — although his spike in home runs in the early 2000s is a bit fishy. But five teams ended up passing on Derek Jeter. He’s pretty good.

The Ugly: I’ll take Chad M0ttola. I am biased there because he went to my school, the University of Central Florida. It’s just hard to imagine anyone from UCF being taken fifth in the MLB draft. Yes, Chad Mottola was taken BEFORE Derek Jeter! He turned out to be a career minor leaguer. Jeter turned out to be a career winner/babe magnet.

Go Knights!

Go Knights!

1993 draft:

The Lovely: This is one of the drafts you love to look at because it starts with the selection of one of the best players in the generation, Alex Rodriguez, and the rest of the top-10 just falls off the table.

The Ugly: Brooks Kieschnick was victim of the hype machine. He was seen as the next great hitter. Then, he was going to be a fantastic pitcher. Unfortunately, he was horrible at both in the Major Leagues. The Cubs took him with the No. 10 pick, right in front of players such as Billy Wagner, Chris Carpenter and Derrek Lee.

And No. 2 pick, Darren Dreifort, basically robbed the Dodgers of $55 million.

1994 draft:

The Lovely: Not much. I guess you could go with Nomar Garciaparra at No. 12 to the Red Sox. But after a few good years, what did that accomplish, really?

The Ugly: There’s a gold mine of bad here. I remember when No. 1 Paul Wilson, with Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher were the future triumvirate of pitching greatness for the New York Mets. That turned out to be pretty hilarious. This draft also had former ROY and quick flame out Ben Grieve, Josh Booty, C.J. Nitkowski all in the top 10.

But it’ll get worse later on.

1995 draft:

The Lovely: Would you rather have Todd Helton at No. 8 or Roy Halladay at 17? I think I would go with Halladay, but hindsight is 20-20. You can’t go wrong with either one.

The Ugly: Darin Erstad was the top pick. I always liked his hustle, but he only had one great year — although it was an exceptional year. Remember when Jose Cruz, Jr. was nicknamed “Junior, Jr.”, as in the next Ken Griffey, Jr? That didn’t work out. He was selected at No. 3 while Kerry Wood, selected at No. 4, had his career Dusty Bakered. As baseball fans know, he would not be the last to experience the same demise.

That’s called foreshadowing, people.

1996 draft:

The Lovely: None. Don’t bring up Eric Chavez or Jake Westbrook or Gil Meche. I don’t want to hear it. This whole first round is lackluster. You can put up a good argument that the first good player wasn’t chosen until No. 44, Jimmy Rollins.

The Ugly: This specific draft is the reason why I wanted to write this blog post. A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded that Braden Looper was the No. 3 draft pick in the 1996 season. That was shocking. But look at the rest of this round!

Kris Benson was No. 1, and he is known more for his wife. Next up, Travis Lee was like a Ben Grieve clone: All of the game, none of the passion. Billy Koch could throw it hard, but he also through it straight. It doesn’t take long for Major League hitters to adjust to that. He was the No. 4 pick.

This first round is the wet dream of a masochistic MLB general manager.

1997 draft:

The Lovely: Lance Berkman at No. 16 is probably the best pick. Vernon Wells is good, but his production probably doesn’t warrant his No. 5 selection. Troy Glaus at No. 3 had his moments.

Philly will always love you back.

Philly will always love you back.

The Ugly: There are a few good stories to talk about here (J.D. Drew at No. 2 and his refusal to play for Philly or Ryan Anderson, otherwise known as the “Little Unit”, at No. 17), but No. 1 pick Matt Anderson is the worst of the bunch only because of the way he lost his 100 MPH fastball. Classic!

1998 draft:

The Lovely: CC Sabathia fell all the way to No. 20 in this draft. The A’s got all they could out of Mark Mulder at No. 2 until he broke down on the Cardinals.

The Ugly: I remember walking into a baseball card shop in 2001 and I asked who is the hot rookie. The clerk pointed to the pricing guide, which had Corey Patterson on the cover. He was supposed to be the next great 30-30 player, but Patterson got obsessed with the home run. He struck out way too often, didn’t use his speed enough and never hit for a good average. He was the No. 3 pick in this draft by — again — the Cubs.

Pat Burrell was selected first in this draft by the Phillies.

1999 draft:

The Lovely: The Florida Marlins won their second World Series in seven seasons with a lot of help from the No. 2 pick  in this draft, Josh Beckett. And he just held the Yankees to one hit through six innings Tuesday.

Barry Zito and Ben Sheets were also in the Top-10. Meh.

The Ugly: This seems cruel, knowing the background and the story and the in-progress comeback, but Josh Hamilton didn’t even make his MLB debut until 2007. That pick at No. 1 of an 18-year-0ld really set the Tampa Devil Rays back.

2000 draft:

The Lovely: There are only two All-Stars in the first round of this draft, and No. 1 pick Adrian Gonzalez didn’t become that until last season. That doesn’t really help the Marlins, who drafted him, or the Rangers, who signed him and later included him in one of the worst trades in this generation of baseball: Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton.

No. 15 pick Chase Utley is the best pick of the round.

The Ugly: Adam Johnson was the No. 2 pick by the Minnesota Twins. He pitched in nine games between 2001 and 2003 for the Twins’ minor leagues. He went 1-3 with a 10.25 ERA and then evaporated into thin air. Rocco Baldelli was No. 6 by the Devil Rays, but injuries and his fatigue syndrome crushed his career.

2001 draft:

The Lovely: This first round was all about four of the top-five draft picks. Joe Mauer at No. 1 and Mark Teixeira at No. 5 are the obvious studs …

The Ugly: … and then there is No. 2 Mark Prior and No. 3 Dewon Brazelton. Brazelton got rushed to the Majors, then had some attitude problems and currently has a career ERA of 6.38.

Then there was the Stephen Strasburg before Stephen Strasburg with Prior. In 2003, Prior was 22 years old. Would you work your top pitching prospect this hard when he is only 22? Dusty Baker did and Prior was really never the same. Notice Kerry Wood’s innings on that list. It also shows that Carlos Zambrano is a freak of nature.

2002 draft:

The Lovely and the Ugly: I combined the two sections to show a point. I remember when the Pirates selected Bryan Bullington as the top pick in this draft and baseball experts were saying how this draft class didn’t really have a player with the talent of a Teixeira or Mauer or Prior. In fact, here’s a refresher course.

Nope, not very talented.

Nope, not very talented.

While Bullington met the expectations of not being a very good choice, the first round of this draft also produced B.J. Upton at No. 2, Zack Greinke at N0. 6, Prince Fielder at No. 7, and Cole Hamels at No. 17 to name a few. Yeah, there is absolutely no talent there.

2003 draft

The Lovely: Now we’re are getting into the very young kids, but Nick Markakis at N0. 7 looks studly. “The Buzzsaw”, Chad Billingsley also looks like the real deal at No. 24. And I still think the D’Backs gave up too early on Carlos Quentin. He was drafted 29th.

The Ugly: No. 1 pick Delmon Young is like the Sean Burroughs for this decade. He had all the tools, but the power just never showed up. Now he is being beaten out for playing time by Denard Span.

Also, I was a big Ryan Wagner fan. I remember hyping him up when I got his rookie card.

It’s not worth much anymore. He’s out of baseball. He was drafted 14th by the Reds, 10 picks in front of Billingsley.

2004 draft:

The Lovely: Justin Verlander, JustinVerlander, Justin Verlander. That’s about it. He was picked second.

Maybe Stephen Drew No. 15 and Jared Weaver at No. 12.

The Ugly: There’s quite a few right now, but no one tops Matt Bush. He was a malcontent, he got hurt, he switched positions, he got hurt again, he got traded and then he got cut for being a malcontent again.

Bush was drafted No. 1 overall. He is up there in the rankings as one of the worst MLB draft picks of all time, and this was just five years ago. Bush is 23 years old and out of baseball.

But most of the top 10 was bad fom this draft. From draft picks Nos. 3 through 10, only one — Jeff Niemann at No. 4 — is currently in the ML, and he’s a back-of-the-rotation pitcher for the Rays.

2005 draft:

The Lovely: Unlike 2005, this is looking like a very promising group. You have Ryan Zimmerman at No. 4, Troy Tulowitski at No. 7, Jacoby Ellsbury at No. 23, etc. But the king of the hill right now is the fifth pick of the draft, Ryan Braun. He has played 319 games and has hit 82 home runs!

The Ugly: But before all of those players, No. 2 pick Alex Gordon was supposed to be the next naturally great hitter. So far, no so much.

2006 draft:

The Lovely: You have the 2008 National League Cy Young winner at No. 10, Tim Lincecum. In the next year or two, the No. 3 pick, Evan Longoria, could be an American League MVP. Nice, early returns.

The Ugly: You can’t quite call the top selection, Luke Hochevar, a bust, but he seems to be a Quadruple-A pitcher right now. You can see his Major and minor league stats here, and especially look at his splits from the Omaha Royals to the Kansas City Royals in 2008 and 2009.

That’s about as far as you can go. The 2007 and 2008 draft classes are still molding their game, but ’07’s top pick David Price is looking pretty good so far.

The Nationals — and really the public more so — are expecting more immediate, grander success for Strasburg. If the Nats can sign him, there is talk that the will be in the Major Leagues by September. I think that kind of rush could really hurt Strasburg in the long term. If that’s the case, he certainly wouldn’t be the first “can’t-miss” prospect to find out that adage can be incorrect.

What lies ahead?

What lies ahead?

  1. June 10, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Awesome recap of the most recent drafts. I like how you break everything down. For every sterling, steal of a pick there’s one bonehead, DOH! pick as well. Well done.

    What if the Rays had Josh Hamilton and Evan Longoria?? World Series? I think so!

    Oh yeah…And also BJ Upton, and Price

  2. Nodonn
    June 11, 2009 at 1:40 am

    Ugh, The Nats are like the Detroit Lions of the MLB. Going off this, I’m lead to assume their pick will be a bust.

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