Does it bother anybody else that today the Padres are tied for first place and they owned the very first pick in today's amateur draft? I know, that's the way the draft works and anyway it doesn't really make much difference. But wouldn't it be more fair to somehow consider last year's and this year's standings? I'm just sayin' ...
Of course, there are no guarantees in the draft, even if you've got the No. 1 pick. But with that No. 1, you've at least got a very good chance of landing a future major-leaguer. From 1965 -- the draft's first year -- though 2000, 34 different players were taken with the first pick, and wound up signing. (One player was twice selected with the first pick -- more on him later -- and another didn't sign.) Of those 34 players, 31 of them reached the majors (and one more, Josh Hamilton, might yet; more on him later).
Granted, some of those players were promoted to the majors, at least in part, because of their lofty draft status rather than just their performance. We might also ask how many of these No. 1 picks enjoyed significant major league careers. What constitutes significance? How about 1,000 hits, 100 wins, or 100 saves? Yes, those are tough standards ("milestones"), but then, these players were regarded as the very best available. We should expect a lot of them.
Here, the success rate isn't nearly as high. From 1965 through 1996, 30 players were drafted with the first pick, and signed. Of those 30 players, only 17 reached one of those career milestones. And believe it or not, not a single No. 1 pick has, to this point, been elected to the Hall of Fame (though Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Chipper Jones are all likely to eventually break that streak).
There have been, being quite frank about this, some utter failures among the No. 1 picks, starting with the three players who didn't reached the majors: Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, and Josh Hamilton (in his case, yet).
Chilcott, a high school catcher, was drafted by the Mets in 1966, and his failure to reach the majors was thrown into stark relief by the career of the player drafted with the No. 2 pick: Reggie Jackson. In his book, Jackson suggested that the Mets bypassed him because they thought he had a "white girlfriend." Whether that's true or not, we do know the Mets made a big, big mistake.
In 1991, the Yankees -- yes, the Yankees -- had the No. 1 pick, thanks to their 71-91 record in 1990 that was the worst in the American League (it was a good year for the rest of the American League). The Yankees used that pick on high school pitcher Brien Taylor. Taylor's agent was Scott Boras, and Boras convinced the Yankees to pay Taylor a signing bonus of $1.55 million, almost three times higher than the previous record. Taylor got off to a good start in the minors, but after the '93 season he suffered a shoulder injury in an off-the-field brawl. He didn't pitch in '94 at all, and over the ensuing seasons Taylor's comeback attempts resulted in 111 innings, 184 walks, and an 11.27 ERA. So that one didn't work out so well.
Josh Hamilton, drafted in 1999 by the Devil Rays, might still reach the major leagues. The early signs aren't good, though. Hamilton signed for $3.96 million and posted solid numbers at the Rookie and Class A levels. But he hasn't played since 2002, and his recent history includes a complete season (2003) missed for unspecified reasons, and a suspension this spring for violating MLB's drug policy. If and when Hamilton will return to the field, nobody knows.
Two players drafted with the No. 1 pick simply didn't sign, and belong in a category by themselves. In 1983, the Twins drafted Tim Belcher, but Belcher -- who had suddenly become a hot prospect at Mount Vernon Nazarene College -- spurned the Twins' contract offer and went back to school. Belcher was drafted again the following January (there used to be two drafts in January), by the Yankees, and of course Belcher was a good major league pitcher for a number of years.
But while a No. 1 pick was "wasted" on Belcher, he's got nothing on Danny Goodwin, on whom two No. 1 picks were spent. In 1971, the White Sox had the first pick and used it on Goodwin, a high school catcher from Peoria, Ill. The White Sox's contract offer apparently didn't play well, and Goodwin headed off to Southern University ... where he played so well that in 1975 another team -- the Angels this time -- used the No. 1 pick on him. Goodwin played in parts of seven major league seasons with three teams, but he never caught a game in the majors and finished with a .236/.301/.373 career line.
In 1979, the Mariners had the No. 1 pick and selected Al Chambers, a big high school outfielder. Chambers advanced through the minors in good order -- when he was still only 22, he batted .331 in Triple-A -- but didn't hit during three brief trials with the Mariners, and played his last major league game in 1985, when he was 24.
Shawn Abner had tools. No question about that. But those tools never quite showed up in the major leagues. Abner, who the Mets drafted with the first pick in 1984, moved steadily through the minor leagues. But in 392 games with the Padres, Angels, and White Sox, Abner batted .227 with similarly unimpressive on-base and slugging averages.
Much has been written about David Clyde, so just a brief recap. In 1973, the Rangers grabbed Clyde, a high school pitcher from Houston, with the first pick, and three weeks later he was pitching in the majors. In that very first start, Clyde gave up one hit in five innings and earned the win. It was all downhill from there, and Clyde finished his career with 18 wins, 33 losses, and a 4.63 ERA.
Mike Ivie could hit. But he couldn't catch, and that's what people remember. In 1970 the Padres had the first pick, and spent it on Ivie, a high school catcher from Georgia. Almost immediately, Ivie developed a chronic inability to throw the ball back the pitcher (a malady that would later be suffered by Dale Murphy and Mackey Sasser, among others). Ivie did reach the majors and he did do some damage as a hitter, but he caught only nine games and injuries hindered him at the plate.
Everybody remembers that Ron Blomberg was the first Designated Hitter. Not nearly so many remember that in 1967, Blomberg was the first pick in the June draft. The Yankees, so recently a dynasty, in 1966 finished with the worst record in the American League, thus earning themselves the No. 1 pick in '67. They took Blomberg, who did have some solid years as a platoon player, but was often limited by vague muscle injuries and was basically finished at 27.
Will the Padres regret having used the No. 1 pick in 2004 to draft Matt Bush? The last three high school shortstops selected with the top pick were Shawon Dunston, Chipper Jones, and Alex Rodriguez. Not a bad group.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.