- Alan Schwarz, MLB
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We can say one thing about the baseball draft it's never predictable.
Even with one of the top 15 picks, you can't know beforehand if you're going to get a star or a black hole. Don't believe us? Check out the best and worst names to come out of the first 15 slots ever since the draft began in 1965:
1. Best: Alex Rodriguez (Mariners, 1993) It's hard to believe today that up until the last day, Seattle executives were fighting over whether to draft ... Darren Dreifort? Only Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners, 1987), Chipper Jones (Braves, 1990) and Darryl Strawberry (Mets, 1980) became other superstar No. 1s, though people forget how good Bob Horner (Braves, 1978) was before his injuries.
Worst: Steve Chilcott (Mets, 1966) Al Chambers (Mariners, 1979) sipped only a cup of coffee in the majors, Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991) hurt his shoulder in an infamous parking-lot scuffle and Josh Hamilton (Devil Rays, 1999) has battled injury and drug problems for several years now. But the worst-ever No. 1 overall pick has to be Chilcott, a left-handed hitting high school catcher who never reached the big leagues. Several major injuries derailed his career, yes, but the Mets also will forever kick themselves for not drafting ...
2. Best: Reggie Jackson (A's, 1966) One pick after the Mets went for Chilcott, the Kansas City A's took the other consensus best player on the board, Arizona State's Jackson a slugger who at the time had more experience playing football than baseball. Three years later, the Astros took J.R. Richard No. 2 overall. Two star hitters, Joe Carter (Cubs, 1981) and Will Clark (Giants, 1985), could someday be joined by three pitching counterparts, Mark Mulder (A's, 1998), Josh Beckett (Marlins, 1999) and Mark Prior (Cubs, 2001).
Worst: Mike Lentz (Padres, 1975) Only four No. 2 overall picks have failed to make the majors. Garry Harris (Blue Jays, 1980) might go down in history merely as the speedster who lost a footrace against Billy Beane. Augie Schmidt (Blue Jays, 1982), a top college shortstop, and Mark Merchant (Pirates, 1987), a high school outfielder picked right after Griffey, topped out at Triple-A. But the nod here goes to Lentz, a top-notch lefty who, after hurting his shoulder in the minors, ballooned 30 pounds.
3. Best: Robin Yount (Brewers, 1973) A high school shortstop from California, Yount spent only a half-season in short-season A-ball before breaking camp with Milwaukee at age 18 the following spring. Four years later the Brewers took the second-best No. 3 ever, the University of Minnesota's Paul Moiltor. Matt Williams (Giants, 1986) hit 378 career home runs, while Joe Coleman (Senators, 1965) became a pretty darned good pitcher for Washington and Detroit.
Worst: Ted Nicholson (White Sox, 1969) Nicholson's failure was in part due to the times the high school third baseman interrupted his minor-league career with two years of military commitment. Then again, he hit only .252 in the games he did play, none above Class A. Honorable mention can go to Jay Schroeder (Blue Jays, 1979); baseball was this future NFL quarterback's first love, but he struggled so badly in the minors (.213 average in four seasons) that he decided to concentrate on football. Among recent picks, Luis Montanez (Cubs, 2000) was an inexcusable signability pick for a high-revenue team like Chicago and before this season had never reached Double-A.
4. Best: Dave Winfield (Padres, 1973) People forget that Winfield, an astounding athlete also drafted by the NFL, NBA and ABA, was also considered by many baseball scouts a first-round prospect as a pitcher. Winfield demanded to debut in the major leagues and never stopped hitting in his Hall of Fame career. Thurman Munson (Yankees, 1968) might have joined him in Cooperstown if not for the plane crash that killed him in 1979, and Barry Larkin (Reds, 1985) still has a decent shot.
Worst: Jeff Jackson (Phillies, 1989) Jackson was a raw high school speedster out of Chicago whom the Phillies took instead of Frank Thomas; he never reached Triple-A and lives forever as a symbol of the horrible Philadelphia scouting of that period. And for a club that was throwing around money left and right, the Diamondbacks had no business spending the No. 4 pick in 1999 on signability shortstop Corey Myers, who was barely a top prospect then and has since erased any doubt.
5. Best: Dwight Gooden (Mets, 1982) Some might consider Dale Murphy (Braves, 1974) the more valuable commodity as a two-time MVP center fielder, but Gooden proved to be a tremendous scouting coup for the Mets' Joe McIlvaine. Overshadowed by fellow Tampa products Rich Monteleone and Lance McCullers, Gooden was considered a late first-round talent, but McIlvaine popped him at No. 5. Only drug problems short-circuited Gooden's sure (would-be) Hall of Fame career.
Worst: Kurt Brown (White Sox, 1985) Sorry, but when you take an unproven high school catcher who never reaches the big leagues one pick before Barry Bonds, you've earned the title of worst No. 5 pick ever. Which ain't easy here, because Bill Bene (Dodgers, 1988) gives Brown pretty stiff competition. The hard-throwing Bene was so wild his junior year at Cal State Los Angeles that he wasn't used in important games. But the Dodgers took him fifth overall anyway and not only did he remain so wild that he didn't make the majors, but also the team had to have him pitch to a department-store mannequin so he wouldn't maim the real prospects.
6. Best: Barry Bonds (Pirates, 1985) What's baffling now is that he lasted so long. Then again, there were questions about Bonds' attitude and ability to get along with teammates even as early as his Arizona State days. Whatever happened to those, huh? (By the way, two Yankees superstars were drafted No. 6 overall as well, Derek Jeter by New York in 1992 and Gary Sheffield by Milwaukee in 1986.)
Worst: Tito Nanni (Mariners, 1978) Yes, others merit attention: Like Jeff Jackson two picks before him, raw high school outfielder Paul Coleman (Cardinals, 1989) was somehow rated ahead of Auburn masher Frank Thomas. And Jaime Jones (Marlins, 1995) never hit anywhere near his reputation as one of the sweetest-swinging high schoolers of his era. But we're going with Nanni, who never reached the big leagues and was Seattle's pick over the cries of their scout who insisted they take a kid named Kirk Gibson. That scout's name? Jerry Krause.
7. Best: Frank Thomas (White Sox, 1989) Let's see: 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, .403 average and 19 homers in the Southeastern Conference, quick bat, incredible plate discipline. So what in the world were other teams thinking letting Thomas drop this far? What's weird is that after Thomas, only Trot Nixon (Red Sox, 1993) and three catchers, Ray Fosse (Indians, 1965), Rick Cerone (Indians, 1975) and Dan Wilson (Reds, 1990), had either long or notable careers after being No. 7 overall picks.
Worst: Matt Harrington (Rockies, 2000) High school outfielder Billy Taylor (Angels, 1973) never reached Double-A, but he can't hold a candle to two Matts: Harrington and White. Matt White (Devil Rays, 1996) was made a free agent because of a draft loophole and commanded a ridiculous $10.2 million bonus from expansion Tampa Bay, but injuries and ineffectiveness have kept him in the minors ever since. Harrington, meanwhile, became the most notorious holdout in draft history: The high school pitcher spurned the Rockies' $4 million bonus offer and has been drafted several times since without signing, either. He has never pitched an inning of organized baseball.
8. Best: Todd Helton (Rockies, 1995) Yes, Coors Field helps him, but Helton remains one of the top hitters of his era. Jim Abbott (Angels, 1988) was a huge risk at the time because of his disability but quickly proved himself worthy, winning 40 games in his first three seasons without spending a day in the minors. And Jay Bell (Twins, 1984) had to be traded twice before starring on several Pirates and Diamondbacks division winners.
Worst: John Wyatt (Dodgers, 1965) Earl Cunningham (Cubs, 1989) became the poster boy for tools sluggers with no concept of the strike zone and flamed out quickly. Several players from the '70s you've never heard of never made it past Class A. But the winner here has to be Wyatt, who proved more talented at running a cocaine distribution ring than he ever did playing shortstop.
9. Best: Kevin Appier (Royals, 1987) Steady but unspectacular, Appier won 169 games with a 3.74 ERA in his 16-year career. Ron Darling (Rangers, 1981) and Barry Zito (A's, 1999) had several excellent seasons, with more from Zito perhaps still to come. Preston Wilson (Mets, 1992) is the best position player among a relatively weak crop at No. 9. And lest we forget, the best white afro goes, of course, to Don Stanhouse (A's, 1969).
Worst: Matt Brunson (Tigers, 1993) Yes, Ty Griffin (Cubs, 1988) was a bust after starring for the U.S. Olympic team. And David Sloan (Indians, 1971) went 11-23, 4.93 in his short minor-league career. But the Tigers went for Brunson in 1992 despite an obvious lack of overall baseball skills. The speedy high school shortstop stole a bunch of bases in the minor leagues but hit only .200 with two home runs, finally giving up in 1996.
10. Best: Mark McGwire (A's, 1984) This pick was in many ways the beginning of Sandy Alderson's revamping of baseball draft strategy rather than take Shane Mack and Oddibe McDowell, two more athletic outfielders, Alderson went for pure power and discipline with McGwire. Ted Simmons (Cardinals, 1967), Robin Ventura (White Sox, 1988), Ben Sheets (Brewers, 1999) and Tim Wallach (Expos, 1979) also became fine major-league players.
Worst: Art Miles (Expos, 1975) Phil Lansford, Carney's 18-year-old younger brother, was taken by the Indians in 1978 but was out of baseball three years later, never having played above Class A. He was in better shape than Miles, however, who hit just .229 in three seasons before breaking his neck while diving into shallow water. Miles never played again.
11. Best: Greg Luzinski (Phillies, 1968) Few prep sluggers have ever shown more raw power than Luzinksi did his senior year in Illinois, and he backed it up by swatting 307 home runs. Amazingly, the best player after Luzinski was probably Walt Weiss (A's, 1985).
Worst: Kevin Brandt (Twins, 1979) He proved to be so bad so quickly that the Twins released the clueless slugger only 13 months after drafting him. More recently, the Pirates were so intrigued in 1994 with the athleticism of Mark Farris, a top high school quarterback, that they picked him over Georgia Tech's Nomar Garciaparra. Farris never did much of anything in the minors.
12. Best: Kirk Gibson (Tigers, 1978) It's certainly arguable that Garciaparra (Red Sox, 1994) and Billy Wagner (Astros, 1993) have had more total or persistent value than Gibson did, but Gibson's selection was a scouting masterstroke for the Tigers. Most clubs (including the Braves at No. 1) thought he was the best prospect in the country but were scared off by his commitment to Michigan State football and a possible NFL career. The Tigers took their hometown product and allowed him to return to school for his senior season, and convinced him to play baseball full-time after that. He led two clubs the Tigers (1984) and Dodgers (1988) to World Series championships.
Worst: Jay Roberts (Braves, 1981) Mainly a football star at his Washington high school, this outfielder played just one baseball game his senior year. On the basis of that one game in which he hit a home run, walked twice and stole three bases Atlanta made him a first-round pick. He hit .187 in four minor-league seasons before giving up. Then, of course, there's Billy Simpson (Rangers, 1976), who was released by Texas after two seasons in which he batted .177 with no homers in 189 games; he later pleaded guilty to involvement in a drug-smuggling ring.
13. Best: Manny Ramirez (Indians, 1991) It's amazing to remember now that Ramirez was considered by most clubs to be a No. 30 or 40 pick before Cleveland called his name midway through the first round. He's the only potential Hall of Famer among the lucky No. 13s, though Garry Templeton (Cardinals, 1974), Paul Konerko (Dodgers, 1994) and Frank Tanana (Angels, 1971) spent time as stars, too.
Worst: Lebo Powell (Phillies, 1980) Powell, meanwhile, did not. The Phillies spent a decade infatuated with high school catchers Trey McCall, anyone? but really whiffed in 1980 on Powell, who peaked in Class A ball. So did George Alpert (Indians, 1981) and Andrew Madden (Red Sox, 1977), a hitter and pitcher who played only a few seasons' worth of games before calling it quits.
14. Best: Derrek Lee (Padres, 1993) No superstars, but some very good big leaguers here. Jason Varitek (Mariners, 1994), Tino Martinez (Mariners, 1988), Tom Brunansky (Angels, 1978), and Don Gullett (Reds, 1969) all enjoyed significant runs of success. The nod goes to Lee, though, given that he's still only 29 and could very well pass them all before he's done.
Worst: Tim Maki (Rangers, 1980) A high school right-hander from Indiana, Maki went only 9-26 with a 5.42 ERA in his five-year minor-league career. But at least he played professional baseball Rick Konik (Tigers, 1966) and Greg McMurtry (Red Sox, 1986) never suited up at all (McMurtry did catch 128 passes and five touchdowns as an NFL wide receiver in the early '90s).
15. Best: Jim Rice (Red Sox, 1971) Right after the Mets chose the one and only Rich Puig, a Tampa high school second baseman who played four games in the majors, the always hitting-conscious Red Sox went after Rice, the best outfielder available that year, either from high school or college. What's amazing is that the best No. 15 picks other than Rice were Richie Hebner (Pirates, 1966) and Leon Durham (Cardinals, 1976).
Worst: Lots to choose from here. Gary Polcynski (Reds, 1970), a Wisconsin high school shortstop, hit .194 in a four-year minor-league career. But he is joined by two prep right-handers Kiki Jones (Dodgers, 1989), an undersized Tampa product who never put it together in the minors, and Jayson Peterson (Cubs, 1994), who had legendarily bad makeup and even worse control. If you ever wonder why high school pitchers are considered too risky to draft high, these are two main reasons.
Alan Schwarz is the senior writer at Baseball America and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," is published by St. Martin's Press and can be ordered on Alan's Web site.