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1998 AL draft in review

6/2/2003

It takes five years, at least, for the results of the yearly amateur draft to be fairly assessed. Let's take a look at the American League 1998 draft class.

Anaheim | Angels draft history
The Angels concentrated on college players in '98. Their first pick was USC right-hander Seth Etherton, a polished pitcher who was expected to move quickly. He did, and has had moments of success as a pro, but frequent injuries have prevented him from developing any consistency. Second-round choice Brandon Emmanuel, a right-hander from Northwestern State, threw harder than Etherton but was less polished. He is currently in Triple-A and still has a chance for a marginal career. Third-round pitcher Paul French, a California high schooler, didn't sign. The rest of this draft was concentrated in the college ranks, but no one developed into more than a fringe player.

Baltimore | O's draft history
With two extra picks for the loss of free agent Randy Myers, the Orioles had a chance to add a significant talent boost for their farm system. They concentrated on high school players. First-rounder Rick Elder, a Georgia prep, had a lot of injury problems and never refined his stroke at the plate. Supplemental pick Mamon Tucker, a Texas athlete, is still in A-ball (now with the Phillies) trying to learn how to play baseball.

Second-round choice Ben Knapp, a right-hander from a Florida high school, has been plagued with arm trouble. He's been fairly effective when healthy, but is still in A-ball.

Third-round pick Steve Bechler, from high school in Oregon, appeared in the majors, but died tragically this spring. Sixth-round choice Tim Raines Jr., from high school in Florida, is still a prospect, but doesn't profile out as more than a reserve outfielder. A mixture of college and high school picks selected in the later rounds didn't pan out.

Boston | Red Sox draft history
Signing Dennis Eckersley as a free agent cost the Sox their second-round pick. The Sox also handicapped themselves by getting caught up in acrimonious negotiations and failing to sign ninth-round pick Mark Teixeira, who later became a college star and one of the best prospects in the game. Tenth-round pick Lenny Dinardo, a high school lefty from Florida, also failed to sign and later emerged as a strong college prospect.

Of the players the Red Sox did get, University of South Carolina shortstop Adam Everett impresses scouts with his glove. He was traded to Houston eventually, but doesn't hit well enough to be more than a utility guy. Third-round pick Mike Maroth, a lefty from the University of Central Florida, was traded to Detroit and is now one of the Tigers' better pitchers. Fourth-round pick Jerome Gamble, from Alabama, and fifth-round pick Josh Hancock, from Mississippi, were high school kids from the South with live arms. Gamble has had injury problems, while Hancock is now with the Phillies. Both still have outside chances for careers.

In terms of the scouts doing their jobs, this was a decent draft from the third round on. But the Sox weren't able to maximize the talent the scouts brought into the system, and the failure to sign Teixeira was one of the biggest screwups of the Dan Duquette years.

Chicago | White Sox draft history
Like the Red Sox, the White Sox did a decent job drafting people, but didn't deploy the talent well.

First-round pick Kip Wells (Baylor) and third-round choice Josh Fogg (Florida) were successful college pitchers who have turned into successful major league pitchers. Unfortunately, both were traded to Pittsburgh. Supplemental pick Aaron Rowand, an outfielder from Cal State Fullerton, has had his moments in the majors and should have a decent career, but isn't a star. A mixture of high school and college talent drafted in the middle rounds failed to pan out. Second-rounder Gary Majewski, a high school pick from Houston, still has a chance for a career on the mound but has been dogged by inconsistency.

The White Sox scored well with three useful college players in the first four picks, but that trade to Pittsburgh haunts the team.

Cleveland | Indians draft history
The Indians' first choice was C.C. Sabathia, a high school pitcher from Vallejo, Calif. He was considered to be raw when drafted, but developed very quickly and is now their top starter. It remains to be seen exactly how his career will go in the long run, but he was definitely one of the most successful players from this draft class.

Cleveland thought it got its infield of the future with second-round pick Zach Sorensen (Wichita State) and third-round pick Scott Pratt (Auburn), college middle infielders with good defensive skills and sound bats. But frequent injuries nailed them, and neither developed as expected. Both still have a chance to be utility players, but that's not what the Indians wanted. Fifth-round choice Ryan Drese, a right-hander from the University of California, reached the majors but is very inconsistent. The rest of the class, mostly college guys, provided a few organization players but no one of major consequence.

Sabathia's rapid development was the best thing out of this group.

Detroit | Tigers draft history
Looking for pitching, the Tigers added Fresno State ace Jeff Weaver in the first round, and Kansas high school right-hander Nate Cornejo with a supplemental pick. Weaver emerged as Detroit's top starter very quickly, before being traded to the Yankees, while Cornejo is still developing but has had flashes of major-league success. Second-round pick Brandon Inge was a shortstop at Virginia Commonwealth University. The Tigers moved him to catcher, and he's very fine with the glove there, but he can't hit. Compensation (for the free-agent loss of Willie Blair) second-round pick Adam Pettyjohn, also from Fresno State, had good minor-league success as a finesse lefty, but was ruined by injuries.

Third-round pick Tommy Marx, a high school pitcher from Michigan, still shows up on prospect lists occasionally because he throws hard, but has trouble staying healthy and has control problems. Fourth-round pick Andres Torres, a speed outfielder from a Florida community college, has reached the Show and looks like a potentially useful bench guy. Another junior-college player, 14th round pick Calvin Chipperfield, was a fringe prospect for a while.

By 1998 standards, this was a very good draft, producing four major-league players in the first six picks, including two regular starting pitchers.

Kansas City | Royals draft history
Stanford ace Jeff Austin was K.C.'s first selection in '98. He did not develop as expected, though he pitched better after converting to relief in 2001. Now with Cincinnati, he has a chance for a career but is still regarded as a disappointment. Even worse off is first-rounder Matt Burch, a Virginia Commonwealth pitcher drafted with the compensation pick for Jay Bell. Burch has had injury and control problems, and is still in A-ball. Supplemental pick Chris George, a high school lefty from Texas, has flashed good ability and is currently in the Royals' rotation.

Second-round pick Robbie Morrison, a successful college closer at the University of Miami, is still in the Royals' farm system and has pitched quite well at times. But he has problems staying healthy, and is regarded as just a fringe guy now. High school bat Ben Cordova, from California, looked like a prospect for a while but just never developed. Fifth-round RHP Scott Chiasson, from Eastern Connecticut State, and sixth-round OF Mike Curry, from the University of South Carolina, developed into fringe prospects. One surprise was 14th-round choice Shawn Sedlacek, an Iowa State right-hander who reached the majors last year.

Austin was disappointing, and Burch was a disaster. George could still be good.

Minnesota | Twins draft history
Hard-throwing southpaw Ryan Mills, from Arizona State, was supposed to be a no-brainer pick for the Twins in the first round. Nagging injuries and a complete loss of command, mechanics, and confidence fouled up his career, and he has yet to appear in the Show. He is in Triple-A now and has a slight chance to emerge as a reliever, but this was still a failed pick considering the expectations that scouts had for him.

The rest of this draft didn't go much better. Control problems undid second-rounder Marcus Sents, a powerfully built but raw right-hander from high school in Tennessee. Stanford lefty Brent Hoard, a typical college finesse guy, has been inconsistent and currently has an ERA in excess of 7.00 in Triple-A. Fourth-round choice Pete Fisher, from the University of Alabama, hasn't developed. Fifth-round pick Mickey Blount, from Kansas State, got hurt. Four other right-handers (Saul Rivera, ninth round, University of Mobile; Jon Pridie, 11th round, Arizona HS; Juan Padilla, 24th round, Jacksonville University; Kevin Frederick, 34th round, Creighton) emerged as fringe prospects, but are not major contributors.

Minnesota's concentration on pitching, especially supposedly less-risky college types, was admirable but failed to pay dividends.

New York | Yankees draft history
The Yankees usually have a conservative draft philosophy, but they drafted several high-risk, high-reward guys in '98. First-round pick Andy Brown, a huge high school outfielder from Indiana, had enormous power potential but never refined his swing. Supplemental pick Mark Prior, a high school pitcher from San Diego, didn't sign. He went on to college at USC, and is now the best young pitcher in baseball with the Cubs.

Second-round choice Randy Keisler, a lefty from LSU, has been bouncing between Triple-A and the majors for several years. Third-round pick Drew Henson, from high school in Michigan, continues to tease scouts with his immense power. But his defense is shaky, and he can't control the strike zone in Triple-A. Unless he drastically improves soon, he'll go down as an expensive bust. College right-handers Brian Rogers (fifth round, Citadel) and Brett Jodie (sixth round, South Carolina) had tastes of minor-league success but haven't emerged in the Show.

The big failure here was the inability to sign Prior.

Oakland | A's draft history
With the second overall pick in the draft, Oakland selected Michigan State lefty Mark Mulder. Obviously, there have been no regrets about that: He's the best player to come out of this class so far.

Second-round pick Gerald Laird, a high school catcher from California, has a great glove but doesn't hit much. He was traded to Texas in the Carlos Pena deal. University of Washington shortstop Kevin Miller, drafted in the third round, didn't develop. Fourth-round pick Jeff Schultz, a right-hander from Cypress JC in California, was also disappointing. Fifth-round pick Jason Hart, a slugger from Southwest Missouri State, has emerged as a potent Triple-A bat but hasn't forced his way into the Show.

Eighth-round choice Eric Byrnes, from UCLA, is a solid fourth outfielder. Ninth-round pick Jon Adkins, from Oklahoma State, throws very hard but hasn't pitched well. He was traded to the White Sox down the stretch last year for Ray Durham, an unfair trade if there ever was one. Tenth-round pick Bert Snow, from Vanderbilt, is a right-hander with a strong arm and a decent track record, but has problems staying healthy. The same can be said for 23rd-round Hawaiii-Hilo product Tyler Yates, now in the Mets system.

Seattle | Mariners draft history
The Mariners surprised most everyone by selecting Grand Valley State southpaw Matt Thornton in the first round. Raw when drafted, he was making progress before blowing out his elbow last year. Second-rounder Jeff Verplancke, a right-hander from Cal State Los Angeles, didn't sign. Michigan high school product Andy Van Hekken went in the third round, but was eventually traded to Detroit. He made his major-league debut for the Tigers last year, but his career path is still uncertain.

The rest of this class failed to develop, though sixth-round pick Jake Weber (OF, North Carolina State) and eighth-round pick Craig Kuzmic (3B-1B, Texas A&M) emerged as useful minor-league players. The Thornton gamble still has a chance to pay off, assuming he can return to health and maintain his command in the majors, very big assumptions.

Tampa Bay | Devil Rays draft history
Tampa's ill-fated attempt to push itself into contention by signing veteran free agents destroyed its early rounds: they didn't pick until the fourth round. The Devil Rays' choice in that slot, Florida high school slugger Josh Pressley, has done little to justify his selection.

Fortunately, what could have been a disaster was pulled out by the scouting department. Fifth-round pick Aubrey Huff, a third baseman from the University of Miami, is a fine major-league player and one of the few bright spots for Tampa Bay fans. He's certainly a much better hitter than a few hundred guys drafted ahead of him. Sixth-round choice Ryan Rupe, from Texas A&M, had flashes of major-league success, but can't stay healthy. Eighth-round pick Joe Kennedy, a lefty from Grossmont Junior College, has been a major surprise. Eighteenth-round selection Brandon Backe, from Galveston Junior College, converted from shortstop to pitching when his bat didn't pan out. He has a strong arm and could still be a useful bullpen man.

Considering the self-imposed handicap of having no early picks, Tampa did very well in '98.

Texas | Rangers draft history
First-round choice Carlos Pena, from Northeastern University, emerged as one of the top hitting prospects in the minor leagues soon after being drafted. Now the regular first baseman in Detroit, he hasn't hit as well as expected in the Show, but no one has given up on him. Tools outfielder Cody Nowlin, a California prep, didn't develop. Third-round choice Barry Zito, from Pierce JC in California, certainly did. But unfortunately the Rangers were unable to sign him, and he went back in the draft pool for '99.

The rest of this class didn't do much, though high school pitchers Ryan Dittfurth (fifth round, Tulsa, Okla.) and Andy Pratt (ninth round, Chino Valley, Ari.) still have a chance to be interesting.

Toronto | Blue Jays draft history
With the eighth overall pick, Toronto nabbed Florida high school shortstop Felipe Lopez. He moved through the minors quickly and is an impressive defensive player, but is maddeningly inconsistent with the bat, and is now with the Reds.
The Jays lost their second- and third-round picks for signing Randy Myers and Darrin Fletcher as free agents.

The rest of the draft class was disappointing. Two exceptions were Jay Gibbons, drafted in the 14th round, and Bob File, drafted in the 19th. Gibbons, from Cal State Los Angeles, emerged as a top minor-league bat before being picked by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft. He has eight homers this year, and is a far better player than most scouts expected. File, from the Philadelphia College of Textiles, converted from third base to pitcher. He had some moments as a relief prospect, and pitched well for the Jays in '01.

Summary
Some good pitchers were drafted by American League clubs in '98: college guys Mulder, Weaver, and Wells being the best, with Sabathia and George representing successful early high school picks. The best bat so far has been fifth-round college pick Huff. Unsigned but excellent players like Prior, Teixeira, and Zito demonstrate how important it is for clubs to sign their early selections.

John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his website, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.