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1998 NL 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 National League 1998 draft class. The Americans are in a separate article.

Arizona | Diamondbacks draft history
The D-Backs gave up their first and second round picks to sign free agents, Jay Bell and Willie Blair. They drafted mostly high school guys after that. Third-rounder Darryl Conyer, a prep from San Diego, was a great athlete but never figured out how to play baseball. University of Virginia lefty Javier Lopez, drafted in the fourth round, is currently pitching quite well for the Rockies.

Interesting picks after that were catcher J.D. Closser, drafted in the fifth round from an Indiana high school, and Andrew Good, a right-hander drafted in the eighth round from high school in Michigan. Both are fringe guys, but have played well at times. Two sleepers who are also useful are Victor Hall, a prep outfielder drafted in the 12th round from high school in California, and Bret Prinz, a right-hander drafted in the 18th round from Phoenix JC. This draft brought in a few organization guys, but was crippled by the lack of early picks.

Atlanta |
Braves draft history
The Braves gave up their first-round pick to sign Andres Galarraga. In the second round, they popped Texas high school right-hander Matt Belisle. He has pitched very well at times, but has also struggled with back problems, and is currently in Double-A.

High school picks dominated this draft for Atlanta, though few have panned out. John Ennis, drafted in the 14th-round out of high school in California, reached the majors last year and is a decent prospect. Dan Curtis, a 17th-round high school pitcher from Tennessee, has shown up on prospect lists occasionally. Tim Spooneybarger was picked as a "draft-and-follow" in the 29th round and proved to be a bargain. Brad Voyles (45th round), from a small college in Tennessee, is in the Royals bullpen.

Some useful pitching came out of this group, but the hitters proved very disappointing. The draft would look better if eighth-round pick Josh Karp, from high school in Washington, had signed. He became a first-round pick in 2001 by the Expos.

Chicago |
Cubs draft history
Then-Cubs scouting director Jim Hendry has a reputation for liking college guys, but he went heavy for the high schoolers in '98. The first pick was Georgia high school outfielder Corey Patterson, who has been inconsistent in the majors, but looks to have a long career and is playing much better this year. Another Georgia prep, Dave Kelton, went in the second round. He has hit minor league pitching for power, but has had trouble finding a position. He should be in Wrigley Field sometime this year.

The draft was a disappointment after that, except for 17th-round pick Eric Hinske, from the University of Arkansas. He was traded to Oakland, then to Toronto, and was the '02 AL Rookie of the Year. Hinske is a good example of the kind of bargain bats occasionally found at the college level. Producing Patterson and Hinske in the same draft class was a coup, even if the Cubs didn't reap the full benefit.

Cincinnati | Reds draft history
The Reds scored big with their top two picks in '98.

First-rounder Austin Kearns, from high school in Kentucky, is one of the best young hitters in baseball. Second-rounder Adam Dunn, from high school in Texas, is a massive source of power and patience. There are some growing pains in Cincinnati right now, but if these two guys stay healthy, the Reds will have one of the best power combinations in baseball over the next several years.

The rest of the class wasn't productive, but nabbing Kearns and Dunn was masterful.

Colorado | Rockies draft history
With extra picks for the loss of Andres Galarraga and Walt Weiss, the Rockies had a chance to reload their farm system. The results were mixed. First-rounder Matt Roney, a high school right-hander from Oklahoma, didn't develop. Supplemental pick Choo Freeman, from high school in Texas, is a toolsy outfielder still looking to put his game together in the minors. Louisiana high school catcher Jeff Winchester, and Mississippi high school pitcher Jermaine Van Buren were waylaid by injuries. Stanford product Jody Gerut, a classy outfielder, was traded to Cleveland after a bad knee injury. He still has a chance to be useful.

Luke Hudson (RHP, fourth round, University of Tennessee), Matt Holliday (3B, seventh round, Oklahoma HS), and Ryan Cameron (RHP, 11th round, University of Massachusetts) had good moments in the farm system but aren't established players. The bat with the most playing time has been University of South Alabama speedster Juan Pierre, drafted in the 13th round.

Florida | Marlins draft history
Coming off their '97 World Championship, the Marlins needed a good draft to refill a farm system needed to restock the club after it was dismantled by penurious ownership. Unfortunately, this draft did not help. First-round Texas high school outfielder Chip Ambres has tons of tools, but hasn't been able to do much with them. Second-round University of Oklahoma shortstop Derek Wathan failed to hit. Florida high school first baseman David Callahan, drafted in the third round, didn't hit. College hitters and position players drafted in slots four through seven also failed to develop. The best player in the class looks like Kevin Olsen, a right-hander from the University of Oklahoma drafted in the 26th round.

Houston | Astros draft history
Looking for pitching, the Astros went for Notre Dame right-hander Brad Lidge in the first round. He's pitched quite well as a pro, when he's been healthy. He is currently pitching great in the Houston bullpen, and has hopefully overcome the variety of injuries that have plagued him. The second pick was Nevada prep Mike Nannini, a control artist who had good success in the low minors, but has struggled the last couple of years. Now in the Cubs system, he still has a chance to be interesting, but isn't in Lidge's class by any means.

The Astros were unable to sign their third and fourth-round picks. Seventh-round choice John Buck, a high school catcher from Utah, is one of the best backstop prospects in baseball and is currently in Triple-A. College guys Morgan Ensberg (ninth round, USC) and Keith Ginter (10th round, Texas Tech) are useful role players. All in all, this was a good draft by '98 standards.

Los Angeles | Dodgers draft history
The Dodgers continued their decade-long trend of mediocre drafting in '98. First-rounder Bubba Crosby, an outfielder from Rice, didn't develop into the Lenny Dykstra clone that some expected. He is currently playing well in Triple-A, hitting .401 with power, so maybe the light has finally come on. If so, it took three years longer than expected. Second-rounder Mike Fischer, a polished college pitcher from South Alabama, hurt his shoulder in '99 and was never the same.

College players Eric Riggs (Central Florida, SS, fourth round) and Scott Proctor (Florida State, RHP, fifth round) are useful organization guys also in Triple-A, but haven't developed as well as expected. 10th-round pick Lance Caraccioli, from Northeast Louisiana University, throws hard for a lefty and shows up on prospect charts occasionally, but has control trouble and also developed slowly.

Milwaukee | Brewers draft history
The Brewers rolled the dice with high school players early in the '98 draft. J.M. Gold, a right-hander from New Jersey, and Nick Neugebauer, a right-hander from California, were the first two picks. Gold has been ruined by injuries. Neugebauer's fastball got him to the majors very quickly, but control problems and injuries have hampered him as well.

Third-round pick Derry Hammond, a raw outfielder from high school in Mississippi, never developed. Another Mississippian, Bill Hall, was a shortstop drafted in the sixth round. He is mentioned as a prospect occasionally, but doesn't hit much.

Montreal | Expos draft history
The Expos came to an agreement with Pennsylvania high school infielder Josh McKinley before the draft, and picked him in the first round. He's a good athlete, but is still trying to get his game together in the minor leagues, and looks like a role player at best now. In contrast, supplemental pick Brad Wilkerson, from the University of Florida, has developed into a steady and productive major league outfielder.

Indiana high school lefty Eric Good, drafted in the second round, has pitched well at times and is still a prospect, but has had injury problems. Third-round pick Clyde Williams, a high school first baseman from Florida, didn't develop. Fourth-round choice Bobby Castelli, a hard-throwing pitcher from college at Eastern Illinois, blew out his arm. Down in the 44th round, Kutztown University right-hander Ron Chiavacci emerged as a useful minor league arm. The rest of the draft was undistinguished, though the success of Wilkerson makes it a decent effort compared to other '98 drafts.

New York | Mets draft history
The Mets made a controversial selection in the first round, picking speed demon outfielder Jason Tyner out of Texas A&M. He can run, but he's not much of a hitter, and there were better players available. Second-round choice Pat Strange, a right-hander from high school in Massachusetts, has been inconsistent but is one of the Mets better pitching prospects. USC lefty Jason Saenz, drafted in the third round, has been very erratic.

The rest of this draft was nothing special, until you get to the 17th round, when UNC Asheville product Ty Wigginton was picked. He's not a spectacular player, but he has his uses, and is another example of the bargains often available late in the draft. Another one was 36th-round University of Hartford slugger Earl Snyder, a successful minor league "have bat, will travel" guy.

Philadelphia | Phillies draft history
With the first pick in the draft, the Phillies grabbed University of Miami slugger Pat Burrell, who has developed into an impressive power source. Supplemental pick Eric Valent, a UCLA outfielder, has stalled in Triple-A and needs a change of scenery. Second-round pitcher Brad Baisley and third-round outfielder Jorge Padilla have played well at times. Both Florida high school products, Baisely has had problems staying healthy, while Padilla is another guy with a stagnant bat.

Ninth-round pick Ryan Madson, a high school pitcher from California, has developed into one of Philadelphia's best prospects, and should reach the majors later this year. Late-round pitchers Greg Kubes (14th round, Sam Houston State), Geoff Geary (15th round, Oklahoma), and Cary Hiles (23rd round, Memphis) are college hurlers who have turned into useful Triple-A guys.

All in all, a good draft, thanks to Burrell, Madson, and some depth.

Pittsburgh | Pirates draft history
This was a bad one. First-round pick Clint Johnson, a pitcher/outfielder from Vanderbilt, failed to develop in either role. His selection with the 15th-overall choice was controversial to begin with. The rest of the draft, mostly raw high school guys, didn't do anything. Even college first baseman Eddy Furniss, a star at LSU who was drafted in the fourth round, fizzled out when he reached Double-A.

The only product of this draft who looks decent is 18th-round Duquesne University lefty Joe Beimel, who has turned into a useful utility pitcher in the Pirates bullpen.

St. Louis | Cardinals draft history
With their first pick, the Cards grabbed J.D. Drew out of the Northern League. He's been good when healthy, if not quite the superstar that everyone expected. Supplemental pick Ben Diggins, a powerful slugger/pitcher from high school in Arizona, didn't sign. Second-rounder Chad Hutchinson, from Stanford, did. But he never learned to pitch, and eventually gave up the mound to return to football.

High school players Tim Lemon (California OF) and Gabe Johnson (Florida C) have not panned out. Fourth-rounder Bud Smith, from Los Angeles Harbor JC, was all the rage as a prospect a couple of years go and pitched well in the majors at first, but hurt his arm and is still trying to come back. Ninth-round pick Jack Wilson, a shortstop from Oxnard JC, is now playing every day for the Pirates. He fields well, but has a mediocre bat. 23rd-round Pepperdine right-hander Andy Shibolo still has a chance for a middle relief career.

San Diego | Padres draft history
Sean Burroughs, out of high school in Long Beach, was the first pick by the Padres in '98. He's still getting his bat going in the majors, having been hampered by a bad shoulder, but the Padres don't regret drafting him. They didn't have a second-round pick, losing it to sign free agent Greg Myers, and they didn't sign their third-round choice.

A steal was 17th-round pick Brian Lawrence, from Northwestern State University, now one of San Diego's main starters. 19th-round pick Jeremy Fikac, from Southwest Texas State, might be a bullpen contributor.

San Francisco | Giants draft history
The Giants had several extra picks, thanks to the losses of Doug Henry, Roberto Hernandez, and Wilson Alvarez to free agency. With these picks, they grabbed Tony Torcato (California HS 3B), Nate Bump (Penn State RHP), Arturo McDowell (Mississippi HS OF), Chris Jones (North Carolina HS LHP), Jeff Urban (Ball State LHP), Sammy Serrano (Stetson C), and Chris Macgruder (University of Washington OF).

This was, on paper, a good mixture of high school and college talent, but things didn't go as well as they could. Torcato's power and defense were sapped by a shoulder injury. Bump was traded, and then got injured. Urban has also had arm woes, and the others simply didn't develop as well as anticipated. College picks in the mid and late rounds produced several organization players, including slick-fielding shortstop Cody Ransom (ninth round, Grand Canyon Univ.) and lefty bullpenner Erasmo Ramirez (11th round, Cal State Fullerton). Fifth-round pick Ryan Vogelsong, from Kutztown University, emerged as a hot prospect for a while before hurting his arm after a trade to Pittsburgh.

Summary
As you can see, most teams are lucky to get one or two useful major league players out of a draft class. College hitters Pat Burrell and J.D. Drew stand out in this National League group as guys with polish and quick performance. High school hitters Corey Patterson, Austin Kearns, and Adam Dunn are still learning to tap their immense potential. The pitching is much less impressive, injuries having ruined many of the most promising arms in both the college and high school ranks. Most of the sleeper types came from the colleges.

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.