Here’s the thing about picking some of the most notable surprises and disappointments of 2019: You have to adjust for the baseball. Is it a surprise that Jorge Soler has 45 home runs? Yes. Did he always have power potential? Yes. Did anybody predict 45 home runs from him? No, of course not; he hit nine last year. So, he could be No. 1 on this list if you want. I won’t throw up a block on that one.
Is it a surprise that Eugenio Suarez has 48 home runs? Well, he hit 34 last year in 143 games, so reaching 50 with the rocket ball isn’t that ridiculous. I mean, it is; nobody would have predicted Suarez would hit 50 home runs, and he might do it.
But you get the point. I don’t want this list to just be a list of surprising sluggers — although we’ll include a few.
To the list!
Surprise: Yankees power hitters
The Yankees are neck and neck with the Twins for the all-time home run record, which isn’t the big surprise since the Yankees just set the mark in 2018. The surprise, of course, is the source for so many of those home runs: Not Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combining for 90 to 100 of them, but guys such as Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu and Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford. We knew Gleyber Torres was good, but I don’t think anybody believed 40 home runs was in his 2019 equation.
Put it this way: The Steamer preseason projections had a combined 41 home runs for those six guys. Instead, they’ve combined for 131, with LeMahieu and Gardner both shattering their previous highs. (They were projected for nine home runs each, and they have combined for 49.) The biggest surprise, however, has been Urshela, filling in at third base for the injured Miguel Andujar and hitting .325/.364/.550 with 20 home runs. It’s almost as if Brian Cashman did indeed make a pact with a certain Mr. Applegate.
Surprise: Mitch Garver
Speaking of those power-hitting Twins, they just became the first team with five 30-homer players in one season. In 335 plate appearances as a rookie in 2017, Mitch Garver hit seven home runs. In 338 plate appearances in 2019, he has bashed 30. He is slugging .636 with a 1.000 OPS. Only 12 catchers have batted at least 300 times and produced a 1.000 OPS. Garver’s power outburst has helped Twins catchers hit a combined 42 home runs — one shy of the single-season mark of 43 shared by the 1953 Dodgers (led by Roy Campanella), 1997 Dodgers and 1999 Mets (both led by Mike Piazza) and 2003 Braves (led by Javy Lopez).
Here’s the unpredictable nature of baseball: Garver was a teammate at the University of New Mexico of D.J. Peterson, the Mariners’ first-round pick in 2013. The Twins drafted Garver in the ninth round that year. Peterson hit .185 at Triple-A for the White Sox this season, before getting released and ending the season with Sugar Land of the Atlantic League; and his less-heralded college teammate is having one of the great part-time seasons for a catcher in MLB history.
Disappointment: Phillies’ offense
2018: Averaged 4.18 runs per game (National League average of 4.37)
2019: Averaging 4.86 runs per game (NL average of 4.80)
OK, they’ve gone from slightly below average to slightly above average. That hasn’t been enough to push the Phillies into the postseason for the first time since 2011, as the rotation has been inconsistent and the bullpen faced an unending string of injuries. There are 55 qualified regulars with a .500 slugging percentage in 2019 — none of them plays for the Phillies.
Disappointment: Red Sox
The defending champs began the season with an 11-game road trip to Seattle, Oakland and Arizona and went 3-8 — a stretch in which the rotation posted an 8.57 ERA. In a sense, the Red Sox never recovered from that opening trip, never found their 2018 mojo. In fact, when they lost their home opener to fall to 3-9, it put them six games out of first place. The closest they got to first after that was three games for one day on May 12.
The major culprit was the starting rotation. Rick Porcello (5.77 ERA) never got it going. Chris Sale, signed to a big extension in spring training, racked up big strikeouts but had a 4.40 ERA before his season ended with a an elbow injury. David Price (wrist, elbow) has pitched just 107 innings, and Nathan Eovaldi, re-signed as a free agent, has pitched just 56 with an elbow issue. It all cost Dave Dombrowski, head of baseball operations, his job.
Surprise: Most improved White Sox
You can make the case that the most improved position player in the league is White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson and the most improved pitcher is White Sox starter Lucas Giolito. Anderson entered the season with a .258 career average in more than 1,500 career plate appearances, and now he is hitting .335 to lead the American League. If he does win the batting crown, it would be the lowest career average entering the season for a batting title winner (from Elias):
Tim Anderson, 2019: .2576
Gary Sheffield, 1992: .2585
Terry Pendleton, 1991: .2586
Giolito, meanwhile, was so bad in 2018 — 6.13 ERA and an AL-worst 90 walks in 173⅓ innings — that you wondered if he had the stuff to pitch in a big league rotation. He got stronger, ditched his two-seamer, started throwing harder and pounding the strike zone, and in just three more innings than in 2018 struck out 103 more batters and lowered his ERA to 3.41. (His season is over with a mild lat strain.)
Which player is more likely to hold his gains in 2020? I’d bet on Giolito. Anderson still has one of the worst strikeout-to-walk ratios in the league at 102 to 12. His average exit velocity, while up from last season, is still below average, and Anderson’s Statcast metrics suggest a predicted average of .291. That’s still a big improvement from .258, however, so along with Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox are building a young foundation.
Surprise: Sonny Gray, back from the dead
OK, Gray wasn’t exactly dead, but after posting a 6.98 ERA at Yankee Stadium in 2018 (admittedly, he was much better on the road), he was run out of the Big Apple for the gentler pastures of Cincinnati. All he has done is go 11-7 with a 2.80 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 170⅓ innings. Check out his NL rankings:
Strikeout rate: 8th
BA allowed: 1st
wOBA allowed: 3rd
He could finish in the top five of the Cy Young voting. No doubt being reunited with Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson — his pitching coach at Vanderbilt — helped Gray rediscover his form. In March, he blamed his stint in New York on the Yankees wanting him to throw more sliders, a pitch he said he had poor control over. The only trouble with that assessment is Gray has thrown a higher percentage of sliders in 2019 than he did in 2018. Whatever the fix, it has worked, and the four-year extension he signed after the trade looks like a bargain for the Reds.
Speaking of New York … maybe Edwin Diaz would prefer the gentler pastures of Seattle again after his nightmare 2019. After recording 57 saves and averaging 15.2 K’s per nine innings with the Mariners, Diaz has averaged 15.2 K’s per nine with Mets. Which only goes to prove there is a lot more to successful pitching than strikeouts. Out of 309 relievers with at least 20 innings, Diaz ranks 306th in win probability added.
Cano has played better in the second half, but his .262/.309/.436 line is the worst of his career — and that’s without adjusting for the increased offense across the league. His WAR: 0.3. He has barely been a replacement-level second baseman. This trade will sting even more down the road when Jarred Kelenic wins the 2024 MVP award for the Mariners.
Surprise: Ketel Marte
Man, this guy has won a lot of fantasy leagues for folks this year. His transformation from a slap-hitting, speedy shortstop to a power-hitting center fielder/second baseman went to a new level, as he has hit .329/.389/.592 with 32 home runs. Here’s a question: Who’s better over the next five years: Marte or Manny Machado?
Disappointment: Kyle Freeland
I don’t know if there’s a way to study which type of pitchers have been most harmed by the juicy ball, but I would suggest a left-hander without a big strikeout rate who pitches at Coors Field might be the answer. Regression would have been expected after Freeland’s stellar 2018 campaign, but I was buying him heading into the season. Instead, he went 3-11 with a 6.98 ERA and 25 home runs allowed in 99⅓ innings. Freeland, German Marquez and Tyler Anderson combined for 16.1 bWAR in 2018. This year, just 2.0 WAR.
Surprise: Yordan Alvarez
Among this year’s rookie sluggers, I might classify Alvarez as a bigger surprise than Pete Alonso. Put it this way: Alonso hit 36 home runs in 132 games in the minors last year. Factor in the major league rabbit ball and it’s not outrageous (in retrospect) to think he could hit 40 home runs. He has done better than that — he is up to 49 — but the big power numbers aren’t a big surprise. In Alvarez’s case, we knew about the raw power, but it’s his all-around hitting ability that has been off-the-charts impressive. He is hitting .318/.419/.671 with 26 homers in 79 games. Alvarez is insanely talented, doesn’t strike out as much as Alonso and has best-hitter-in-the-game potential.
Disappointment: Nationals’ bullpen
What’s with the NL East? No wonder the Braves are running away with the division. Not that we expected the Nationals to have a lights-out bullpen, but one of the worst of all time? The Nationals’ 5.84 bullpen ranks last in the majors (even worse than the Orioles’), their relievers are last in win probability added (easily the worst figure in the past decade) and they had to turn to 42-year-old Fernando Rodney at the trade deadline.
Here is what’s weird: In May, the Nationals traded Austin Adams to the Mariners. Adams had fanned 169 batters in 105⅓ innings with just three home runs allowed over the past two seasons in Triple-A. They couldn’t use a guy like that? Adams has been pretty solid with Seattle, registering 50 K’s in 29 innings.
Surprise: Mike Soroka
Soroka was a top prospect and pitched well in five starts last season, but the baby-faced 21-year-old entered spring training (A) having to prove he was healthy after throwing just 55 innings last year between the minors and majors; and (B) having to win a job in the rotation. He actually began the season with two starts in Triple-A, but Soroka has put together a remarkable rookie season with a 2.57 ERA. In the year of the home run, he has done a superb job of limiting home runs (and hard contact, which helps him succeed without an elite strikeout rate). I love the consistency and efficiency, and he is one of the big keys to the Braves making a World Series run.
Surprise: Oakland Athletics
Is there a surprise team in 2019? Not really. And since the A’s won 97 games last year, you can’t classify them as a shock. But who thought they would win 97 games again? They’re at 92 after Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the Royals. Of the 31 people polled in ESPN’s preseason picks, only nine predicted the A’s would make the playoffs (although two picked them to win the World Series). Among readers, more of you picked the Angels to win the AL West than the A’s. The A’s are 22½ games up on the Angels. So, the A’s are your underdog story of 2019.
Tim Kurkjian Baseball Fix – Trevor Hoffman was a failed shortstop but a Hall of Fame closer
You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN JUNE 2007, Trevor Hoffman recorded save No. 500.
Seventeen years earlier, Hoffman was in his first season as a shortstop in the Reds’ system. After 103 games at Class A ball, “I had 35 errors, and I was barely hitting over the Mendoza Line [.200],” Hoffman said. “I knew I wasn’t going to knock Barry Larkin out of a job with the Reds.”
So at the suggestion of his manager, Jim Lett, Hoffman became a pitcher.
He became a Hall of Famer, a top-five closer of all time. He was the first pitcher to save 500 games and the first to 600. His 601 career saves are second all time to Mariano Rivera — no one else has 500. When Hoffman pitched, his teams were 539 games over .500 — Rivera is the only other pitcher in history at least 500 games over .500 (785 over). Hoffman saved 40 games in a season nine times, a major league record. His ERA was 2.87. When he would come out of the Padres’ bullpen with “Hells Bells” playing, it was electrifying. With all that adrenaline, the first pitch he would usually throw was a changeup.
Hoffman was destined for a life in baseball, and entertainment. His father, Ed, an ex-Marine, was a singing usher for 15 years at Angel Stadium. “But none of us [the family] can carry a tune.” His mom, Mikki, was a ballerina from England. An older brother (by nine years), Glenn, was a shortstop for the Red Sox. Trevor would wear his brother’s spikes “even though they were 10 sizes too big” as he walked around the Boston clubhouse.
Trevor married Kristy, a Buffalo Bills cheerleader. At the end of the third quarter of the Super Bowl in 1993, Hoffman, who was 30 rows up in the stands, held up a sign that read: “Marry Me.” The security guy wouldn’t let him on the field until he said, “Dude, I’m going to propose to that girl.” He got on one knee. “That got it all on the big screen,” Hoffman said. “She was flabbergasted. The Bills got their butts kicked. She wasn’t too worried about that.”
Hoffman has always had that playful side. When he played for the Brewers (2009-10), he attended a charity auction in Milwaukee. “One item was a zero-turn rider lawn mower, in Brewer colors,” said Craig Counsell, then a teammate. “Typical Trevor. He stuffed the ballot box all with the tickets he bought so he was certain to win. When he won, he told us, ‘I don’t think I can get this thing up to 60 [mph] and drive it back to San Diego.’ So he gave it to the guy [Counsell] who lives in Milwaukee, has a lawn and likes to mow it.”
Hoffman worked harder and was in better shape than any other reliever I’ve seen. He and the other Brewers relievers would run long distances, as a group, to stay fit. “But [reliever] Todd Coffey, he’s a big guy, was having trouble keeping up,” Counsell said. “So Trevor put an exercise bike in the back of his pickup truck. Brian Anderson, one of our broadcasters, was driving by Miller Park one day and he saw the Brewers’ relievers running the streets, and next to them, a pickup truck with Todd, in the back, riding the exercise bike. That way, he was a part of the team, a part of the pen, and didn’t have to run.”
Other baseball notes for June 6
In 1941, Rip Sewell tied a major league record (done five times previously) for most assists in a game by a pitcher with 11.
In 2017, the Reds’ Scooter Gennett hit four home runs in a 13-1 victory over the Cardinals. In that game, Gennett’s season homer total went from three to seven, and his RBIs went from 10 to 20.
In 1990, Anthony Rendon was born. He is such a good hitter. I once asked then-Nationals manager Dusty Baker what made Rendon so good at the plate. “Those hands,” he said. “Oh, those hands.”
In 1943, outfielder Merv Rettenmund was born. He had a great eye at the plate and a very good walk rate. “That’s no surprise,” Hall of Fame broadcaster Chuck Thompson said on the air. “He went to Ball State.”
Best MLB draft picks ever and one that got away for all 30 teams
Editor’s note: This story initially ran on May 30, 2018
Draft history is fascinating, and maybe the first thing you learn when looking through past drafts is not just how few players make the majors but also how few end up contributing much value beyond replacement level even if they do make it. Drafting a future star is rare — even in the first round. Drafting a solid contributor is rare — even in the first round. Drafting two solid contributors in one draft is rare. It’s a roll of the dice, yet the future success of your favorite team depends to a large degree on its ability to draft well.
Let’s take a snapshot of all 30 teams, looking at their best first-round pick since the draft began in 1965, a late-round gem (10th round or later) and one who got away (a player they drafted but failed to sign).
Prior to 1987, the draft included a January phase, but this piece will focus on picks in the regular June phase as it now exists. All WAR numbers are from Baseball-Reference and the invaluable research assistant that was the highly recommended “Baseball America’s Ultimate Draft Book,” which includes recaps and tidbits from every draft plus all the year-by-year picks.
Best first-round pick: Mike Mussina (20th pick, 1990). The Orioles drafted Mussina out of high school (he was a first-round talent but slipped to the 11th round with his Stanford commitment). They took him again three years later. In 10 seasons with the Orioles, Mussina won 147 games, received Cy Young votes in seven seasons and averaged 4.8 WAR per season.
Late-round gem: Al Bumbry (11th round, 1968). The only player from Virginia State to ever make the majors, Bumbry’s signing bonus was $0. He was Rookie of the Year in 1973 and a solid contributor for 12 seasons.
The one who got away: Dave Winfield (40th round, 1969). The Orioles took a flyer on the two-sport star from St. Paul Central High School, but he went on to play baseball and basketball at the University of Minnesota, later becoming a first-round pick of the Padres.
Best first-round pick: Roger Clemens (19th pick, 1983). Somehow 10 pitchers in what proved to be a weak first round were selected ahead of Clemens, in part because Texas coach Cliff Gustafson used Clemens as his No. 3 starter (though Clemens won the title game of the College World Series). Two teams — the Mariners and Expos — had two picks before Boston selected Clemens.
Late-round gem: Bill Lee (22nd round, 1968). Lee was drafted out of USC, won 94 games for the Red Sox (and 119 in his career) as a soft-tossing lefty and became known as the “Spaceman” for his eccentric behavior.
The one who got away: Mark Teixeira (ninth round, 1998). The Maryland high schooler elected to attend Georgia Tech, turning down a reported $1.5 million bonus. He later spurned the Red Sox a second time when he signed with the Yankees instead of Boston as a free agent.
Best first-round pick: Derek Jeter (sixth pick, 1992). The Astros had the first pick and debated between Jeter and Cal State Fullerton slugger Phil Nevin. With a $700,000 budget, the Astros were scared off by Jeter’s reported $1 million bonus demand, though area scout Hal Newhouser insisted Jeter was asking for only $750,000. The Astros took Nevin — and Newhouser resigned. Jeter fell to sixth and signed for $700,000.
Late-round gem: Andy Pettitte (22nd round, 1990) and Jorge Posada (24th, 1990). The Yankees hit the lottery with two draft-and-follows in the same year. Those two ended up producing the third- and fourth-most WAR in the draft that year and helped the Yankees to five World Series championships.
The one who got away: Fred Lynn (third round, 1970). The California high schooler instead joined college baseball powerhouse USC and was re-drafted by the Red Sox in the second round in 1973. That probably worked out best for Lynn: He hit .347 in his career at Fenway Park and .237 at Yankee Stadium.
Best first-round pick: Evan Longoria (third pick, 2006). The Royals took Luke Hochevar, and the Rockies took Greg Reynolds, leaving Longoria for Tampa Bay. He earned 50.0 WAR with the Rays and helped them to four postseason appearances.
Late-round gem: Kevin Kiermaier (31st round, 2010). None of Tampa’s three first-round picks reached the majors, but the team scored with the junior college outfielder who became a Gold Glove center fielder.
The one who got away: Andrew Miller (third round, 2003). Miller was the highest unsigned pick from the 2003 draft, electing instead to attend North Carolina.
Best first-round pick: Roy Halladay (17th pick, 1995). The high school pitcher from Colorado ended up leading all 1995 first-rounders in career WAR (with only second-round pick Carlos Beltran topping him among players).
Late-round gem: Jeff Kent (20th round, 1989). Kent hit .193 as a sophomore at Cal-Berkeley and left the team his junior season after clashing with the coach. The Blue Jays traded him for David Cone, but he went on to drive in more than 1,500 runs and become the all-time leader in home runs by a second baseman.
Best first-round pick: Frank Thomas (seventh pick, 1989). Undrafted out of high school, Thomas played some tight end at Auburn as a freshman, but after hitting 22 home runs on the baseball diamond his first season, he gave up football.
Late-round gem: Mark Buehrle (38th round, 1998). The White Sox drafted him after his freshman season at a Missouri junior college and signed him 11 months later as a draft-and-follow. He won 214 games in his career, 161 with the White Sox.
The one who got away: Willie McGee (seventh round, 1976). McGee attended a junior college and was re-drafted the following year by the Yankees (who traded him as a minor leaguer to the Cardinals).
Late-round gem: Jim Thome (13th round, 1991). In the same draft, the Indians snagged Brian Giles in the 17th round. That’s one Hall of Famer and 124.0 combined WAR, or a good decade for some teams.
The one who got away: Tim Lincecum (42nd round, 2005). Lincecum was a draft-eligible sophomore at the University of Washington, but the Indians failed to meet his bonus demands even as he had a big summer in the Cape Cod League. He went 10th overall to the Giants the next year.
Late-round gem: John Smoltz (22nd round, 1985). The local product had a first-round fastball but was expected to enroll at Michigan State. The Tigers signed him … and traded him to the Braves in 1987. Hey, at least Doyle Alexander helped them win the division that year.
The one who got away: Ozzie Smith (seventh round, 1976). The Tigers had one of the great drafts of all time, taking Hall of Famers Alan Trammell in the second round and Jack Morris in the fifth round, plus Dan Petry and Steve Kemp. It could have been three Hall of Famers.
Best first-round pick: Kevin Appier (ninth pick, 1987). Zack Greinke has more career WAR, but Appier earned nearly 20 more WAR in a Royals uniform. On the other hand, Greinke was traded for Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, who helped the Royals win a World Series.
Late-round gem: Bret Saberhagen (19th round, 1982). Saberhagen missed most of his senior season with a sore arm. Three years later, he pitched a shutout to win Game 7 of the World Series at age 21. He topped all 1982 draftees (of those who signed) with 59.2 WAR.
The one who got away: Will Clark (fourth round, 1982). For whatever reason, 1982 ended up as the draft with the most unsigned future stars: Clark, Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Larkin, B.J. Surhoff and Bobby Witt were all premium high school talents but elected to attend college, setting up the 1985 draft as one of the strongest ever.
Best first-round pick: Joe Mauer (first pick, 2001). The Twins were widely criticized at the time for taking the local high school catcher over USC right-hander Mark Prior, but Mauer proved to be the right choice.
Late-round gem: Kent Hrbek (17th round, 1978). Another local kid from Kennedy High School in Bloomington, Hrbek spent his entire career with the Twins, mashing 293 home runs and winning two World Series.
The one who got away: Steve Garvey (third round, 1966). The Tampa high school product attended Michigan State, and the Dodgers drafted him in 1968.
Best first-round pick: Craig Biggio (22nd pick, 1987). Biggio, drafted out of Seton Hall, was the second catcher selected in the 1987 draft. Two picks earlier, the Tigers selected Miami high schooler Bill Henderson, who set national records for career hits and RBIs. He never reached the majors.
Late-round gem: Kenny Lofton (17th round, 1988). Lofton played in the Final Four for the Arizona basketball team but played only five games on the baseball team — and received one at-bat. The Astros knew he played baseball in high school and took a flyer … only to trade him for Eddie Taubensee in an ill-fated deal. Also: Roy Oswalt, a 23rd-round draft-and-follow in 1996.
The one who got away: Jason Varitek (23rd round, 1990). Varitek attended Georgia Tech, didn’t sign again when the Twins took him in the first round in 1993 and finally signed with the Mariners as a repeat first-round pick in 1994.
Best first-round pick: Mike Trout (25th pick, 2009). The best player ever drafted out of Millville (New Jersey) Senior High School.
Late-round gem: Howie Kendrick (10th round, 2002). The Florida junior college pick hit .292 in nine seasons with the Angels.
The one who got away: Buster Posey (50th round, 2005). Posey was a star pitcher in high school, played shortstop as a freshman at Florida State and then converted to catcher, and the Giants took him fifth overall in 2008.
Best first-round pick: Reggie Jackson (second pick, 1966). The top two players on everyone’s draft board were high school catcher Steve Chilcott from Lancaster, California, and Arizona State outfielder Jackson. The Mets took Chilcott and the then-Kansas City A’s took Jackson.
Late-round gem: Gene Tenace (20th round, 1965). In the first draft, the A’s had their best draft, taking Rick Monday (who was later traded for Ken Holtzman) with the first overall pick, followed by Sal Bando and Tenace, three key players as the A’s won three straight World Series from 1972 through ’74.
The one who got away: Tim Hudson (35th round, 1994). The A’s made up for not signing Hudson by redrafting him three years later out of Auburn.
Best first-round pick: Ken Griffey Jr. (first pick, 1987). Alex Rodriguez also worked out well as a first overall pick. Al Chambers did not.
Late-round gem: Raul Ibanez (36th round, 1992). Ibanez went on to hit 305 home runs and drive in 1,200 runs (though his best years with Seattle came after he rejoined them as a free agent).
The one who got away: Tony Phillips (16th round, 1977). A late-blooming utility player, Phillips was an on-base machine in the 1990s who ended up with more than 50 career WAR.
Best first-round pick: Mark Teixeira (fifth pick, 2001). It’s him or Kevin Brown, two Georgia Tech products. Both earned more career WAR after leaving the Rangers, but at least Teixeira returned Elvis Andrus in trade.
Late-round gem: Kenny Rogers (39th round, 1982). He was a 5-foot-9, 140-pound high school right fielder when Rangers scout Joe Marchese noticed the kid had a strong arm and convinced the Rangers to draft him as a pitcher. He came up as a reliever, moved to the rotation after four years and won 219 games.
The one who got away: Barry Zito (third round, 1998). Zito was a third-round JC pick who instead went to USC, and the A’s drafted him in the first round a year later.
Best first-round pick: Chipper Jones (first pick, 1990). Todd Van Poppel was regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in the past 25 years that draft year, but his commitment to the University of Texas scared most teams, including the Braves. Their backup plan worked out pretty well.
Late-round gem: Kevin Millwood (11th round, 1993). He had a 16-year career in the majors, winning 169 games and finishing third in the 1999 Cy Young vote.
The one who got away: Randy Johnson (fourth round, 1982). Imagine a rotation with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and the Big Unit.
Best first-round pick: Josh Beckett (second pick, 1999). Beckett reached the majors two years after being drafted, and two years after that he clinched the 2003 World Series with a shutout in Game 6.
Late-round gem: Josh Willingham (17th round, 2000). He hit over .400 as a sophomore and junior at Division II North Alabama and hit 195 home runs in the majors.
The one who got away: Cliff Lee (eighth round, 1997). Lee was drafted by the Marlins out of high school and then by the Orioles out of JC before finally signing with the Expos in 2000.
Best first-round pick: Dwight Gooden (fifth pick, 1982). David Wright earned slightly more WAR in a Mets uniform, but Gooden had one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time in 1985 and helped the Mets to the 1986 World Series title.
Late-round gem: Nolan Ryan (12th round, 1965). It remains a mystery why Ryan fell so far in that first draft. Credit to Mets scout Red Murff, who signed Ryan and watched every game his senior season. One story says he had a blister early in the season, lost three games in a row and saw his velocity dip into the 80s as scouts from other teams lost interest.
The one who got away: Roger Clemens (12th round, 1981). Undrafted out of high school, the Mets took Clemens out of San Jacinto JC, but he turned down a $30,000 offer and went to the University of Texas.
Best first-round pick: Chase Utley (15th pick, 2000). Mike Schmidt was the greatest pick in Phillies history, but he was a second-round selection. Utley was the team’s best player — and one of the best in the majors — during their run of five straight division titles from 2007 through 2011.
Late-round gem: Ryne Sandberg (20th round, 1978). Other teams stayed away from the Spokane, Washington, three-sport star because he had committed to play football at Washington State and because the Major League Scouting Bureau had put a low grade on him. He played a few games with the Phillies in 1981, but they traded the future Hall of Famer to the Cubs for Ivan de Jesus.
The one who got away: J.D. Drew (first round, 1997). The consensus best talent in the 1997 draft, the Phillies took Drew with the second pick but were unable to sign him after a contentious negotiation with Scott Boras. The Cardinals took him fifth overall in 1998, and though he never became a huge star, he had an underrated career with 44.9 WAR.
Best first-round pick: Stephen Strasburg (first pick, 2009) or Bryce Harper (first, 2010). This is a tough one. Tim Wallach actually holds the slight edge over Ryan Zimmerman in career WAR with the franchise. Harper has about a 1 WAR edge over Strasburg, but Strasburg is signed through 2023, and Harper could leave after this season as a free agent.
Late-round gem: Andre Dawson (11th round, 1975). The 1975 draft proved to be one of the weakest ever, but Dawson advanced from Florida A&M to the Expos in just over a year.
The one who got away: Mark McGwire (eighth round, 1981). McGwire was a pitcher/first baseman in high school and actually pitched more his freshman year at USC, so who knows what would have happened if the Expos had signed him.
Best first-round pick: Kris Bryant (second pick, 2013). Bryant is already fifth on the career WAR leaderboard for Cubs first-rounders. Rafael Palmeiro is the runaway leader, but he was traded to the Rangers early in his career for a package of flotsam.
Late-round gem: Mark Grace (24th round, 1985). The Cubs got Palmeiro in the same draft they picked Grace, who was taken out of San Diego State. A few years later, they chose Grace over Palmeiro as their regular first baseman.
The one who got away: Mark Langston (15th round, 1978). The left-hander from a California high school instead went to San Jose State, was taken by the Mariners in the second round in 1981 and went on to compile more than 50 WAR.
Best first-round pick: Barry Larkin (fourth pick, 1985). The Reds actually drafted the future Hall of Famer out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati but had to wait to get him again after he went to Michigan.
Late-round gem: Ken Griffey Sr. (29th round, 1969). The third-best player ever born in Donora, Pennsylvania.
The one who got away: Jake Arrieta (31st round, 2004). They covered up their initial Larkin mistake, so let’s go here. The Reds haven’t drafted a pitcher who earned 10 WAR with the team since Rob Dibble in 1983.
Best first-round pick: Robin Yount (third pick, 1973). The Brewers are the only team with five first-round picks to accumulate 40-plus career WAR: Yount, Paul Molitor, Gary Sheffield, Ryan Braun and Darrell Porter.
Late-round gem: Jim Gantner (12th round, 1974). The Wisconsin native played all 17 seasons of his MLB career with the Brewers.
The one who got away: Nomar Garciaparra (fifth round, 1991). The California high schooler instead attended Georgia Tech, and the Red Sox redrafted him in the first round in 1994.
Best first-round pick: Barry Bonds (sixth pick, 1985). Who was drafted ahead of Bonds? The first four picks all had long MLB careers: B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Bobby Witt and Barry Larkin. The White Sox took high school catcher Kurt Brown one spot ahead of Bonds. He never reached the majors.
Late-round gem: Dave Parker (14th round, 1970). A knee injury his senior year ended Parker’s hopes of playing college football and forced him to miss baseball season. In a 1979 Sports Illustrated profile, Pirates execs at the time said Parker couldn’t hit the ball in the air and had issues “wrangling” with coaches, and famed scout Howie Haak said the Reds, Parker’s hometown team, “laughed at us when we took him.” Parker was in the majors by 1973 and had a run as one of the best players in the game, including winning 1978 NL MVP honors.
The one who got away: Lance Johnson (30th round, 1981). His nickname was “One Dog,” which has to be one of the best nicknames ever. He once hit 21 triples in a season and recorded more than 30 career WAR. Will Trea Turner get to 30 WAR? The Pirates drafted him in 2011.
Best first-round pick: Ted Simmons (10th pick, 1967). Simmons fell one vote short of election to the Hall of Fame in the most recent Modern Era committee vote.
Late-round gem: Albert Pujols (13th round, 1999). They’ve struck gold with late-round first basemen: Keith Hernandez was a 42nd-round pick in 1971. (He dropped after leaving his high school team in a dispute with the coach but received first-round bonus money.)
The one who got away: Paul Molitor (28th round, 1974). Max Scherzer, a 43rd-round pick in 2003, could someday join Molitor in Cooperstown.
Best first-round pick: Max Scherzer (11th pick, 2006). Good pick … bad trade.
Late-round gem: Mark Reynolds (16th round, 2004). Slim pickings here, but Reynolds is approaching 300 career home runs.
The one who got away: Ian Kinsler (29th round, 2000, and 26th round, 2001). Somebody in the Arizona scouting department liked Kinsler. The Rangers made him a late-round gem as a 17th-round pick in 2003.
The one who got away: Chris Sale (21st round, 2007). Career WAR from all the players the Rockies signed that year: minus-1.7.
Best first-round pick: Clayton Kershaw (seventh pick, 2006). Baseball America ranked Kershaw the 34th-best high school prospect entering his senior season, but his stock exploded alongside his fastball and curveball. Still, five college pitchers were selected ahead of Kershaw; they’ve combined for just over 20 career WAR (most of that from Brandon Morrow and Andrew Miller), while Kershaw has already topped 60.
Late-round gem: Mike Piazza (62nd round, 1988). The Dodgers have had a few late-round gems, including 17th-rounder Orel Hershiser, but Piazza is the king of late-round picks, especially given the circumstances of why he was drafted. The team’s final pick in the 1988 draft was selected merely as a favor to Piazza’s godfather, Tommy Lasorda.
The one who got away: Tom Seaver (eighth round, 1965). The Dodgers have also had some who got away, including Chase Utley (as a second-round pick) and Paul Goldschmidt. Seaver’s eventual entry into pro ball was one of the strangest in draft history. After the Dodgers drafted him, he returned to USC. Under the rules of the time, the Braves then re-drafted him in the January phase and agreed to a $40,000 bonus in late February. But the commissioner nullified the contract because USC’s spring schedule had already begun. The NCAA then ruled Seaver ineligible because he had signed a pro contract. The solution: A special lottery for teams that agreed to pay Seaver a bonus of at least $50,000 (after Seaver’s father threatened a lawsuit). The Mets, Phillies and Indians elected to participate. You know who won.
Best first-round pick: Dave Winfield (fourth pick, 1973). The two-way star at the University of Minnesota gave up pitching and jumped straight to the majors.
Late-round gem: Jake Peavy (15th round, 1999). He ended up with the second-most WAR of any player drafted in 1999, behind only Albert Pujols.
The one who got away: Todd Helton (second round, 1992). He was a two-way talent on the diamond and a two-sport star. He went to Tennessee, spent two seasons as a backup quarterback behind Heath Shuler and Peyton Manning, and then focused on baseball.
Best first-round pick: Buster Posey (fifth pick, 2008). Will Clark, Matt Williams and Madison Bumgarner were great picks, and Tim Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards in a brief run of dominance, but Posey has been the best catcher in the game since he debuted and the rock for three World Series champions.
Late-round gem: Jack Clark (13th round, 1973). Most teams saw Clark as a pitcher, but after five games on the mound, the Giants left him in the outfield. He reached the majors before turning 20.
The one who got away: Barry Bonds (second round, 1982). OK, they eventually got him as a free agent — rumor is he had some good years with the Giants — but the Giants failed to sign him out of high school over a difference of $5,000.
Oakland A’s owner admits ‘mistake,’ will resume paying minor leaguers
The Oakland Athletics have reversed course on their controversial decision to cease payments for their minor league players.
A’s owner John Fisher said Friday that he “made a mistake” and will pay the organization’s minor leaguers their $400-a-week stipend for the remainder of what would’ve been a typical minor league season. Those players will also be paid retroactively for this week.
The A’s had informed their minor leaguers on May 26 that they would not be paid after the month of May. The organization faced backlash because of it, a sentiment that only grew while they became the only team to make such a decision.
Many — including the A’s own minor league players — believed it would greatly impact Oakland’s ability to sign undrafted free agents after this year’s shortened draft.
The A’s previously furloughed about two-thirds of their player-development staff and the vast majority of their scouts, but Fisher — who is worth $2.2 billion, according to Forbes — has now established an emergency assistance fund for those furloughed employees.
“After spending the last few days listening to the important input from our fans and others, we will immediately begin paying our minor league players,” Fisher said in a team-issued statement. “These players represent our future and clearly our decision to not pay them was a mistake. The truth is that we got this decision wrong, and I apologize to our minor league players and others involved.”
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