We continue our occasional series of examining old drafts with 2001. The biggest question entering this draft was whether Southern California righthander Mark Prior would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer or merely enter Cooperstown on his second or third try. Since then, Prior has made one All-Star team and has not pitched in the big leagues in over two full seasons.
The creation of our TRUE rank system adds another dimension to the What if series. Not only will we show you which players the teams wish they had drafted, but also the players that we would have drafted at the time.
1. Minnesota Twins — 3B David Wright, Hickory HS (Virginia)
TRUE Rank selection: 1B Casey Kotchman, Seminole HS (Florida)
Actual selection: C Joe Mauer, Cretin HS (Minnesota)
The consensus top talent in this draft on draft day is not listed above. Some scouts considered Mark Prior to be the best college pitcher ever and a surefire big league star. However, the Twins weren’t interested in meeting Prior’s high contract demands and instead settled on Minnesotan Joe Mauer. Mauer was a two-sport star and had committed to Florida State to play quarterback. As an amateur, he was a natural hitter and scouts were encouraged by his arm strength and intangibles.
The Twins certainly aren’t complaining about their selection of Mauer, but the most successful player of this draft class is Mets’ third baseman David Wright. Wright wasn’t drafted until the 38th overall pick, although his bat merited consideration at the very top of the draft. Scouts were scared away by his slight 6-foot, 200 pound frame, but he has proved his doubters wrong. He’s a three-time All Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner. In five seasons, he has hit over .300 in all but his rookie season and has increased his homer and RBI production in every season.
Our top rated player entering the draft was Casey Kotchman, who scored a perfect 100 on our scale. The son of a minor league manager, Kotchman was perhaps the most polished hitter in the entire draft, blessed with pop and excellent plate discipline. Scouts also were impressed by his slick glove.
2. Chicago Cubs — 3B Mark Teixeira, Georgia Tech
TRUE Rank selection: C Joe Mauer, Cretin HS (Minnesota)
Actual selection: RHP Mark Prior, Southern California
The Cubs were thrilled to draft Prior in 2001, but wouldn’t draft him again. Prior had every possible skill a scout could want in a pitcher. Size? He was 6-foot-5, 220-pound. Fastball? Upper 90s with pinpoint command. He even had Texas-sized calves. He led the Pac-10 conference in every major stat and was as close to a sure thing as an amateur could be. Except that he wasn’t. He couldn’t stay off the Disabled List, injuring his hamstring, shoulder, Achilles, elbow and left oblique at various times. The Cubs didn’t offer him a contract before the 2008 season and he signed with the Padres. He hasn’t pitched in a game since August 2006.
Instead of ponying up for Prior, they should have thrown that money at Mark Teixeira. The Scott Boras client commanded nearly the same money (he signed for four years and $9.5 million), but that’s a bargain compared to the $180 million contract he recently signed with the New York Yankees. Teixeira was a five-tool talent at Georgia Tech. He offered power and average from both sides of the plate and convinced scouts that he could play third base in the majors. He only played 15 games at the position in the big leagues (all in his rookie season), but he has won two Gold Gloves since at first base. He hasn’t disappointed at the plate, either. In six seasons, he has averaged a .290 batting average with 36 home runs and 121 RBI. He’s only been named to one All-Star team, but he did receive some MVP consideration in 2008.
3. Tampa Bay Rays — C Joe Mauer, Cretin HS (Minnesota)
TRUE Rank selection: 3B Jake Gautreau, Tulane
Actual selection: RHP Dewon Brazelton, Middle Tennessee State
It is fashionable to commend the Rays organization for their ability to draft and develop young talent on a budget, which propelled them to the 2008 World Series. However, they would have achieved this much sooner had they made smarter draft picks, including this one. The Rays selected Brazelton, a tall righthander from Middle Tennessee State. Brazelton’s assets included two above-average pitches: a mid-90s fastball and a deadly changeup. The Rays pushed him quickly through the minor leagues, but he never had sustained success in the bigs. Brazelton pitched for parts of four seasons with the Rays before being dealt to the Padres for another first-round bust, Sean Burroughs.
Our pick would have been a different college third baseman: Tulane’s Jake Gautreau. Gautreau hit .355/.435/.659 with 21 home runs and 96 RBI — monster numbers for a 55-game college season. The Padres drafted him with the 14th overall pick. He struggled defensively when the Friars moved him to second base and he didn’t hit well in the high minor leagues.
4. Philadelphia Phillies — 3B Kevin Youkilis, Cincinnati
TRUE Rank selection: LF John-Ford Griffin, Florida State
Actual selection: RHP Gavin Floyd, Mount St. Joseph’s HS (Maryland)
In Moneyball, Oakland’s Assistant General Manager Paul DePodesta refers to Youkilis as the “Greek God of Walks”. He received only passing interest from scouts, some of whom considered him to be only a “fat third baseman who couldn’t throw, run or field”. The A’s passed on him and the Red Sox didn’t draft him until the eighth round. Since he cracked the big league roster, Youkilis has averaged a .290 batting average, 19 home runs and 92 RBIs. He has played Gold Glove defense at first base and, when Mike Lowell was injured in 2008, at third.
The Phillies made a smart choice in drafting Floyd, but are watching their pick win ballgames for a different team. Floyd had the size and arsenal fit for a big league ace. He reached the big leagues as a 21-year old and impressed, but shuttled between the parent club and AAA for three years. Finally, the Phils traded him and minor league pitcher Gio Gonzalez to the White Sox for pitcher Freddy Garcia. Floyd came into his own in ’08, pitching 206.3 innings, striking out more than two batters per walk and posting 17 wins and a 3.84 ERA.
Our fourth-ranked player was one of the best hitters in college baseball history. John-Ford Griffin hit .450/.542/.797 with 19 home runs and 75 RBI for the Seminoles. However, a weak arm and below-average speed limited him to left field. The Yankees drafted him 23rd overall. He is a career .304 hitter in the big leagues, but has had only 23 at-bats at that level.
5. Texas Rangers — 1B Ryan Howard, Southwest Missouri State
TRUE Rank selection: LF Garrett Guzman, Green Valley HS (Nevada)
Actual selection: 3B Mark Teixeira, Georgia Tech
The Rangers made the smart choice by drafting Teixeira and succumbing to his extravagant bonus demands. If they were looking for a less costly option, they could have settled on mid-major first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard might have been a consideration for the Rangers prior to the 2001 season. He opened eyes with a strong sophomore and summer campaigns but Howard’s batting average fell 100 points in his junior and he struck out 74 times in 58 games. He fell to the Phillies in the fourth round. Howard didn’t become a big league regular until he was 26 years old because of the Phils’ investment in Jim Thome. However, he has made up for lost time.
Our choice would have been Guzman, a high school outfielder from Nevada. He was undersized at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, but Baseball America glowed that “pound for pound, he’s the best high school hitter in the country.” The Twins drafted him in the tenth round. In seven minor league seasons, Guzman is a career .283/.336/.431 hitter. He split last year between the Nationals AA and AAA affiliates.
6. Montreal Expos — RHP Dan Haren, Pepperdine
TRUE Rank selection: 2B Mike Fontenot, Louisiana State
Actual selection: RHP Josh Karp, UCLA
Once viewed as “a poor man’s Mark Prior or Josh Karp” by Baseball America, Haren has easily surpassed both of his former Southern Californian rivals. In college, Haren had three above average pitches which he threw for strikes and a strong, 6-foot-4 frame. The Cardinals drafted him in the second round. He pitched in parts of two seasons with St. Louis before being traded to the Athletics with others for pitcher Mark Mulder in December 2004. It was in Oakland where Haren blossomed. He was a consistent presence in the A’s rotation, always throwing at least 200 innings. His worst ERA since the trade was 4.12 and he has struck out 3.5 batters for every one he has walked in his career. The A’s traded Haren to the D’Backs in December 2007 for five players. In Arizona, he pitched well enough to be named to his second All-Star team.
Needless to say, Karp did not live up to his first-round potential. He is the first player taken in this draft to have not reached the major leagues. Despite three very good pitches and an ideal pitcher’s body, Karp was too passive in college and didn’t pitch a complete game among his 15 starts at UCLA in 2001. However he never gained consistency in his repetoire and became too dependent on his secondary pitches. Karp struggled in the high minor leagues, never posting an ERA below five in a full season at AA or AAA. He was finally released in 2005 after finishing the season with a 5.75 ERA at AAA New Orleans.
We would have considered Mike Fontenot, a second baseman from LSU. Like Guzman, Fontenot would have been selected higher if he was bigger than 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds. Despite nagging wrist and hamstring injuries, Fontenot hit .353/.452/.592 as a sophomore. He also was a steady fielder with above-average speed. The Orioles drafted him with the 19th overall pick, but traded him with infielder Jerry Hairston and a prospect for Sammy Sosa. He’s been a reliable second baseman for the Cubs. In 2008, he started 82 games at the position, hitting .305/.395/.514 with nine homers and 40 RBI.
7. Baltimore Orioles — 2B Dan Uggla, Memphis
TRUE Rank selection: 1B David Burkholder, Grandview College
Actual selection: LHP Chris Smith, Cumberland Univ.
Every American player with dreams of making an All-Star team must be drafted once. But its the rare player who is drafted twice before ever reaching the big leagues, let alone being selected for the All-Star Game. The Diamondbacks selected Uggla, who set the single season doubles record at Memphis, in the 11th round of the amateur draft (also known as the Rule IV draft). Five years later, Uggla had just finished a full season at AA where he hit .297 with 21 home runs. But the D’Backs left him off their 40-man roster and the Marlins drafted him in 2005 Rule V minor league draft. He was an immediate success, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting in ’06 and making the ’06 and ’08 All-Star teams.
Smith, like Uggla, was also a Tennessee prospect, but the similarities end there. A strong-armed outfielder at Florida State, Smith transferred to Cumberland University for a chance to pitch. Blessed with a mid 90s fastball, Smith was raw but intriguing. His off-speed pitches were underdeveloped but promising. The O’s bet that he would figure it out. They were wrong. In his first full season of pro ball, Smith struck out four and walked 21 in 11 innings in the Rookie league. That awful season earned him an 11.54 ERA. It didn’t get much better. He was finally cut in 2005 after posting an 8.54 ERA after 13 appearances.
Our choice of David Burkholder hasn’t faired much better. Burkholder was known as a strong hitter and the 2000 NAIA Player of the Year. However, he wasn’t drafted until the 15th round. He didn’t get much of a chance to succeed in the Rockies’ system. In 41 at-bats in short-season, he hit .268/.318/.488 and was released.
8. Pittsburgh Pirates — RHP Mark Prior, Southern California
TRUE Rank selection: Prior
Actual selection: RHP John Van Benschoten, Kent State
Given the opportunity, the Pirates would have been thrilled to draft Prior. Prior’s career must be considered a disappointment given the lofty expectations. However, he has achieved enough to be considered a top ten player in this draft (for now, at least). In 2002, Prior received a few Rookie of the Year votes and in ’03, he made the All-Star roster and finished third in Cy Young balloting.
The Pirates opted for another college pitcher instead. Van Benschoten was a two-way star for the Golden Flashes. Scouts praised him as a five-tool outfielder, but the Pirates were one of the few teams to see his future on the mound. His 93 mph fastball was an asset and he developed three other average or better pitches in the minors. But shaky command and several arm surgeries derailed his career. In parts of three big league seasons, he has more walks (68) than strikeouts (65).
9. Kansas City Royals — RHP Jeremy Bonderman, Pasco HS (Washington)
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Kirk Saarloos, Cal State Fullerton
Actual selection: RHP Colt Griffin, Marshall HS (Texas)
Griffin was a top-ten pick for one reason, his fastball. It was an extraordinary pitch, which was consistently 98 mph. He set a high school record by reaching 101 mph on occasion. He also had a good pitcher’s build. He lacked other skills, however, like a working second pitch or any semblance of command. Once in the minors, Griffin took a little off his fastball to throw more strikes and improved his slider. But he never really figured out the command issue; over his five minor league seasons he walked more than he struck out. He was released in 2005.
Bonderman’s arsenal compared favorably to Griffin — or any other high school pitcher in this class. He threw a mid 90s fastball and a power curve. Although undersized at 6-foot and 195 pounds, Bonderman had a track record of pitching for the US junior national team which comforted scouts. But when A’s scouting director Grady Fuson drafted Bonderman towards the end of the first round, general manager Billy Beane had a fit: “When Grady leaned into the phone to take Bonderman, Billy, in a single motion, erupted from his chair, grabbed it and hurled it right through the wall,” writes Michael Lewis in Moneyball. Bonderman has had the last laugh, however. In six big league seasons, he has been a horse for the Tigers (who acquired him as a minor leaguer from Oakland). He has made at least 28 starts in all but one big league season and has a lifetime 4.74 ERA.
Kirk Saarloos is the antithesis of Griffin or Bonderman. A senior righthander at Cal State Fullerton, Saarloos had a dominating season by any measure. He went 15-2 in 18 starts, earning a 2.18 ERA. He struck out more than 6.5 batters for every one he walked and pitched in the tough Big West conference. The only thing that wasn’t awe-inspiring about Saarloos’ resume was his stuff. Unlike Griffin and Bonderman, Saarloos threw his fastball in the high 80s, but the pitch darted and danced and he paired it with good off-speed offerings. He threw all of his pitches with precision. The Astros drafted him with their third-round pick and he reached the big leagues in 2002. While he hasn’t displayed the same control as he did in college, he’s been good enough to pitch in seven big league seasons and to amass over 500 career innings pitched.
10. Houston Astros — SS J.J. Hardy, Sabino HS (Arizona)
TRUE Rank selection: SS Jeff Keppinger, Georgia
Actual selection: 2B Chris Burke, Tennessee
It’s a bit odd that the tenth overall pick, the best player available in hindsight and our choice are all middle infielders. Hardy has had the best career so far. He caught the athletic gene from his father (former pro tennis player) and mother (former pro golfer). Like many high schoolers, Hardy split time on the mound and in the field. He was a legitimate prospect as a pitcher, possessing a 90 mph fastball. He wasn’t overwhelming as a pitcher or a position player, where his tools projected as average to slightly above. The Brewers drafted him in the second round as a shortstop. His defensive skills developed before his bat. His athleticism was a bonus at shortstop and he made easy and great plays with ease. His bat came around in the high minor leagues and he reached the big leagues at age 22. His career batting line of .270/.329/.446 isn’t special, but he’s been a steady presence in the field and made the 2007 All-Star team. Hardy is an important part of a young Brewers nucleus.
The ‘Stros opted for Burke, the University of Tennessee’s shorstop. Burke put up big numbers for the Vols, using his on-base prowess and speed to drive opposing managers crazy. Scouts thought that he might be able to add some power. He moved quickly through Houston’s system, but his speed and plate patience weren’t as impressive in pro ball. He moved to second base in the high minors because of a fringy arm. Burke has had a solid — if not spectacular — big league career. He hasn’t hit well enough to play everyday, so he has moved into a superutility role. Burke has seen significant time at second base, shortstop and all three outfield positions in five big league seasons.
Keppinger had a similar profile in college as Burke: strong hitter, good plate discipline, college shortstop destined for second base. The Pirates drafted him in the fourth round. He put up big numbers in the Pirates system but was dealt to the Mets. He’s played for three teams in four big league seasons and has a career line of .287/.338/.390. He has seen time at shortstop, second base and third base in the majors.
The rest of the first round …
11. Detroit Tigers — SS Bobby Crosby, Long Beach State
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Gavin Floyd, Mount St. Joseph’s HS (Maryland)
Actual selection: RHP Kenny Baugh, Rice
12. Milwaukee Brewers — LF Luke Scott, Oklahoma State
TRUE Rank selection: 3B Kevin Youkilis, Cincinnati
Actual selection: RHP Mike Jones, Thunderbird HS
13. Anaheim Angels — 1B Casey Kotchman, Seminole HS (Florida)
TRUE Rank selection: 1B Brad Nelson, Bishop Garrigan HS (Iowa)
Actual selection: RHP Mike Jones, Thunderbird HS (Arizona)
14. San Diego Padres — 3B Chad Tracy, East Carolina
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Douglas Brubaker, New Mexico Junior College
Actual selection: 3B Jake Gautreau, Tulane
15. Toronto Blue Jays — LHP Noah Lowry, Pepperdine
TRUE Rank selection: SS Ryan Theriot, Louisiana State
Actual selection: OF Gabe Gross, Auburn
16. Chicago White Sox — OF Gabe Gross, Auburn
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Danny Tamayo, Notre Dame
Actual selection: RHP Kris Honel, Providence Catholic HS (Illinois)
17. Cleveland Indians — C Kelly Shoppach, Baylor
TRUE Rank selection: CF Skip Schumaker, UC Santa Barbara
Actual selection: RHP Daniel Denham, Deer Valley HS (California)
18. New York Mets — 1B Dan Johnson, Nebraska
TRUE Rank selection: RF Mike Conroy, Boston College HS (Massachusetts)
Actual selection: RHP Aaron Heilman, Notre Dame
19. Baltimore Orioles — RHP Aaron Heilman, Notre Dame
TRUE Rank selection: Heilman
Actual selection: 2B Mike Fontenot, Louisiana State
20. Cincinnati Reds — RHP Ricky Nolasco, Rialto HS (California)
TRUE Rank selection: OF Gabe Gross, Auburn
Actual selection: LHP Jeremy Sowers, Ballard HS (Kentucky)
21. San Francisco Giants — SS Brendan Harris, William and Mary
TRUE Rank selection: CF Mike Rodriguez, Miami (Florida)
Actual selection: RHP Brad Hennessey, Youngstown State
22. Arizona Diamondbacks — 2B Scott Hairston, Central Arizona College
TRUE Rank selection: 1B Bryan Moore, Louisiana State
Actual selection: RHP Jason Bulger, Valdosta State
23. New York Yankees — CF Skip Schumaker, UC Santa Barbara
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Ricky Nolasco, Rialto HS (California)
Actual selection: LF John-Ford Griffin, Florida State
24. Atlanta Braves — RHP Brad Hennesssey, Youngstown State
TRUE Rank selection: RHP David Crouthers, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville
Actual selection: LHP Macay McBride, Screven County HS (Georgia)
25. Oakland Athletics — 2B Chris Burke, Tennessee
TRUE Rank selection: C Kelly Shoppach, Baylor
Actual selection: SS Bobby Crosby, Long Beach State
26. Oakland Athletics — SS Jeff Keppinger, Georgia
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Daniel Denham, Deer Valley HS (California)
Actual selection: RHP Jeremy Bonderman, Pasco HS (Washington)
27. Cleveland Indians — RHP Kirk Saarloos, Cal State Fullerton
TRUE Rank selection: LHP Mike Gosling, Stanford
Actual selection: RHP Alan Horne, Marianna HS (Florida)
28. St. Louis Cardinals — 2B Mike Fontenot, Louisiana State
TRUE Rank selection: CF Cory Sullivan, Wake Forest
Actual selection: RHP Justin Pope, Central Florida
29. Atlanta Braves — RHP Gavin Floyd, Mount St. Joseph’s HS (Maryland)
TRUE Rank selection: LHP Macay McBride, Screven County HS (Georgia)
Actual selection: SS Josh Burrus, Wheeler HS (Georgia)
30. San Francisco Giants — CF Cory Sullivan, Wake Forest
TRUE Rank selection: CF Tony Miller, Toledo
Actual selection: LHP Noah Lowry, Pepperdine
Reviewing the ’01 draft is a good measure by which to evaluate the TRUE Rank system. The TRUE Rank system only uses scouting reports and statistics from before the amateur draft, so it’s unfair to compare it to the players in bold (who are ranked after their big league success is known). Instead, compare the TRUE Rank selections to the actual selections and you’ll see that our system is significantly better than the teams’ draft picks.