Posted by: bhyman | July 5, 2008

What if: ’98 re-draft

The second part of our re-draft series focuses on the 1998 draft. Big league stars such as Pat Burrell, Mark Mulder and J.D. Drew were selected in the first five picks, but the most successful player was drafted in the 38th round. Ten years later, here’s how they’d do it again:

1. Philadelphia Phillies — LHP Mark Buehrle, Jefferson College
Actual selection: 3B Pat Burrell, Miami

Who would have thought that a late-round draft and follow would grow into the top talent of this draft class? Buehrle was selected in the 38th round from a Missouri junior college. He didn’t offer a plus pitch but all of his pitches were average and they played up because of his command. His fastball reaches 90 mph and he also throws two sliders, a curve and a changeup. Buehrle filled a need in the bullpen in his 2000 debut season, but jumped to the rotation in 2001. He has struck out more than two batters for each that he’s walked over his nine-year career. Burrell has been a steady power hitter for the Phillies, but Buehrle has outperformed him and everyone else in this draft class.

2. Oakland Athletics — LHP C.C. Sabathia, Vallejo HS (California)
Actual selection: LHP Mark Mulder, Michigan State

The A’s are hesitant to draft high school pitchers, but the risk would have paid off in ’98. Sabathia edges out Mulder for the better pitcher in his first six seasons. Sabathia fell to the 20th pick because teams were concerned about his weight and his work ethic. But his electric package of pitches have proved doubters wrong. He’s always thrown his fastball in the upper 90s and has good feel of a curve and changeup. Sabathia has improved his mechanics although his weight is still a concern. Mulder paid off for the A’s and they dealt him to the Cardinals for a bevy of talent.

3. Chicago Cubs — LHP Mark Mulder, Michigan State
Actual selection: OF Corey Patterson, Harrison HS (Georgia)

This is the first serious mistake in the first round. The Cubs gambled on Patterson, a five-tool high school outfielder. He reached the big leagues in his second professional season, an unthinkable feat for a prep talent. In his ninth season in the big leagues, he is still an excellent defensive centerfielder and speed threat, but he is only an ordinary hitter. His swing, once short and direct, is now loopy and he compromises his world-class speed by hitting too many fly balls. The Cubs should have jumped on Mulder if he fell to this pick; he has always had command of the strike zone and his 92 mph fastball has plenty of life. His curve, once a weakness, has become another solid pitch in a repertoire that also includes a plus changeup. The A’s enjoyed Mulder’s success for five seasons before shipping him to the Cardinals for three prospects including Dan Haren and Daric Barton.

4. Kansas City Royals — RHP Jeff Weaver, Fresno State
Actual selection: RHP Jeff Austin, Stanford

It’s no wonder why the Royals are a perpetually bad team. Kansas City has little to show for their 11 draft picks in the top ten overall since 1997. Jeff Austin has been a huge flop. Scouts raved about his command of a good curve and his big-league ready three pitch mix. But big league hitters feasted on his straight, 90 mph fastball and his command departed him. Weaver had a better fastball with sharp, sinking movement. His command was better, too and his slider was a second effective pitch. Weaver made a big splash in ’99 when he struck out 114 batters and walked only 56 in 163 2/3 innings in his rookie campaign. Although he has regressed as of late, he was a #1 or #2 starter through his first six seasons. His biggest weakness in college and as a minor leaguer was his inability to get left-handed hitters out. It’s still a problem; they have hit .295/.359/.500 against him over his nine-year career.

5. St. Louis Cardinals — 3B Matt Holliday, Stillwater HS (Oklahoma)
Actual selection: OF J.D. Drew, Florida State

The Cardinals did what Philadelphia could not do a year prior: pay up to sign Drew. Drew, advised by Scott Boras, refused to sign with the Phillies and won Rookie of the Year honors with the independent St. Paul Saints in 1997. St. Louis signed him to a big league deal after drafting him in ’98 which guaranteed him $7 million. Drew’s was five-tool talent who made an immediate impact with the Cardinals in 1998. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy, however, recording 500 at-bats just once in his career. Matt Holliday also signed for a record bonus; his $842,500 deal was a seventh-round record. He passed up a Oklahoma State football scholarship to sign with the Rockies. Scouts were impressed by his prolific power and his exceptional polish for a high school prospect. He didn’t have the quickness to stay at third base as a pro, but he made the transition to left field nicely.

6. Minnesota Twins — RHP Brad Lidge, Notre Dame
Actual selection: LHP Ryan Mills, Arizona State

The Twins are usually good at drafting and developing talent, but they failed on Ryan Mills and had a miserable draft in ’98. Mills was the highest pick in this draft to not reach the big leagues. He was a can’t miss prospect — a 6-foot-5 lefthander with a 96 mph fastball and a power curve. But he was hit first with shoulder and elbow injuries and then later by a lack of mental fortitude. Brad Lidge, the Astros’ first round pick, paid off in a big way. As a prospect, he had better stuff than any pitcher in their entire system, including big leaguers. His fastball sat in the mid 90s and reached 98 mph with superior movement and his slider was unhittable. Lidge has battled through elbow, forearm and shoulder surgery to become an elite closer in the big leagues.

7. Cincinnati Reds — LHP Joe Kennedy, Grossmont College
Actual selection: OF Austin Kearns, Lafayette HS (Kentucky)

It’s hard to fault the Reds for selecting Kearns, a steady outfielder who played five seasons in Cincinnati before being shipped to Washington in a 2005 blockbuster trade. Kennedy’s success story was more unlikely. He was an eighth round junior college selection but he rose quickly through the minor leagues. His success could be attributed to his 91-94 mph lively fastball and his power curve. Even more impressive was his advanced feel for pitching. He could spot his fastball on all sides of the plate and struck out nearly four batters for each that he walked in the minor leagues. He was a reliable innings-eater in the big leagues in seven seasons with Tampa Bay, Colorado, Oakland, Toronto and Arizona. Kennedy collapsed at his in-laws’ house and died on November 23, 2007. He died of hypertensive heart disease.

8. Toronto Blue Jays — RHP Josh Fogg, Florida
Actual selection: SS Felipe Lopez, Lake Brantley HS (Florida)

This is a story of two Floridians: one a glamorous prospect and the other a polished collegian. Felipe Lopez was the rare high schooler who projected as a shortstop in the big leagues: a five-tool switch-hitter with an above average speed and arm strength. But Lopez struggled with the finer points of the game, like baserunning and didn’t exhibit the same work ethic as his teammates. The result has been an inconsistent big league career that includes one all-star appearance and a career .257 batting average as a part-timer. Fogg was University of Florida’s closer in 1998, but quickly converted to a starting pitcher after being selected in the 3rd round by the White Sox. Although his fastball is more often in the 80s than 90s, Fogg excels with superior command and a nasty slider. His success in a hitter’s park at the White Sox’s AAA affiliate in Charlotte prepared him for two seasons as a Rockie. Fogg is a back of the rotation starter, but he’s an innings eater with good command.

9. San Diego Padres — OF Adam Dunn, New Caney HS (Texas)
Actual selection: 3B Sean Burroughs, Wilson HS (California)

Burroughs, like Mills, is an example of a can’t miss prospect who did. He came from a big league pedigree; his father is a former first overall pick and major leaguer. Sean himself has had time in the spotlight, he led Long Beach to back to back Little League World Series titles. He impressed scouts with his pure swing that projected well for average and power. He had more than enough defensive skills to handle third base and a move to second base was considered. He hit for a high average throughout the minor leagues, but didn’t walk at a high rate. Scouts expected him to be a power threat in the big leagues even though he never hit more than nine homers in any minor league season. In five major league seasons, he hit for a decent average but didn’t get on base often and has hit only 11 career home runs. There was never a doubt that Adam Dunn could hit for power. He fell to the second round because of his commitment as an outfielder and quarterback to Texas. The Reds drafted him and crafted a clever deal that allowed Dunn to play in the minor leagues during the summer and to honor his football commitment to the Longhorns. The Reds were pleased when the Big Donkey dropped out of Texas in early ’99 to focus on baseball and the commitment paid off. Dunn showed the ability to crush balls to all fields while maintaining surprising plate discipline. He was also an above-average runner. Defense was a weakness in the minors and it continues to be one. Dunn is one of the most prolific hitters in baseball, averaging 40 home runs per season and a .381 on-base-percentage.

10. Texas Rangers — RHP Kip Wells, Baylor
Actual selection: 1B Carlos Pena, Northeastern

Texas likely considered drafting Wells, whom the White Sox happily selected with the sixteenth overall pick. An elbow injury at Baylor caused Wells to fall in the draft, but he had as much raw stuff as pitcher in the draft. His fastball sits in the low 90s and he pairs it with a hard curve, a slider and changeup. He moved quickly through the minors thanks to his poise and intelligence. He was shipped from Chicago with Fogg and Sean Lowe to the Pirates for Todd Ritchie and a minor leaguer. Ritchie was a bust, but the Pirates benefited from four seasons of Wells. Like Fogg, Wells has been a valuable innings eater who has posted back to back seasons of sub 3.60 ERAs. Scouts had similar expectations for Pena, but it took a bit longer for him to realize those goals. He enrolled early in college and was drafted at age 19 from Northeastern. Pena was remarkably poised for a young player and he showed enough for some to project him as a Gold Glove first baseman and polished hitter. His early major league career was rocky, however. Pena was traded twice in seven months and didn’t live up to expectations until 2007, when he hit .282/.411/.627 with 46 home runs and 121 RBI.

The best of the rest:

11. Montreal Expos — RHP Brian Lawrence, New Mexico State
Actual selection: SS Josh McKinley, Malvern Prep HS (Pennsylvania)

12. Boston Red Sox — OF J.D. Drew, Florida State
Actual selection: SS Adam Everett, South Carolina

13. Milwaukee Brewers — SS Brandon Backe, Galveston College
Actual selection: RHP J.M. Gold, Toms River North HS (New Jersey)

14. Detroit Tigers — 3B Pat Burrell, Miami
Actual selection: RHP Jeff Weaver, Fresno State

15. Pittsburgh Pirates — 3B Aubrey Huff, Miami
Actual selection: LHP Clint Johnston, Vanderbilt

16. Chicago White Sox — 1B Carlos Pena, Northeastern
Actual selection: RHP Kip Wells, Baylor

17. Houston Astros — RHP Ryan Madson, Valley View HS (California)
Actual selection: RHP Brad Lidge, Notre Dame

18. Anaheim Angels — LHP B.J. Ryan, Louisiana-Lafayette
Actual selection: RHP Seth Etherton, USC

19. San Francisco Giants — LHP Mike Maroth, Central Florida
Actual selection: 3B Tony Torcato, Woodland HS (California)

20. Cleveland Indians — OF Brad Wilkerson, Florida
Actual selection: LHP C.C. Sabathia, Vallejo HS (California)

21. New York Mets — OF Austin Kearns, Lafayette HS (Kentucky)
Actual selection: OF Jason Tyner, Texas A&M

22. Seattle Mariners — OF Aaron Rowand, Cal State Fullerton
Actual selection: LHP Matt Thornton, Grand Valley State

23. Los Angeles Dodgers — LHP Matt Thornton, Grand Valley State
Actual selection: OF Bubba Crosby, Rice

24. New York Yankees — 3B Morgan Ensberg, USC
Actual selection: OF Andy Brown, Richmond HS (Indiana)

25. San Francisco Giants — OF Eric Byrnes, UCLA
Actual selection: RHP Nate Bump, Penn State

26. Baltimore Orioles — 2B Keith Ginter, Texas Tech
Actual selection: OF Rick Elder, Sprayberry HS (Georgia)

27. Florida Marlins — 1B Jay Gibbons, Cal State Los Angeles
Actual selection: OF Chip Ambres, West Brook HS (Texas)

28. Colorado Rockies — 3B Eric Hinske, Arkansas
Actual selection: RHP Matt Roney, Edmond North HS (Oklahoma)

29. San Francisco Giants — SS Ty Wigginton, North Carolina
Actual selection: OF Arturo McDowell, Forest Hill HS (Florida)

30. Kansas City Royals — LHP Will Ohman, Pepperdine
Actual selection: RHP Matt Burch, VCU

Although the 1997 draft produced the best player of the two years we’ve studied so far (Tim Hudson), the 1998 draft class is much deeper and better.  The six best players in the ’98 draft could all have been taken No. 2 overall in 1997.  Kudos to Duane Shaffer, the White Sox’s former Director of Scouting for drafting the best collection of talent.  Among his finds were Kip Wells (1, 16), Aaron Rowand (1, 35) and Josh Fogg (3, 89).  He also found the best player in the entire draft with Mark Buehrle (38, 1139).  Many teams had bad drafts, but the O’s draft is one for the record books.  Only two of the players the O’s signed have reached the big leagues.  Those two — Steve Bechler (3, 99) and Tim Raines, Jr. (6, 189) — spent very little time in Baltimore.  Bechler pitched 4 2/3 innings of relief in 2002 and posted a 13.50 ERA.  He died of a heat stroke during the 2003 spring training.  Tim Raines, Jr. played parts of three seasons with the Orioles from ’01-’04.  His career numbers: .213/.263/.281 with no home runs and seven RBIs.  Gary Nickels, the team’s scouting director, was appropriately fired following the ’98 season.



  1. […] 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. […]

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