Looking back eight years, scouting directors might choose to bet on the lottery or play the slots instead of making the same picks that they made in 2000. Of the 18 best players taken in this draft, only two were taken in the first round. There were more players in the top 18 taken after the 20th round than there were in the first. Even the teams that drafted the best talent purged it before realizing the gold they had amassed. To the picks!
1. Florida Marlins — RHP Brandon Webb, Kentucky
Actual selection: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Eastlake HS (California)
The Marlins wrung their hands about which player to take with the first overall pick. They consider pitcher Matt Harrington and catcher Scott Heard before settling on Gonzalez. Of those options, Gonzalez is easily the best choice. He’s been an everyday first baseman since 2006. He can be counted on for a .280 batting average with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. He even earned some MVP votes in 2007. Unfortunately, Gonzalez never produced those numbers for the Marlins. They shipped him with two others to the Texas Rangers for reliever Ugueth Urbina in 2003. Harrington and Heard, however, never made it to The Show.
Then-scouting director Al Avila wouldn’t blink if faced with the same opportunity. Brandon Webb, an eighth-round choice by the Arizona Diamondbacks, has clearly outperformed everyone in the draft class. Despite rewriting Kentucky’s single-season strikeout record, Baseball America didn’t even consider him the top prospect in the state of Kentucky. As a pro, he beefed up his fastball to the mid 90s and started showing the exceptional sinker for which he is now famous. He pairs it with a nasty slider. Command, which was once a concern, is no longer an issue. He has struck out more than two batters for every one he’s walked in his major league career. Webb was the NL Cy Young award in 2006 and is under serious consideration for winning his second award this season.
2. Minnesota Twins — LHP Dontrelle Willis, Encinal HS (California)
Actual selection: RHP Adam Johnson, Cal State Fullerton
After two disappointing seasons, Willis might not seem like the right pick now but there’s no doubt that he’s better than Adam Johnson. The Twins’ selection made sense at the time. Johnson was a steady if not spectacular college pitcher with an arsenal of quality pitches including a late-breaking slider. His wild mechanics eventually did him in and his slider didn’t show the same bite in the big leagues. He had no more than a cup of coffee in the majors. Willis was an eighth round pick by the Cubs but didn’t show his potential until he was traded with three others to the Marlins for pitchers Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement. His patented leg kick added deception to his pitches: a heavy 93 mph fastball, slurve and changeup. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2003 and was runner-up to Chris Carpenter in Cy Young balloting in 2005. Although he’s had two poor seasons, Willis has exceeded expectations for such a late-round pick.
3. Chicago Cubs — OF Jason Bay, Gonzaga
Actual selection: SS Luis Montanez, Miami Coral Park HS (Florida)
The Montreal Expos had a wonderful 2000 draft, but traded all of their best players before they reached the big leagues. Bay is the best example of this, a late round gem who was selected in the 22nd round. The British Columbia native would have been selected higher, but he didn’t show a plus tool in college. He was traded twice (by the Expos and Mets) before winning the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year award with the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a Pirate, he showed an ability to do everything well, hitting for power and average, stealing bases and making the plays in the outfield. He’s been the best player for the perennially disappointing Pirates and was traded at the 2008 trade deadline in a three-team deal to the Boston Red Sox. Montanez, on the other hand, made his big league debut five years later — with the Baltimore Orioles. He didn’t display the plate discipline or the quickness in the middle infield to progress through the minor leagues and eventually moved to the outfield.
4. Kansas City Royals — LHP Cliff Lee, Arkansas
Actual selection: LHP Mike Stodolka, Centennial HS (California)
The best pitcher in baseball in 2008 could have been had by the Royals with this pick. Instead, they drafted a pitcher who never reached the big leagues. Cliff Lee was a fourth-round selection by the Montreal Expos. He was considered one of the top college lefthanded pitchers in the country when he was in command of his mid 90s fastball, breaking balls and changeup. However, he wasn’t in command often and was pushed to the Razorbacks bullpen because of his lack of stamina. The Expos traded him 13 months after drafting him, with Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens to the Indians for pitchers Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. Since 2004, he has made at least 30 starts in all but one season and was in consideration for the American League Cy Young award in 2005. He’s a lock to win that award this year.
The Royals liked Stodolka because he was a polished high school lefthanded pitcher with three above-average pitches and clean mechanics. As important was his willingness to sign cheaply; he agreed to a $2.5 million signing bonus before the draft. However, he got rocked in the minor leagues and never made it out of AA. Frustrated, the Royals moved him to first base in 2005 but he has yet to reach the big leagues and, at 26, is no longer considered a prospect.
5. Montreal Expos — OF Grady Sizemore, Cascade HS (Washington)
Actual selection: RHP Justin Wayne, Stanford
Sizemore is yet another example of the Expos’ stellar 2000 draft and their poor ability to identify their good fortune. He might have been a first round pick on merit, but he fell to the third round because of his intent to play baseball and football at the University of Washington. Sizemore was regarded as a five-tool athlete whose athleticism was only enhanced by his two-sport potential. The Expos traded him in 2002 to the Indians with Cliff Lee and others for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. Since then, Sizemore has become a productive big leaguer. He’s been a cornerstone for the Indians, playing centerfield and receiving MVP votes in three different seasons. He’s only 26 and will only get better.
The Expos instead opted to take Justin Wayne in the first round. Wayne was a certifiably experienced college starting pitcher, having set pitching records at Stanford and earning All-American status. His four solid-to-plus pitches served him well until 2002, when he was traded to the Florida Marlins in an eight-player deal. The Marlins called him up by the end of the season and he struggled in his three big league seasons with the Fish, only logging 61.3 career innings.
6. Tampa Bay Devil Rays — 2B Chase Utley, UCLA
Actual selection: OF Rocco Baldelli, Bishop Hendricken HS (Rhode Island)
Despite being the best college hitter in the draft, Utley slipped to the second round because of his unusual profile as a second baseman. The archetypal second-basemen is a slick fielder and contact hitter, but Utley was a power hitting pull-hitter who was regarded as a below-average defender. He changed his approach in pro ball, using the whole field at the plate, and proved to be a capable second-baseman. In his six seasons in the majors so far, Utley has receiving MVP votes three times, is a three-time NL All-Star and a two-time Silver Slugger.
Rocco Baldelli’s career had a promising start, but he has been sidetracked with injuries since. He was a toolsy outfielder coming out of a Rhode Island high school, showing above-average speed, hitting acumen and range. Prognosticators expected him to fall to the second half of the first-round, but the Devil Rays grabbed him with the fifth overall pick. He suffered an oblique pull before the draft and that injury proved fateful for the rest of his career. Since 2004, he has been sidelined with a quadriceps injury, a torn ACL, a torn UCL in his right elbow and two hamstring injuries. The fragile outfielder hasn’t played a full season’s worth of games since his second big league season. If he can reclaim his early success (when he was a finalist for the AL Rookie of the Year award), he will justify his high draft pick.
7. Colorado Rockies — RHP Rich Harden, Central Arizona Junior College
Actual selection: RHP Matt Harrington, Palmdale HS (California)
Credit A’s scout John Kuehl with finding Rich Harden, a British Columbia native with a limited baseball background. Oakland drafted Harden in the 17th round and let him return to Central Arizona Junior College for his sophomore season before signing him in May 2001. His excellent 95 mph fastball and plus changeup dominated minor league hitters and he added a slider and splitter to keep them off balance. Harden was expected to step in when Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson were traded in 2004, but he only met the challenge halfway. Although he’s been dominant at times, Harden couldn’t stay healthy enough to become the A’s ace. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2008.
Harden’s somewhat frustrating career pales in comparison to Matt Harrington’s odyssey. Harrington might have been the top pitcher prospect in the draft, if not the best prospect overall. As a senior at Palmdale High School, Harrington wowed scouts with a mid 90s fastball that touched 98 mph, excellent command and a projectable, pitcher’s body. However he and his agent, Tommy Tanzer, rejected the Rockies’ multimillion dollar offer. Instead of honoring his commitment to Arizona State, Harrington elected to pitch for the independent St. Paul Saints. His skills regressed yet he was drafted every year following until 2004. He never signed.
8. Detroit Tigers — RHP Chris Young, Princeton
Actual selection: RHP Matt Wheatland, Rancho Bernardo HS (California)
A baseball and basketball star at Princeton, the six-foot-eleven Chris Young has become a sold big league starting pitcher. In college, scouts liked his size and athleticism and his ability to command three solid pitches, including a low 90s fastball. The biggest negative in his resume was his lack of pitching experience, but that may have sheltered him from overuse pitching injuries. The Pirates snapped him up in the third round but quickly dealt him to the Montreal Expos for pitcher Matt Herges in 2002. The Expos traded away another 2000 draft talent in 2004 when they shipped him to the Rangers for catcher Einar Diaz.
The Tigers saw something in Wheatland that few other teams did. Projected as a mid to late first round pick, Detroit selected him eighth overall. Wheatland had height (6-foot-5) and a dominant sinker. Early comparisons were to Kevin Brown. But Wheatland fizzled quickly. He pitched well in Rookie ball immediately after getting drafted, but experienced pain in the index and middle fingers of his right hand when he was promoted. He only pitched 23 innings in 2001 and never was promoted beyond A ball. He retired in 2004.
9. San Diego Padres — RHP James Shields, Hart HS (California)
Actual selection: LHP Mark Phillips, Hanover HS (Pennsylvania)
The Padres turned down a chance to take a pitcher in their own backyard for a flop from the other side of the country. James Shields pitched at Hart High School in Newhall, California, a mere 2 1/2 hours by car from San Diego. A back injury kept him out for most of the spring and teams were resigned to letting him honor his college commitment to LSU. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays took him in the 16th round and signed him two months later. He took his time progressing through the minor leagues and eventually made his big league debut in 2006. Shields has been one of the primary reasons that the Rays are leading the American League East. He and Scott Kazmir have been a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Shields has thrown more than 200 innings for the second consecutive season. His deadly changeup and excellent command has contributed to his 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio in ’08.
The Padres were probably thrilled to draft Mark Phillips with the ninth overall pick. The Marlins considered the 6-foot-3 lefthander for the first overall pick until he ran out of gas at the end of the high school season. Still, the Hanover High lefty paired a mid 90s fastball and a nasty curve. He signed quickly to a $2.2 million contract negotiated before the draft, but never advanced out of A ball. Like many high school pitchers, Phillips’ approach was unrefined and he struggled with command and his mechanics. He hasn’t pitched in the affiliated minor leagues since 2003.
10. Anaheim Angels — RHP Bobby Jenks, Inglemoor HS (Idaho)
Actual selection: LHP Joe Torres, Gateway HS (Florida)
Bobby Jenks is one of the most unlikely players to ever make the big leagues. Growing up, Jenks’ family lived in a log cabin in the remote town of Spirit Lake, Idaho. He quit high school after his sophomore year. Despite these challenges, Jenks showed off a 93 mph fastball and a hammer curve in workouts. The Angels took a gamble on him in the 5th round and he’s turned out better than any of their other draft picks, including first-rounder Joe Torres. The structure of pro ball enabled Jenks to boost his fastball velocity to 100 mph or better. However, erratic command and a penchant for breaking team rules led to the Angels putting him on waivers. The White Sox were the beneficiaries. Jenks has been to two All-Star games and posted consecutive 40-save seasons in 2006 and 2007. His command has improved, but he occasionally suffers from command problems.
Joe Torres was much more of a conventional draft prospect. A left-handed pitcher from Florida, Torres impressed scouts with a three-pitch mix including a heavy low 90s fastball and dominant curve. Scouts liked his tall and wiry frame, which lent itself to a velocity boost. That boost came — briefly — when Torres first entered pro ball but deserted him thereafter. He couldn’t perfect his mechanics and his fastball velocity dropped into the high 80s.
11. Milwaukee Brewers — 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Eastlake HS (California)
Actual selection: OF Dave Krynzel, Green Valley HS (Nevada)
12. Chicago White Sox — RHP Ian Snell, Caeser Rodney HS (Delaware)
Actual selection: OF Joe Borchard, Stanford
13. St. Louis Cardinals — 1B Adam LaRoche, Seminole State College
Actual selection: OF Shaun Boyd, Vista HS (California)
14. Baltimore Orioles — RHP Chad Qualls, Nevada-Reno
Actual selection: RHP Beau Hale, Texas
15. Philadelphia Phillies — 1B Garrett Atkins, UC Irvine
Actual selection: 2B Chase Utley, UCLA
16. New York Mets — OF David DeJesus, Rutgers
Actual selection: LHP Billy Traber, Loyola Marymount
17. Los Angeles Dodgers — 1B Brad Hawpe, LSU
Actual selection: RHP Ben Diggins, Arizona
18. Toronto Blue Jays — 3B Xavier Nady, California
Actual selection: OF Miguel Negron, Manuela Toro HS (Puerto Rico)
19. Pittsburgh Pirates — RHP Adam Wainwright, Glynn Academy HS (Georgia)
Actual selection: OF Dave Krynzel, Green Valley HS (Nevada)
20. Anaheim Angels — SS Josh Willingham, North Alabama
Actual selection: RHP Chris Bootcheck, Auburn
21. San Francisco Giants — OF Ryan Church, Nevada-Reno
Actual selection: RHP Boof Bonser, Gibbs HS (Florida)
22. Boston Red Sox — SS Freddy Sanchez, Oklahoma City
Actual selection: LHP Phil Dumatrait, Bakersfield Junior College
23. Cincinnati Reds — 3B Edwin Encarnacion, Manuela Toro HS (Puerto Rico)
Actual selection: SS David Espinosa, Gulliver Prep HS (Florida)
24. St. Louis Cardinals — OF Rocco Baldelli, Bishop Hendrickson HS (Rhode Island)
Actual selection: RHP Blake Williams, Southwest Texas State
25. Texas Rangers — OF Corey Hart, Greenwood HS (Kentucky)
Actual selection: C Scott Heard, Rancho Bernardo HS (California)
26. Cleveland Indians — RHP Taylor Buchholz, Springfield HS (Pennsylvania)
Actual selection: SS Corey Smith, Piscataway HS (New Jersey)
27. Houston Astros — RHP Dustin McGowan, Long County HS (Georgia)
Actual selection: RHP Robert Stiehl, El Camino College
28. New York Yankees — RHP Todd Wellemeyer, Bellarmine College
Actual selection: C David Parrish, Michigan
29. Atlanta Braves — RHP Zach Miner, Palm Beach Gardens HS (Florida)
Actual selection: RHP Adam Wainwright, Glynn Academy HS (Georgia)
30. Atlanta Braves — RHP Vinnie Chulk, St. Thomas University
Actual selection: 3B Scott Thorman, Preston HS (Ontario)
The tragedy of this draft is how much talent the Expos amassed and how quickly they got rid of it. Former Expos scouting director Jim Fleming selected three of the top five talents of this draft. The Nationals could easily be contenders in the NL East if they had retained outfielders Jason Bay and Grady Sizemore and left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee. Instead, they were all traded away for Bartolo Colon, Tim Drew and Lou Collier. The Braves and scouting director Roy Clark also did well in 2000, drafting three of the top 30 athletes. The best of that crop, first baseman Adam LaRoche, was drafted in the 29th round. Although each of the players has since been traded, Atlanta was able to net quality players in return.
Ten teams failed to draft a single first-round talent in this draft. The Baltimore Orioles had another awful draft. The most successful big leaguer from their group is probably lefty reliever Kurt Birkins. The Tigers had the eighth overall pick and the only notable player they selected is centerfielder Nook Logan.