Post Hype Prospect – Matt Bush

In the history of #1 draft picks, only six have not yet played in the Major Leagues.  They are Steve Chilcott (I’ll get to him, I swear) in 1966, Brien Taylor in 1991, Matt Bush in 2004, Tim Beckham in 2008, Bryce Harper in 2010, and Gerrit Cole in 2011.  Beckham is 22 in AA, Harper is 19 in AAA, and Cole is 21 in high A; all three appear to be on their way to making it to the majors in the next few seasons, leaving us with three players, Chilcott, Taylor, and Bush, who will not make it to the majors.  For a little bit in 2011 and during spring training in 2012, it looked possible that it would only be Chilcott and Taylor in the club but, due to recent actions, it looks like Matt Bush may make the undesirable duo into a trio.

The first high school short stop taken with the #1 overall pick since Alex Rodriguez in 1993, Matt Bush was an unpopular pick from the start.  Widely viewed as a fringe top 10 talent, Bush had two things going for him: he attended Mission Bay High School in San Diego and he told the Padres he would sign quickly and for less money than many of the more highly ranked players.  Bush ended up signing for $3.15 million, less than Jered Weaver ($4m at #12 to the Angels) and Stephen Drew ($4m at #15 to the Diamondbacks) and immediately found it necessary to begin making idiotic decisions.  On June 20, mere weeks after being drafted and signing a contract, Bush was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault, trespass, disorderly conduct, and underage drinking.  Bush was charged with multiple felonies and misdemeanors, and was suspended by the Padres.  After the felony charges being dropped and a deal being agreed upon regarding the misdemeanors, Bush’s suspension was lifted and Matt Bush properly began his professional career. Things did not get much better for Bush once he began playing baseball, putting up a putrid 181/302/236 line in 21 games for the Arizona League AZL Padres, the Padres’ Rookie level affiliate, followed by a 222/276/296 line in 8 games for the Northwest League Eugene Emeralds, the Padres’ Low A affiliate.

After the season, Bush’s talent and performance failed to impress the pundits.  In Baseball America’s top 100 Prospects for 2005, 11 2004 draftees made the list but Bush was not one of them.  Bush’s 2005 season was not much better: a 221/279/276 line while playing for the Fort Wayne Wizards, the Padres A level affiliate in the Midwest League.  After not being ranked in the Baseball America top 100 (you may sense a trend), Bush broke his ankle during spring training and missed half of the season, putting up a 268/333/310 line in 21 games once he returned to the Fort Wayne Wizards.

In 2007, Bush was hitting 204/310/276 for the Lake Elsinore Storm in the hitting friendly high A California League before the Padres decided to try to make Bush into a pitcher.   After six appearances for the AZL Padres across 7.1 innings where Bush struck out 16 (19.6 K/9), walked two, and allowed five hits while frequently throwing mid-to-upper 90s fastballs, including hitting 98 many times.   Bush was promoted to the Fort Wayne Wizards, where he faced one batter before feeling pain in his pitching elbow.  After medical tests showed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, Bush was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.  Bush missed the rest of 2007 and all of 2008.  Despite all of this, Bush remained on the 40-man roster, thereby protecting him from the Rule IV draft.

In early February 2009, Bush committed a drunken assault on a number of boys’ lacrosse players at Granite Hills High in El Cajon, California after a drunken altercation.  The details are best told by Brent Schrotenboer of the U-T San Diego:

A witness, who requested his name not be used because of the ongoing police investigation, said Bush was drunk, threw a golf club into the dirt, picked up and threw a freshman lacrosse player and hit another one. Bush also yelled “I’m Matt (expletive) Bush,” and “(expletive) East County,” before driving over a curb in his Mercedes when leaving the campus, according to the witness.

To put it mildly, the Padres’ management was nonplussed.  Bush was removed from the 40-man roster and dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays for either a player to be named later or cash considerations.  On April 1, 2009, Bush was released by the Blue Jays for violating their zero tolerance behavioral policy.

But Matt Bush’s upper 90s heat was too intriguing to ignore, and he signed a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays in January 2010.  After 5.1 innings (allowing 1 run and two hits while striking out eight batters) for the Rookie level GCL Rays, Bush was promoted to the High A Charlotte Stone Crabs, where he pitched 8.1 innings (allowing four runs, seven hits, and striking out 12).  Bush was sent to the Ray’s AA affiliate in the Southern League, the awesomely-named Montgomery Biscuits, where he pitched 50.1 innings, striking out 77, allowing only 48 hits, and posting a 4.83 ERA.

Still only 25, many pundits felt that Bush could become a dynamic late-inning reliever with his upper 90s fastball and devastating two-plane slider.  Logically, this is when Matt Bush reminded the world that he is still Matt (expletive) Bush.  After borrowing the SUV of teammate Brandon Guyer (who was unaware that Bush did not have a driver license), Bush (allegedly) hit a 72-year-old motorcyclist, running over the motorcyclist’s head while fleeing the scene.  Bush was arrested and charged with fleeing the scene with serious injuries, driving with a suspended license with serious injuries, DUI with serious injuries, and DUI with property damage.  Earlier in the day, Bush caused two other, separate, accidents.  Bush struck a pole (though details are unavailable as to the nature of the pole), then struck a Jeep Cherokee in Guyer’s Dodge Durango, damaging the Jeep but the two people in the Jeep were not harmed.  After his arrest, Bush’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) was an amazing 0.18, or more than twice the 0.08 BAC limit in California.

As of this point, Bush has not yet been released, but it seems likely that he will be released (unless, of course, the Tampa Bay Rays organization fails to do anything, as he may form the only felon duo in modern baseball with Josh Lueke).

But what happened with Matt Bush?  Frankly, I think Matt Bush happened to Matt Bush.  A player with amazing talent, Bush seemingly got in his own way as often as possible.  It appears that he has a drinking problem, which can only adversely impact performance, and his oversized ego poses another problem, especially when coupled with his general lack of elite performance.  In the end, Bush shouldn’t have been picked #1 overall.  If Baseball Reference’s WAR is to be used, either Justin Verlander or Jered Weaver would have been the best picks, with Dustin Pedroia coming in third, and even 45th rounder Tony Sipp ranking a significantly better choice.  In the end, the Padres’ unwillingness to pay an extra $2 million cost them significantly more down the road, and Bush’s boorish behavior will probably cost him a chance at living the dream.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect!



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