Results tagged ‘ Prospect ’
When the Astros drafted Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa first overall, they picked the player with the most potential for impact – and most potential to become a complete bust – in the draft. A tremendous athlete, Correa has been lauded for his quick hands and potential at the plate, his grace and strong arm in the field, and his speed, Correa is a 6’3” shortstop approaching 200 pounds at age 17. Much of the commentary has focused on Correa’s potential and his age – Correa won’t turn 18 until September 22 (the same day as Tommy Lasorda will turn 85), which further underscores his potential for improvement, especially given the results of a groundbreaking study published by Rany Jazayerli at Baseball Prospectus.
After Correa signed quickly – and for under slot - there was a lot of buzz around whether the Astros picked the best available player, a player who would sign quickly for less than the maximum, or had hastily gone Matt Bush on the organization. Personally, I think it’s a great move. The Astros got a top flight talent at a premium position and saved some money to spread to other picks.
But I began to wonder out of the shortstops drafted out of high school in the first round of the major league draft:
- How many made it to the major leagues;
- Were successful major leaguers; and
- How many remained shortstops?
In order to answer these questions, I used MLB draft data from Baseball-Reference.com to pull all of the draft picks from 1990-2007 for the first two rounds. Here is the full data set via Google Docs (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AjuFn-ctXd3VdF9jQkVtMC03dE9TeENMYVg2SHZJOFE).
I filtered for:
- Listed position when being drafted, assuming the likelihood of a player moving TO shortstop was exceedingly low;
- Filtered for shortstop (as opposed to college players);
- Filtered for players drafted out of short stop; and
- Looked into only the first round (as second round picks would rarely be a prospect of the level of Correa).
Here’s what I found:
38 players fit the requirements, including:
- Successful picks (WAR over 15): Chipper Jones (1/1 Braves, 1990), Derek Jeter (1/6 Yankees, 1992), and Alex Rodriguez (1/1 Mariners, 1993);
- Good picks (WAR over 5): Pokey Reese (1/20 Reds, 1991), Michael Cuddyer (1/9 Twins, 1997), and Felipe Lopez (1/8, Blue Jays 1998);
- Interesting picks (for various reasons): Josh Booty (1/5 Marlins 1994) and Sergio Santos (1/27 Diamondbacks, 2002);
- Colossal flops: Brandon Wood (1/23 Angels, 2003) and Matt Bush (1/1 Padres, 2004); and
- Players whose places have yet to be determined: BJ Upton (1/2 Rays, 2002), Justin Upton (1/1 Diamondbacks, 2005), and Mike Moustakas (1/2 Royals, 2007) – though both Upton Brothers are already successful with WAR over 11.
As you may notice, the success rate is exceedingly low, with only a few players who are even potential hall of famers and almost as many players are colossal flops as good players. A total of 13 never made it to the major leagues in any capacity and five appearing in under 100 games.
- Chipper Jones: Basically a third baseman from the start of his major league, though he played a little time in left field and even less at short stop. What’s most amazing is was not even supposed to be the #1 pick – more on that here.
- Derek Jeter: A short stop from day one and has not played another defensive position in the major leagues (unless you count his games at DH). Not the greatest range but sure hands and makes it look good.
- Alex Rodriguez: Historic talent and historic centaur.
- Pokey Reese: Basically a defense-only player but, wow, could he pick it.
- Michael Cuddyer: According to Baseball-Reference.com, he has never played short stop in the major leagues, primarily a right fielder (731 games), first baseman (214 games), and a third baseman (214 games). Stopped playing shortstop after making 61(!) errors while playing for the Fort Wayne Wizards of the Midwest League at the age of 19.
- Felipe Lopez: One good offensive year (291/352/486 in 2005), but appeared in 1185 games across 11 major league seasons. He was a better hitter – and a worse fielder – than I realized.
- Josh Booty: After signing a contract reported to be worth $1.2 million, Booty struck out a lot and hit for some power. Gave up baseball after 1998 and went to LSU to be their starting quarterback before being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 6th round… and never appear in the NFL.
- Sergio Santos: Santos was a good prospect who never hit enough and made a lot of errors; then he became a relief pitcher and is laughing at all of us.
Players Whose Places Have Yet to be Determined:
- BJ Upton: Doesn’t walk, power is streaky, good center fielder. Looks like he will stall out in the “Good Pick” category.
- Justin Upton: The better of the Upton brothers (so far), could be a perennial MVP candidate and on pace to join the “Successful Pick” category.
- Mike Moustakas: Too little time to judge, but hitting 278/346/480 is a very good start.
So what does this mean?
Out of the 38, 13 (34%) never made it to the major leagues, 17 made it and had WAR below 5 (45%), for a total of 30/38 (79%). Of the successful ones, only Derek Jeter (98.6%), Felipe Lopez (53.5%), and Alex Rodriguez (51.5%) have primarily been shortstops. Pokey Reese primarily played second base with a fair amount of time at shortstop, Chipper Jones only appeared at shortstop more than six times once (38 in 1996), and Michael Cuddyer is the definition of a defensive tweener.
In short (pun intended), Carlos Correa is probably not going to reach his potential, but then again, neither are the rest of the first round picks, so the Astros made a great pick by grabbing for the stars because, frankly, you seem to have about as good of a chance of drafting Matt Bush with the #1 overall pick as picking Alex Rodriguez.
Also, because someone actually asked, here’s WAR for #1 overall picks that were drafted out of High School:
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
East Texas native Tyrell Jenkins is a top flight athlete that was able to make choice few athletes get to make. As a high school senior in 2011, Jenkins had the opportunity to play both baseball and football for the Baylor Bears. When the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Jenkins was forced to make a decision between attending Baylor or starting a career as a professional baseball player. Fortunately for Cardinals fans, Jenkins chose to sign with the St. Louis organization who drafted him 50th overall. Currently on the Class A Quad Cities River Bandits roster, Jenkins has taken full advantage of his opportunities so far this season.
The 2011 Baseball America Rookie All-Star has pitched a total of 17 impressive innings so far in 2012. Jenkins has progressed nicely through his four appearances with his recent start being his most dominant appearance on the mound this season. That day, May 1st, Jenkins pitched 5.2 scoreless innings and struck out 7 batters in the game. Currently possessing a 1.59 ERA, Jenkins has been about as effective on the mound as anyone can expect. At home, Jenkins has flat out dominated his opposition. In 11 innings, the 6’4″ right-hander has 11 strike outs and only allowed 1 earned run giving him a minuscule 0.82 ERA on home turf.
After witnessing first hand the overall athleticism of Jenkins in 2011, on that day Jenkins played centerfield for the Henderson Lions, it’s easy to see that ceiling is very high for Jenkins. Jenkins has a strong fastball that can hit the mid 90s as well as a curveball, slider, and change up in his arsenal. However, as with most young prospects, the 19 year old Jenkins will need to continue working on his delivery and command of his secondary pitches. Never the less, even with 7 walks this season Jenkins has the ability to tune in dial up his pitches to get batters out as evidenced by his low ERA.
With a combination of confidence, competitiveness and athletic ability, Jenkins should continue to develop rapidly in the Cardinals farm system.
Note: After this post went live, Jenkins took the mound and struck out 10 in 6 innings.
The 1992 Major League Baseball Rule IV draft was an amazing draft. A number of notable players were taken in the first two rounds: Derek Jeter (Yankees, 1st round/6th overall pick), Jason Kendall (Pirates, 1/23), Johnny Damon (Royals, 1s/35), Todd Helton (Padres, 2/55– though he didn’t sign), Jason Giambi (A’s, 2/58), and John Lynch (Marlins, 2/66 – you know him better as the hard-hitting safety for the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
As you may have noticed, the #1 overall pick was not mentioned (in fact, none of the top five picks were mentioned), as he did not live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him. Phil Nevin was the #1 overall pick in 1992.
After graduating from El Dorado High School in Placetina, California, Nevin was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 82nd overall (3rd round) pick of the 1989 draft and offered $100,000 to play baseball professionally. Nevin chose to attend college at Cal State Fullerton. In 1992, Nevin was awarded the NCAA Division I Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best amateur baseball player and earned the MVP of the 1992 College World Series. The Houston Astros selected Nevin with the first overall pick of the 1992 draft. This pick was not without controversy, even within the Astros organization. Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser, a scout within the Astros organization, was so upset that the Astros did not pick Derek Jeter that he quit the organization and retired from baseball for good.
Nevin did not sign immediately, as he had more important things on his mind – he was the starting third baseman for Team USA at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.
Nevin immediately showed his talent in 1993. After being ranked the #30 prospect by Baseball America, Nevin put up a 286/359/413 line for the Tuscon Toros, the Astros’ AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. In 1994, Nevin again returned to the Toros, as the Astros still had Ken Caminiti as their starting third baseman. Ranked #24 by Baseball America, Nevin seemed to stagnate in Tuscon, putting up a 263/343/393 line.
In 1995, the Astros dealt Caminiti with a number of other players (including Steve Finley) to the San Diego Padres for a number of players (including Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, and Phil Plantier). Despite third base opening up and being ranked #59 by Baseball America, Nevin began the year back with the Toros. After putting up a 291/367/463 line in AAA, Nevin was promoted to the Astros. Appearing in 18 games, Nevin put up a 117/221/133 line that would even embarrass Mario Mendoza. Nevin got into a shouting match with Manager Terry Collins and, on August 15, the Astros dealt Nevin to the Detroit Tigers to complete a previous trade for Mike Henneman (who was a pretty decent closer for the Tigers at the time, finishing his career with 193 saves and a 3.21 ERA).
Nevin was assigned to the Toledo Mun Hens of the International League, the Tigers’ AAA affiliate. Nevin was brought up when rosters expanded in September, and put up a 219/318/33 line, primarily playing left field. With Travis Fryman firmly ensconced at third base, Nevin, no longer considered a rookie and therefore ineligible for prospect ranking, was sent to the Jacksonville Suns, the Tigers’ AA affiliate in the Southern League. Nevin finally put up big numbers, putting up a robust 294/397/561 for the Suns. Though primarily a third baseman who played some left field and first base, spent 62 of his 98 games playing catcher, a position entirely foreign to him. In August, Nevin made his first big league appearance of the year for the Tigers. Primarily playing third base, Nevin put up a solid 292/338/533 line in 130 plate appearances.
In November 1997, Nevin was dealt to the Anaheim Angels with Matt Walbeck for Nick Skuse. In 75 games for the Angels, Nevin hit an unimpressive 228/291/371. Traded on the eve of the regular season, Nevin was dealt again, this time to the San Diego Padres with Keith Volkman for Gus Kennedy and Andy Sheets. Nevin seemed to bloom in San Diego, putting up a 269/352/527 line across 441 plate appearances while playing third base and catching. As San Diego’s starting third baseman, Nevin put up a 303/374/543 line in 2000 and 306/388/588 line in 2001 while making his first All Star Game. In 2002, Nevin strained his arm in May, just three days after his return, Nevin fractured his humerus, missing the next six weeks of the season. Nevin put up a 285/344/413 line in 2002, followed by a 279/339/487 2003 campaign where he missed four months of the season after dislocating his left shoulder in Spring Training. Nevin was healthy again in 2004, primarily playing first base and putting up a 289/368/492 line, Nevin’s last big season. In May, Nevin was accused of spewing a string of vulgarities in front of young fans, including the man’s 8-year-old daughter in Philadelphia. After taking a called third strike, Nevin was heckled by the historically foul-mouthed Philadelphians and responded in a manner he later conceded to be “unprofessional.”
In 2005, at the age of 34, Nevin began to decline. After putting up a 256/301/399 line in 73 games for the Padres, Nevin was dealt to the Texas Rangers for Chan Ho Park and cash, where he put up a 182/250/323 line in 29 games. In 2006, Nevin hit 216/301/415 for the Rangers, then was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for Jerry Hairston, Jr., where he seemed to rebound, putting up a 274/335/497 line over 67 games. At the trading deadline, Nevin was dealt with cash to the Minnesota Twins for Adam Harben. Nevin finished the season with a 190/340/286 line in 16 games for the Twins.
After that inauspicious ending to the season, Nevin never played another inning of professional baseball. Formally announcing his retirement in May 2007, Nevin began working pre-game shows for the Padres, then worked for ESPN as a college baseball analyst in 2008. In 2009, Nevin was the manager of the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden Baseball League. In 2010, Nevin managed the Erie SeaWolves, the AA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. In 2011, Nevin managed the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers’ AAA affiliate, where he still manages today.
So what happened to Nevin? He never came close to the lofty expectations placed on a first overall draft pick, but he had a solid career, putting up a 270/343/472 career line (career 114 OPS+) across 1217 games and turning into a top managerial prospect. Of course, the real vindication was for Hal Newhouser, as the best player in the 1992 draft was, by nearly 20 career WAR, Derek Jeter.
It is often said that Americans love the narrative of the underdog. That is only partially true: the whole world loves the underdog. We root for the upset; we root for the improbable; we root for the statistically improbable. There’s nothing the world loves more than David taking out Goliath (unless, of course, we have Goliath on our fantasy team). The prospect equivalent to David is the undrafted free agent. A player so undesired, whose desire to play professional baseball is so unrequited, that no team values them highly enough to say their name on a conference call. Many of these players are signed and never make it out of A ball, but a select few make the show and become stars including, but not limited to, Larry Bowa, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Bonilla, and Jim Leyritz.
Much has been made about how Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round in 1988, but he was drafted (albeit as a favor to his father by his godfather, Tommy Lasorda). The subject of this article is three-time All-Star Heath Bell, a pitcher who placed 8th in the 2010 National League Cy Young Award vote. Despite lettering in football, basketball, and baseball while attending Tustin High School in Tustin, California, Bell failed to impress scouts and was not drafted. Bell attended Santiago Canyon College and was named a freshman All-American in 1997. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected Bell in the 69th Round of the 1997 draft. The 69th round had a total of three picks (neither of which appeared to play any professional baseball at any point), the final of which was Bell. Bell didn’t sign with the Devil Rays and made two appearances for the El Dorado Broncos in the National Baseball Congress World Series. Alas, Bell was not drafted in 1998 and signed with the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998.
Bell impressed from the start, a 2.54 ERA and 61 strike outs in 22 games (46 innings) at Kingsport of the Rookie Level Appalachian League in 1998 earned him a promotion to the Mets full season A affiliate for 1999, the South Atlantic League’s Capital City Bombers. In Capital City, Bell put up a 2.60 ERA with 68 strikeouts across 62.1 innings. In 2000, Bell appeared in 48 games for the St. Lucie Mets, the Mets’ affiliate in the High A Florida State League. In St. Lucie, Bell continued to excel, striking out 75 in 60 innings while putting up a sparkling 2.55 ERA.
Bell hit his first bump in 2001, when he was promoted to the Mets’ affiliate in the Eastern League, the Binghamton Mets. Bell appeared in 43 games, striking out 55 and putting up a 6.02 ERA. Bell returned to Binghamton in 2002 and put up an electric 1.18 ERA while striking out 49 in 38 innings. Bell was promoted to the Norfolk Tides, the Mets AAA affiliate in the International League, and pitched reasonably well, putting up a 4.26 ERA with 28 strike outs in 31.2 innings. In 2003, Bell put up a lackluster 4.71 ERA at Norfolk, while striking out 44 in 49.2 innings. After the season, it was revealed that Bell had a stress fracture in his right arm that Mets team doctors failed to diagnose.
After one two-inning appearance in Binghamton to start 2004, Bell was promoted to Norfolk, where he put up a 3.12 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, earning Bell a September call up to the Mets where he put up a respectable 3.33 ERA with 27 strikeouts across 24.1 innings. In 2005, Bell began riding the “Heath Bell Express”, as he was shuttled between AAA Norfolk and New York as the Mets whenever the Mets needed another bullpen arm. Bell put up a 1.69 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.59 ERA for the Mets. Bell clashed with Mets’ Pitching Coach Rick Peterson, who put the kibosh on Bell’s weight-losing in-line skating that helped him lose weight during spring training. In 2006, Bell resumed riding the “Heath Bell Express” as he put up a 1.29 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.11 ERA for the Mets.
In mid-November, the Mets dealt Heath Bell and Royce Ring to the San Diego Padres for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins. Acquiring Bell paid immediate dividends for the Padres. After putting up a 2.02 ERA over 93.2 innings in 2007, Bell put up a 3.58 ERA over 78 innings in 2008. In 2009, longtime Padres closer Trevor Hoffman signed with the Milwaukee Brewers and Bell became the closer, racking up a National League-leading 42 saves to go with his sparkling 2.71 ERA. Bell’s success has continued, as he put up 47 saves to go with a 1.93 ERA in 2010 followed by 43 saves and a 2.44 ERA in 2011.
After the 2011 season, Bell became a free agent for the first time and signed a three-year contract worth $27 million (with a vesting option for a fourth year worth another $9 million based upon games finished) with the
Florida Miami Marlins. While Bell has not been perfect to start the season (or, even, particularly good), there is no reason to suspect Bell will be anything other than the top-tier closer that he has been for the past three seasons. On a personal note, I must say I am happy for him. I always felt that the Mets misused him, though some of that may have been a result of his outspoken ways, as first reported in an article by Tim Kurkjian:
“Everything in New York was so serious,” Bell said. “I should keep my mouth shut, but I never do. In 2005, I didn’t pitch for 28 straight days. I don’t know if I did something to Willie [Randolph, then the manager of the Mets]. I didn’t always get along with [then pitching coach] Rick Peterson. I don’t know if they wanted to make me the scapegoat. It was a bad situation. I was an undrafted player. I was a walk-on. I was the last guy to get to the big leagues. I came in with [former manager] Art Howe, then went to Willie. I was with [former general manager] Steve Phillips, then [former GM] Jim Duquette, then [current general manager] Omar Minaya. No one really saw me. But they heard about me in the papers.”
Alas, the first question is: What happened? How did every team miss on Bell (twice, as he was not drafted in the 1998 draft)? The answer is that drafting baseball players is incredibly difficult and the level of play between high school and college are an ocean away from the level of play in the major leagues. This difference of play requires scouts to make projections about players four to six years into the future, a difficult task at best. The Mets should get credit for giving Bell a chance, but should be severely dinged for the fact that, once he showed the ability to thoroughly dominate AAA, never giving Bell a chance to succeed at the major league level. Further, former Mets General Manager Omar Minaya should be excoriated for his trades prior to the 2007 season. Dealing Bell and Royce Ring to the Padres for non-factors Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins was just the start of the problem. Minaya continued by dealing relievers Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom to the Marlins for Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick (which would have worked out well had Minaya not dealt the solid Vargas to the Seattle Mariners in the ill-fated J.J. Putz deal), then dealing reliever Brian Bannister for Ambiorix Burgos, who pitched poorly, got hurt, then committed a number of crimes (assaulting his girlfriend, hit an run, then kidnapping and poisoning his ex-wife).
The second question is: How did Bell figure it out? Clearly the Mets felt Bell was little more than a middle reliever or, possibly even gave bell the dreaded 4A label. Maybe Bell was better than the Mets believed, but I feel that Bell learned a lot from one of the greatest closers of all time, Trevor Hoffman. As Bell put it:
“Trevor taught me a lot, including, ‘let’s have fun,’” Bell said. “He taught me that we have to be serious, but we’re allowed to have fun before and after games. Before the position players arrive every spring, the pitchers play games with comebackers [balls hit back to the box] and we play a game where we hit in the cage with fungos. It’s fun. San Diego has allowed me to be me. When the game starts, I want to tear your head off, but I’m one of the nicest guys I know. In Philadelphia last year, a fan screamed at me from the stands, ‘How many cheesesteaks did you have today, four?’ I yelled back, ‘Only three, why don’t you get me a fourth?’ Another guy yelled, ‘Hey, fatso.’ I yelled back, ‘Tell me something I don’t know. C’mon, this is Philly, you’re supposed to be better hecklers than that.’”
In the end, Heath Bell made it his own way and we should all be rooting for him, the true underdog.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
If one was to look at the 2001 MLB Rule IV Draft without any knowledge of the change in the baseball landscape over the past decade, it would be likely that it would make sense that Joe Mauer was picked ahead of Mark Prior (though one might wonder why Mark Teixeira and David Wright went as late as they did). Mauer and Prior have become inextricably linked due to the Minnesota Twins’ overt refusal to pay Prior’s bonus demands and the veracity of the old adage: there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect (or, TNSTAAPP, for short).
Leading up to the 2001 draft, Mark Prior was viewed as the complete package. Prior, a 6’5” 230 pound righty at the University of Southern California, was the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy, given annually to the national college baseball player of the year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association after a season where he went 15-1 with a 1.70 ERA while striking out 202 batters, walking 18, and allowing 100 hits in 138 innings. Prior’s pitching motion appeared to be clean and easy, while he threw mid-90s fastballs, coupled with his curveball, slurve, and a changeup. Viewed as nearly ready for major league baseball, Prior was rumored to want a record-setting contract and made it publicly know, albeit through back channels, that he did not want to be drafted by the Minnesota Twins. The Minnesota Twins, often claiming that they could not financially compete with the larger market teams despite their owner, Carl Pohlad, being one of the richest owners in all of sports (his estimated wealth in 2006 was $2.6 billion), had a decision to make. Potentially blow the #1 pick in the draft or take another player. Another top college player, Mark Teixeira, represented by Scott Boras, was rumored to be seeking a similar bonus to Prior, was not an alternative.
Accordingly, the Twins turned their attention to a local option, St. Paul’s Joe Mauer. A multi-sport standout at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mauer was the USA Today High School Player of the Year in football (2000) and in baseball (2001), and had committed to play both sports at Florida State. Additionally, Mauer had appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd feature (not entirely relevant, but pretty cool).
With the #1 pick in the 2001 Rule IV draft, the Minnesota Twins picked Mauer, a move that, to the casual observer, looked like a total cop-out move. But would time bear out their pick? Yes, but not for the reasons considered at the time.
Mauer signed quickly in 2001 and appeared in 32 games for the Elizabethtown Twins, the Twins Rookie level Appalachian League affiliate, putting up a 400/492/491 slash line splitting his time between catching and DH’ing. Prior didn’t sign until August and failed to appear in any league games.
In 2002, Baseball America‘s Top 10 looked like this:
1. Josh Beckett, rhp, Marlins
2. Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs
3. Hank Blalock, 3b, Rangers
4. Sean Burroughs, 3b, Padres
5. Carlos Pena, 1b, Athletics
6. Juan Cruz, rhp, Cubs
7. Joe Mauer, c, Twins
8. Wilson Betemit, ss, Braves
9. Drew Henson, 3b, Yankees
10. Mark Teixeira, 3b, Rangers
In effect, Baseball America said that the draft order should have gone Mark Prior, Joe Mauer, then Mark Teixeira (who went #5 to the Rangers, after the then-Devil Rays picked Dewon Brazelton at #3 then the Phillies picked Gavin Floyd at #4).
In 2002, Prior dominated the minor leagues. In six starts with the AA West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the Southern League, he struck out 55and walked 10, while putting up a 2.60 ERA in 34.2 innings (14.3 K/9). In May, he was promoted to the AAA Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League (Iowa is on the Pacific coast?) and was nearly as dominant, striking out 24 and walking 8 in 16.1 innings, while putting up a sparkling 1.65 ERA. On May 22, Prior made his big league debut, striking out 10, and allowing only four hits and two runs in six innings, to pick up his first big league win. Prior put up a solid 3.32 ERA (122 RRA+) in 19 starts over 116.2 innings. Prior came in 7th in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting (despite having the second highest WAR).
Mauer’s 2002 season was also impressive, as he hit 302/393/392 for the Quad Cities River Bandits, the Twins’ A-level affiliate in the Midwest League. Mauer caught 81 games, played 13 at first base, and spent some time at DH, impressing scouts with his talent. After 2002, Prior was no longer eligible to be on any top prospect lists, but Mauer moved up to #4 on Baseball America’s list (behind Mark Teixeira, Rocco Baldelli, and Jose Reyes, just slightly ahead of future first ballot Hall of Famer Jesse Foppert).
Prior’s 2003 is the stuff of legends (or nightmares for Cubs fans, who watched Dusty Baker make Prior and Kerry Wood throw as many pitches as humanly possible), as Prior went 18-6 in 30 starts, logging 211.1 innings, while striking out 245 batters (10.4/9) and placing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting (behind Eric Gagne and Jason Schmidt, despite having the highest WAR of any pitcher in the NL). The Cubs came a mere out from making it to their first World Series since the Truman Administration. Mauer had another banner season in the minor leagues. Starting the year playing for the Fort Myers Miracle of the High-A Florida State League, Mauer put up a 335/395/412 line while splitting time between catcher and DH. Promoted to the New Britain Rock Cats of the AA Eastern League, Mauer’s numbers improved, hitting 341/400/453, playing almost exclusively behind the plate. Mauer put also walked 49 times and struck out 49 times, showing a mature approach to go with his pure talent. Mauer also took part of the 2003 All-Star Futures Game at U.S. Cellular Field.
Both Prior and Mauer spent significant time on the DL in 2004. Prior missed the first two months of the 2004 season with an injury to his Achilles tendon. Rumors swirled that Prior’s ulnar collateral ligament was injured and he would need Tommy John surgery, but both Prior and the Cubs denied the rumors. Prior ended up with a 4.02 ERA in 21 starts, finishing the season with a career high 16 strike outs against the Cincinnati Reds. Mauer, now ranked Baseball America’s #1 overall prospect, began the year as the starting catcher for the Twins, and went 2/3 with two walks. In his second game of the season, Mauer injured his left medial meniscus (read: cartilage in the knee), had surgery, and missed a month of the season. After a cup of tea in the minors (7 total games), Mauer returned to the twins and immediately began mashing. On July 15, Mauer had a 308/369/570 line when the pain and swelling in his knee forced an early ending to the 2004 season.
In 2005, Prior began the year on the DL and did not make his debut until April 13. Prior was pitching well when, on May 27, Prior was hit on his right elbow by a comebacker off the bat of Brad Hawpe, causing a compression fracture and sending Prior back to the DL. Prior returned on June 26 and made a total of 27 starts, putting up a 3.67 ERA in 166.2 Innings, with 188 strike outs. Mauer, still considered a rookie (he had 122 at bats in 2004, just eight shy of the required 130), was again ranked the #1 prospect in Baseball America and, again, began the year as the starting catcher for the Twins. Mauer appeared in 131 games, putting up a 294/372/411 slash line.
2006 is when it all fell apart for Prior, as he felt stiffness in his shoulder during spring training and was diagnosed with a strained shoulder. Prior’s debut did not occur until June 18, when the Detroit Tigers scored eight runs (seven earned) in 3.2 innings. Prior went six innings only once in 2006. Prior ended up making only nine starts, pitching 43.2 innings, striking out 38 batters (while a 7.8 K/9 is great for many pitchers, Prior averaged 10.6 K/9 his first four seasons), and earning a 7.21 ERA. On July 14, Prior was put on the disabled list for the remainder of the season with tendinitis. In 2006, Mauer appeared in 140 games, putting up a 347/429/507 slash line. Mauer’s .347 batting average led the Major Leagues (.003 ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Freddy Sanchez). Mauer was selected to his first All-Star Game, was awarded his first Silver Slugger, and came in 6th place in the AL MVP vote (teammate Justin Morneau won the award despite having the 19th highest WAR. Grady Sizemore, who came in 11th place led the league with a 7.3 WAR and Mauer, with a 7.0 WAR was in second place. Third place was held by teammate Johan Santana, with 6.9).
In the off season, Prior filed for salary arbitration for the first time, eventually agreeing with the Cubs on a $3.575 contract for 2007. In April, Dr. James Andrews performed exploratory arthroscopic surgery on Prior, and determined that he had injuries to his shoulder, and performed a debridement of Prior’s rotator cuff, and repaired labral and capsular injuries in Priors shoulder. Prior would be out the entire season, though reports at the time indicated that he could be back at full strength in 2008. Though not as extreme, Mauer also had injury issues in 2007. After agreeing to a four-year, $33 million contract with the Twins (with a $25,000 bonus for winning the Gold Glove), Mauer had a small stress fracture during spring training, followed by a left quadriceps strain in early June, which landed him on the 15-day DL. Mauer appeared in only 109 games, still putting up a solid 293/382/426 slash line.
Mark Prior would not pitch in an organized, professional baseball game until 2010, and only pitched a total of 24 innings before being beset by more injuries. Conversely, Mauer put up MVP-caliber numbers, with a 332/411/481 slash line from 2008-2011, while leading the AL in batting twice, and putting up a historic 365/444/587 slash line in route to the MVP in 2009. Though his numbers have come down significantly since 2009 (while his salary has skyrocketed), Mauer is still an elite defensive catcher with a potent bat (and great sideburns).
So what happened? Were the pundits incorrect? Yes, but It is easy to look back at a draft and think “I could have done better,” but it is nearly impossible to predict what a group of people under age 22 will do over the course of the next 15 years. The 2001 draft was seemingly filled with more landmines than most (Dewan Brazelton, the #3 pick has a -4.0 WAR, and 18 of the 44 first round or supplemental first round picks failed to reach the major leagues), but, in the end, it appears that going the “cheap” route worked well for the Twins, at least until they have to pay off the nearly $160 million left on Joe Mauer’s contract.
In the end, the best pick may have been one of the following:
- A right handed pitcher from Pepperdine taken with the 28th pick of the second round (#72 overall) named Dan Haren;
- A first baseman from Missouri State University taken with the 4th pick of the 5th round (#140 overall) named Ryan Howard;
- A third baseman from the University of Cincinnati taken with the 17th pick of the 8th round (#243 overall) named Kevin Youkilis; or
- A second baseman from the University of Memphis taken with the 22nd pick of the 11th round (#338) named Dan Uggla.
Either way, their result was better than Mark Prior. Maybe, just maybe, if a few things had been slightly different, we would have been mocking the Twins for being cheap and applauding the Cubs for being willing to spend money.