Monday, June 7, 2010

Remembrances of failures past, part II

Yeah, I lied about posting this stuff over the weekend. So what? I don't owe you people anything.

1997 - J.J. Davis, 1B, Baldwin Park HS - Baldwin Park, CA (8th)
Sweet Christ, was this a terrible pick. Davis only really played for the Pirates in the majors because of the time and money they invested in him. He took longer than he should have to progress through the system, and his minor league numbers were on the pedestrian side of decent. During three call ups to Pittsburgh ('02, '03, '04), Davis hit a combined .163/.236/.213, and an OPS+ of 18. If you're scoring at home, you know that really sucks. What sucks even more is that be it for reasons of talent or signability, had Davis ranked higher on their draft board than 1B/OF Lance Berkman, who went eight picks later.

1998 - Clint Johnson, LHP, Vanderbilt University (15th)
Where Davis was probably a reach, taken more because he'd cost the team less money to sign than a superior talent, Johnson was definitely a reach, as he wasn't even projected to be drafted in the top two rounds -- at least, not as a pitcher. Most teams that scouted Johnson were more intrigued with his potential as a first baseman or corner outfielder than as a pitcher. Johnson was an abject failure as a pitcher in the Pirates' system, never making it above High-A. When the Pirates cut Johnson in 2001, he caught on with Toronto and began transitioning to first base. He put up decent numbers playing in High-A and Double-A, but by then he was far too old to be considered anything more than a serviceable minor league player, let alone a prospect. In 2008, then age 30, Johnson OPS'd .849 for Southern Maryland of the independent Atlantic League in his first season as a full-time player in four years. He has been out of baseball since.

1999 - Bobby Bradley, RHP, Wellington Community HS - Wellington, FL (8th)
Three years in the low minors, strikeouts, control problems. Tommy John in '02. Three more years in the minors, including a cup of coffee in Triple-A, by which time he'd fallen out of favor with the organization. Bradley now plays poker professionally and golf on the side.

2000 - Sean Burnett, LHP, Wellington Community HS - Wellington, FL (19th)
There was a story floating around that Burnett was drafted, at least partially, on the advice of his high school teammate Bradley. That's not a stellar way to go about running your baseball operations, but it's surely not to blame for Burnett's struggles. Objectively, Burnett was a bust. He never had the velocity to be a top-of-the-rotation guy, but his command and poise were always well ahead of his age, and his work ethic was stellar. I'll admit, I'm biased here. I covered Burnett in Double-A, and I really grew to like the guy. He's personable, he's cool, he's collected and he's got a sort of understated swagger about him. I really wanted Burnett to make it, and I was pretty upset when the Pirates traded him. Not as upset as he was, but still pretty upset. The guy was and continues to be a bulldog on the mound.

2001 - John Van Benschoten, RHP, Kent State University (8th)
Not a lot of luck with that eighth pick, eh? Van Benschoten (known to his teammates as "Scooter") was a slugging first baseman who hit all the home runs while playing at Kent State. He also moonlighted as his team's closer -- a role he was pretty effective in. So naturally, the Pirates drafted him and made him a starting pitcher. Average in hte minor leagues. Tommy John in '05. Flat-out awful in the majors. Van Benschoten holds the distinction of having the highest ERA in MLB history of any pitcher to have thrown at least 75 innings. Now, at age 30, he is currently on the minor league disabled list with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.

2002 - Bryan Bullington, RHP, Ball State University (1st)
When Dave Littlefield drafted Bryan Bullington, he said that the club had Bullington pegged as a fourth starter in a five man rotation, ideally, which is a great way to burn the first overall pick and the signing bonus that goes with it. Here is a brief list of players drafted after Bullington who have had more productive careers: B.J. Upton, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jeff Francis, Joe Saunders, Khalil Greene, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, James Loney, Denard Span, Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francoeur, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain. Here are a few names taken in the second round, after the Pirates adeptly nabbed high school pitcher Blair Johnson that year: Joey Votto, Micah Owings, Dave Bush, Jon Lester, Jonathan Broxton, Brian McCann, Fred Lewis.

2003 - Paul Maholm, LHP, Mississippi State University (8th)
There are conflicting theories as to what caused Dave Littlefield to inadvertently select a decent player. One says that he was double-crossed by scouting director Mickey White. Another says that Littlefield tried to draft Hall-of-Famer Napoleon Lajoie, and the league office, stricken with pity for Littlefield's lack of competence, simply drafted Maholm for him. We may never know. But Paul Maholm is the only one of the first-round arms in this group to 1) stick with the major league team for any length of time, and 2) make it to the majors without having Tommy John. These two things will surely help the Pirates command a fine price for Maholm when they start shopping in the next three to five weeks.

2004 - Neil Walker, C, Pine Richland HS - Pittsburgh, PA (11th)
The Pirates weren't going to take Jered Weaver because of signability issues, and the sentimentality factor of drafting the hometown kid definitely played into this pick. It really wound up not mattering too much from a baseball standpoint because pretty much everyone who went in the first round in '04 was awful (except for Weaver, Justin Verlander and Houston Street). The drafting of Neil Walker made for a nice little piece of good PR, which the club dearly needed at the time, and it's turned into a nice little piece of PR in the last two weeks with Walker taking over as the starting second baseman and entrenching himself in the two-spot of the order. No telling how long he'll last, but his plate discipline, defensive versatility and the lack of middle infield depth in the Pirates' system should be enough to give Walker a more than fair chance to stick with the Bucs for at least a few years.

2005 - Andrew McCutchen, OF, Fort Meade HS - Fort Meade, FL (11th)
I guess it's harder to miss when you're dealing with a deep pool of talent in the draft, but that never seemed to stop the Pirates from missing before. In 2005, they didn't miss. Five years later, this kid, who was compared to Mike Cameron, now looks like one of the game's most promising young players. He's also the only guy currently on the roster worth paying to see.

2006 - Brad Lincoln, RHP, University of Houston (4th)
Pirates War Room, June 6, 2006
Doug Strange: Well, Dave, we're up! You've heard from all the scouts, you have all our notes and projections. Who's it gonna be?
Dave Littlefield: Hmm. Lots of numbers on page!
/closes eyes, waves index finger at spreadsheet
Dave Littlefield: We'll take Tim...Lin...Linkay...Linkeycume? Linkucumm...Fuck it. Give me Brad Lincoln.
Strange: Sounds great! I'll get him on the phone.
Brad Lincoln: Hello?
Dave Littlefield: Brad Lineupcum? Am I speaking with Brad?
Brad Lincoln: This is Brad Lincoln.
Dave Littlefield: Tim, This is Red Leader. I've got some great news for you. We are about to make you a Pittsburgh Pirates.
Brad Lincoln: That is terrible news. I won't sign for less than $2 million.
Dave Littlefield: How about $3 million?
Brad Lincoln: Deal!
Dave Littlefield: Now, we're going to have a mini-camp at our facility in Bradenton on the twenty-
Brad Lincoln: Coach, can I call you back? I'm kind of in the middle of something.
/has Tommy John surgery.

2007 - Daniel Moskos, LHP, Clemson University (4th)
Littlefield did not want to pay the best player on the board, Matt Wieters, any money. In fact, he was afraid of even negotiating with Wieters, who is represented by Scott Boras. So instead, he drafted closer prospect Danny Moskos. FTC covered this extensively at the time. When Neal Huntington took over this disaster of an organization, he made Moskos a starter. That was an even bigger failure than Moskos as a reliever, so now he's back to closing. Currently in his second full year with Double-A Altoona, Moskos has a 1.42 ERA, a 1.026 WHIP, a 26:8 K:BB ratio and 13 saves in 25.1 innings of work.

2008 - Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt University (2nd)
His bat is for real. So is his ability to eat his weight in cheeseburgers. The next Miguel Cabrera? Stay tuned.

2009 - Tony Sanchez, C, Boston College (4th)
In Sanchez, the Pirates saw a cheap option in a weak draft, and they loved his intangibles. Huntington took a lot of flack for supposedly reaching for Sanchez, but through parts of two minor league seasons, all the kid has done is hit: .314/.416/.500. Currently hitting .318/.423/.460 for High-A Bradenton.

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