June 3, 2003

Feeling a draft

The MLB Draft was yesterday and I actually listened to a great deal of the first 4 rounds (when MLB.com wasn't having audio problems), despite the fact that I had absolutely no clue who 99% of the players being drafted were. To me, the most interesting thing about the draft is not who the players are, but what types of players they are and which teams choose them.

For example, the Braves take high school player after high school player after high school player every year, with seemingly half of them being from the state of Georgia. On the other hand, A's take 100% college players and all of them have .450 OBPs and most have questionable defense. My team, the Twins, generally take a mix of high school and college players and this year was no different.

The Twins chose Matt Moses, a high school infielder, with their first round pick (#21 overall) and then used their second rounder on Scott Baker, a polished college pitcher from Oklahoma State. I think the Twins have done a very good job with their drafts in recent years, although some of their first round picks have been flops. Hopefully this guy Moses turns into something good (that sentence just sounds funny: "this guy Moses"). From what I have read about Moses, he has been dubbed the best "pure high school hitter in the draft" - whatever that means.

Here's what ESPN.com says about Matt Moses:

"A left-hander with a smooth swing, a big build and an excellent eye at plate, Moses was widely regarded as the best all-around hitter among this year's prep prospects."

Sounds pretty good to me. Of course, the problem with high school guys is that, even if he turns out to be great, he won't be playing for the Twins until like 2007, which seems awfully far away. I mean, by that time, I might actually be done with college!

I thought it might be interesting to look back at the Twins' first-round picks over the last 15 years to see how they've done...

1989 | 25th overall | Chuck Knoblauch | SS | Texas A&M

Chuck Knoblauch didn't exactly have a pleasant end to his career, but this is definitely one of the best (if not the best) picks by the Twins in the last 15 years. The Twins drafted Knoblauch as a shortstop and he eventually made the switch to second base, where, despite his troubles with the Yankees, he was an excellent defensive player.

After being drafted, Knoblauch played in two different Single-A leagues in 1989, combining to hit .308/.392/.421 with 2 homers, 23 doubles and 13 steals in 69 games. He stole bases, had an awesome walk/strikeout ratio and flashed excellent doubles power. Knoblauch was promoted to Orlando of the Southern League the next season and he hit .289/.380/.384 with 2 homers, 23 doubles, 6 triples, 23 steals and a fantastic 63/31 BB/K ratio.

That was his final season in the minors. Knoblauch began the 1991 season with the Twins and ended up playing in 151 games as their starting second baseman. He hit .281/.351/.350 with 25 stolen bases and won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, while helping lead the Twins to their second World Series Championship (Knoblauch hit .326 in the post-season and scored 8 runs in 12 games).

As they say, the rest is history. Knoblauch continued as the Twins' starting second baseman until they traded him to the Yankees in 1998. From 1991-1997, he was one of the best second baseman in baseball and his 1995 and 1996 seasons are two of the best back-to-back seasons by a second baseman in baseball history.

Year     AVG     OBP     SLG     SB     OPS+

1995 .333 .424 .487 46 138
1996 .341 .448 .517 45 142

Over that two year stretch, Knoblauch was tied for 5th in the American League in "Runs Created Above Position." The numbers one through four guys were Edgar Martinez, Jim Thome, Albert Belle and Frank Thomas, and Mark McGwire was tied with Knoblauch for 5th.

Knoblauch was basically a perfect first round pick. He developed quickly, he developed well, he became a star player for many years and even led the team to a championship. It doesn't get much better than that. Heck, the Twins even got value when they traded him to the Yankees (Cristian Guzman and Eric Milton, among others).

Knoblauch's first season with New York was a mediocre one. He hit just .265/.361/.401 for an OPS+ of 101 - his lowest since 1993. Of course, the Yankees won 114 games and the World Series that year, so it wasn't all bad. Knoblauch bounced back the next year and hit .292/.393/.454 with a career-high 18 homers, as the Yanks once again won the World Series.

It was about this time that Knoblauch started experiencing "the yips" at second base, and he often was unable to make routine throws on ground balls. He was reasonably productive with the bat in 2000 (.282/.366/.385), but his sudden defensive problems were growing bigger and bigger and he eventually stopped playing second base. Then in 2001, he moved to left field full-time, where his throwing problems were no longer a big concern. His defense in left was very raw though and he also had the worst offensive season of his career, hitting just .250/.339/.351.

The Yankees let him go and he signed with the Kansas City Royals for the 2002 season and played left field for them, hitting a miserable .210/.284/.300 in what would be his final season as a major league baseball player.

Last I heard of Knoblauch, he had retired from baseball and was living in New York.

1990 | 12th overall | Todd Ritchie | RHP | High School

A year after taking a college middle-infielder, the Twins opted to take Todd Ritchie, a right-handed high school pitcher from Duncanville, Texas. While Knoblauch was the Twins' starting second baseman just two years after being drafted, Todd Ritchie's journey to the big leagues was a lot longer and a lot more difficult. Ritchie pitched over 600 minor league innings before he ever threw a pitch in the major leagues.

His pro career started out very well when he posted a 1.94 ERA in 65 innings of rookie-ball after being drafted. He pitched well in 1991 too, throwing 117 innings with a 3.55 ERA in his first full-season. It was all downhill from there though.

Ritchie had a 5.09 ERA in 173 innings in 1992 and then pitched only 47 and 17 innings in 1993 and 1994, with ERAs of 3.66 and 4.24. He came back in 1995 and managed to pitch 113 innings at Double-A, but contined to struggle and had a 5.73 ERA. Then in 1996, Ritchie had a 5.44 ERA in 83 Double-A innings and a 5.47 ERA in 25 innings at Double-A.

For some reason, perhaps because of his status as a former #1 pick, the Twins promoted him to the big leagues in 1997 and he actually did okay. Ritchie appeared in 42 games for the Twins, all in relief, and pitched a total of 75 innings with a 4.58 ERA. He was again with the Twins in 1998, but struggled and was eventually sent back down to the minors.

After 9 years in the organization, the Twins let Ritchie go following the 1998 season and he signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Surprisingly, Ritchie earned a spot in Pittsburgh's rotation in 1999 and ended up having the best season of his career. He started 26 games and pitched 173 innings with a 3.49 ERA. He went 15-9 and ranked 6th in the National League in ERA. That good season earned him a few more years in the Pittsburgh rotation and he went 9-8 with a 4.51 ERA in 2000 and then 11-15 with a 4.47 ERA in 2001.

In what will no doubt go down as one of the best trades the Pirates have done in recent memory, they shipped Ritchie and his career 4.37 ERA to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Kip Wells and Josh Fogg. Wells and Fogg combined to pitch 393 innings and win 24 games for the Pirates in 2002 and are now mainstays in the Pittsburgh rotation, while Ritchie had perhaps the worst season of any pitcher in baseball for the White Sox. He went 5-15 with a 6.06 ERA and gave up 176 hits in just 134 innings. The White Sox let Ritchie go after the season and he signed with the Brewers last off-season. He is currently on the disabled list with a bum shoulder and has a 5.08 ERA in 28 innings for Milwaukee this year.

I don't think there is any denying that Todd Ritchie was a disappointment. He was the #12 overall pick in the draft and, aside from one fairly good season in 1999, was never even really an average pitcher. His current career record stands at 43-52 and he has a 4.67 career ERA (about 3% worse than league-average). He gave the Twins almost zero value, despite being in the organization for nearly a decade.

1991 | 3rd overall | David McCarty | OF/1B | Stanford

The name David McCarty is one that is almost guaranteed to anger a Twins fan - even now, a decade after he was drafted.

After a miserable 1990 season that saw the Twins finish 29 games behind the A's in the AL West, they had the honor of picking third in the 1991 draft. They selected David McCarty, a polished college hitter who had the label of a "can't miss" prospect. He, of course, missed.

After hitting .420 with 24 homers in just 71 games during his junior (and final) season at Stanford, McCarty struggled immediately in pro ball. After hitting .380 in a brief 15 game stint at Single-A right after signing, McCarty was promoted to Double-A, where hit just .261/.350/.409 to finish the season. Then, in his first full-season of pro ball, McCarty hit .272/.356/.434 in 129 games at Double-A. He wasn't showing a lot of the awesome hitting ability he flashed in college, but then he got off to a very hot start at Triple-A in 1993 and, after 40 games, the Twins called him up to the big leagues, where he struggled mightily.

The next few seasons were spent struggling in the majors and getting sent back down to the minors, only to have the process repeated. Finally, in 1995, after McCarty had accumulated a .226/.275/.310 hitting line in 167 games with the Twins, they traded him to the Reds for a minor league pitcher named John Courtright (who pitched in exactly one big league game in his career).

McCarty's stay in the Reds' organization lasted about a month after he was included in a deal that sent, among others, Deion Sanders to the San Francisco Giants, in exchange for Dave Burba, Darren Lewis and Mark Portugal.

McCarty got limited playing time with the Giants over the next couple seasons, hitting .221/.297/.333 in 103 games. San Fran dealt him to the Mariners in 1998 and that basically ended McCarty's days as any sort of valuable property. Since 1998, he has played in 5 organizations, including the Oakland A's twice. He had the most major league success of his career with the Royals in 2000, when he hit .278/.329/.478 as a part-time first baseman/DH. The Royals rewarded him with a job in 2001 and he responded by hitting just .250/.328/.405.

McCarty is currently a member of the A's organization and is playing in Triple-A, where he is having a very good year, hitting .293/.365/.554 in 57 games. McCarty turns 34 in a few months, so his career is pretty much over. He'll probably continue to hit well in Triple-A and might end up with a bench job for someone at some point, but he's never going to come close to living up to his promise.

McCarty is an unqualified bust for the Twins and has to be considered one of the least successful picks in Twins history.

1992 | 26th overall | Dan Serafini | LHP | High School

After picking 3rd overall in the 1991 draft, the Twins won the 1991 World Series and picked 26th in the 1992 draft. After selecting a college slugger the previous year, they picked Dan Serafini, a left-handed high school pitcher from San Bruno, California. Going from a right-handed college slugger to left-handed high school pitcher is about as different as two picks can be, but Serafini's results were sadly very similar to McCarty's.

Serafini's minor league numbers were very mediocre. He pitched a total of 823 minor league innings in his career and posted a 4.31 ERA. His strikeout totals were fairly good in the minors and I suspect, had I been writing this blog back in the mid-90s, I would have called Dan Serafini a "sleeper" prospect or something similar.

He did get to the majors with the Twins, but he just never got the job done. He made his MLB debut with the Twins in 1996 and gave up 5 runs in 4 innings. Then he pitched a little bit for them the next season and had a decent ERA (3.42) in 26 innings. Serafini got his big chance in 1998. He pitched a total of 75 innings for the Twins, allowing 95 hits and posting a 6.48 ERA.

The Twins dealt him to the Cubs after the season and he posted a 6.93 ERA with Chicago in 1999, before moving on to the Pirates and then finally the Padres.

Serafini's chances in the majors weren't particularly plentiful, but his minor league performances didn't exactly cry out for more chances. He ended his major league career with a 6.06 ERA in 233 innings pitched.

1993 | 20th overall | Torii Hunter | CF | High School

1993 | 21st overall | Jason Varitek | C | Georgia Tech

The Twins got themselves two first round picks in 1993, because they received Toronto's selection (#21) as compensation for Jack Morris signing with the Jays in 1992.

With their own pick, the Twins took Torii Hunter, a toolsy high school outfielder from Arkansas. With the Jays' selection, they grabbed Jason Varitek, a college catcher.

I am gonna guess that most of you are pretty familar with both Hunter and Varitek. Torii was the Twins' best player last season and is their starting centerfielder for the forseeable future. Varitek has been one of the better starting catchers in the majors since 1999. Unfortunately, it hasn't been for the Twins.

Varitek did not sign with the Twins after they picked him and ended up going back to school and then back into the draft the following season. The Mariners picked him in the first round the next year, signed him and then later traded him to the Red Sox, for whom he has been the starting catcher.

Looking back on it now, it is likely one of the worst trades of the last decade. The Mariners sent Varitek, along with Derek Lowe (21-8 last year for Boston), to the Red Sox in exchange for the immortal Heathcliff Slocumb. Slocumb's Seattle career lasted exactly 96 innings and he went 2-9 with a 4.97 ERA. And for that the Sox got their starting catcher and the guy who finished #3 in the Cy Young voting last year.

Strictly for identifying major league caliber players, the Twins "batted a thousand" in 1993. They picked two guys who both turned into above-average major league starters. Unfortunately, they only batted .500 when it came to actually signing the guys, although I am sure they are pretty happy with the guy they did sign.

1994 | 8th overall | Todd Walker | IF | Louisiana State

With their first-round pick in 1994, the Twins selected Todd Walker, a college star from LSU. Walker was the 1993 College World Series MVP and had excellent college stats. The Twins no doubt selected him because of that and because they felt he could advance quickly through the system and provide value in the major leagues quickly. And, for the most part, Walker did just that.

Walker debuted at Fort Myers in 1994 and hit .304 with a .532 slugging percentage in 46 games. He hit .290 with a .478 slugging percentage the next season and then followed that up with a .339 batting average and a .599 slugging percentage at Triple-A in 1996. He got a cup of coffee with the Twins at the end of the 1996 season and then went back to Triple-A to start 1997. He hit .345 and slugged .516 in 83 games there and the Twins called him up for good (or so it seemed).

Walker struggled in 1997 while playing third base in Minnesota, but had a breakout year in 1998 as Minnesota's starting second baseman. He hit .316/.372/.473 with 12 homers and 41 doubles. Walker then had a big dropoff in production in 1999, hitting "only" .279/.343/.397.

By this time, there was a lot of talk about his defense at second base being absolutely horrible. Not only were the media and fans talking about it, Tom Kelly (the manager) and some members of the pitching staff were actually voicing (or at least whispering) concerns. Personally, I never thought Walker's defense at second base was that bad. He certainly did not have great range, but he was very sure-handed and he was okay on the double-play. Purely from personal observations, I don't think Walker's D with the Twins was anywhere near as horrible as Luis Rivas' and you don't really hear many people (besides myself) talking about Rivas' shortcomings. And, unlike Todd Walker, Luis Rivas stinks at the plate too.

Walker got off to a very bad start at the plate in 2000 and the Twins simply got sick of him. They sent him to Triple-A and then dealt him to the Rockies at mid-season. At the time, the deal was looked at as purely a "dump," but the Twins actually got a useful player (Todd Sears) out of it. Walker hit .316/.385/.544 for the Rockies in the second-half of the year and then hit .296/.355/.459 between Colorado and Cincinnati the next season. He played for the Reds last year and hit .299/.353/.431 as their starting second baseman. Walker was traded from the Reds to the Red Sox last off-season and he is currently Boston's second baseman.

Todd Walker is a big disappointment as far as his Minnesota career is concerned, but his overall career has been quite good and he was certainly a solid first-round pick.

1995 | 13th overall | Mark Redman | LHP | Oklahoma

A year after taking a college hitter in the first round, the Twins selected Mark Redman, a left-handed college pitcher from the University of Oklahoma. Interestingly enough, Redman's career is somewhat similar to Walker's. Redman didn't cruise through the minors as quickly as Walker did, but, once he got to the Twins, he was very good at times and very frustrating at times, just like Walker.

And, like Walker, the Twins eventually got tired of him and traded him away. They dealt him to the Tigers for a half-season of Todd Jones in 2001. And yet again, like Walker, Redman has had some pretty good success with other teams since leaving Minnesota. He pitched 203 innings for the Tigers last season, posting a respectable 4.21 ERA. He is currently a member of the Marlins' starting rotation and he is 3-2 with a 2.76 ERA in 46 innings pitched.

I don't think anyone would describe Mark Redman's career (26-32 with a 4.40 ERA in 471 innings) as being of first-round quality, but he is certainly a valuable pitcher in the major leagues, which, considering the various busts throughout the history of first-round picks, is pretty good.

1996 | 2nd overall | Travis Lee | 1B | San Diego State

After finishing with the worst record in the American League in 1995, the Twins had the #2 pick in the 1996 draft and, for the third straight year, chose a college player. This time it was Travis Lee, a "pure hitting" first baseman, with a sweet lefty stroke and impressive college numbers.

Travis Lee never played a single day in the Minnesota organization, not because of a career-ending injury or the Twins refusing to sign him, but because Lee and his agent were able to find a loophole in the draft process that allowed him to become a free agent. Free to offer Lee's services to the highest bidder, he ended up signing a big major league contract with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.

At the time, Twins fans were irate/confused/depressed about the whole situation and, after Lee put up nice numbers in the minors, all of those feelings were magnified. Fortunately for the sake of Twins fans, Travis Lee never really turned into the player most people thought he would become. He has played 746 major league games for 3 different teams and has a career batting line of .255/.339/.401, which, for a first baseman, is pretty awful.

As a #2 overall pick, he's a bust. As a first-round pick, he isn't bad and has certainly had a decent major league career.

1997 | 9th overall | Michael Cuddyer | SS | High School

1998 | 6th overall | Ryan Mills | LHP | Arizona State

1999 | 5th overall | B.J. Garbe | OF | High School

2000 | 2nd overall | Adam Johnson | RHP | Cal State Fullerton

2001 | 1st overall | Joe Mauer | C | High School

2002 | 20th overall | Denard Span | CF | High School

2003 | 21st overall | Matt Moses | IF | High School

From 1997 on is the point at which I think it is "too early" to determine how the picks have turned out. Of the 7 picks listed above, only Cuddyer and Johnson have reached the majors and they are currently both back in Triple-A. I do think, however, that a pretty good feel can be had for several of those guys.

Michael Cuddyer has been given a couple of short stints with the Twins and has simply not produced at the level expected of him. In 73 career games in the majors, Cuddyer is a .246/.313/.409 hitter. Not completely awful, but nowhere near what the Twins think he can do. Cuddyer has consistently dominated minor league pitching and I really think he is going to be a very good major league player. While it is too early to say he was a good first round pick, I think he will eventually be considered a very good one.

On the other hand, Ryan Mills, B.J. Garbe and Adam Johnson are well on their way to being total busts.

Mills was a dominant college pitcher at Arizona State, but as soon as he got to the Minnesota organization, he started suffering from a minor case of whatever Rick Ankiel has - he just couldn't throw strikes. It was never as bad as Ankiel's situation, but Mills never showed even an inkling of his college dominance and he is now being tried as a reliever in the minors, in the hopes that he will be able to provide at least a marginal bit of value to the Twins at some point.

B.J. Garbe was a high school outfielder who was drafted because he oozed "tools." Unfortunately, he isn't much of a baseball player. He has played over 400 minor league games and has a career slugging percentage of .326. Garbe broke his arm diving for a ball in the outfield early this season and has been out ever since. If he becomes even a decent major league outfielder, I will be shocked beyond belief.

While Garbe and Mills are close to being "lost causes," Adam Johnson has been very bad, but may still become a good pitcher. The Twins took Johnson #2 overall in the 2000 draft, partly because he was said to be very close to the major leagues. Johnson pitched well in Single-A and the Twins promoted him very aggressively to the majors, where he struggled big time. Since then, Johnson has been a mess. He had a 5.48 ERA at Triple-A last season and currently sports a horrendously awful 9.77 ERA there this year. I am not ready to give up on Johnson yet and still think he can be a valuable reliever possibly, but it is pretty obvious that, as the #2 overall pick in the draft, he is a bust.

The Twins drafted Joe Mauer with the #1 overall pick in the 2001 draft. While I would much rather they had selected Mark Prior #1, Joe Mauer wasn't a bad "consolation prize." He is still just in Single-A, so judging his career or the value of the pick is pointless, but I do think he's going to be a star player in the major leagues.

So, what exactly do we have here with the Twins' first-rounders the last 15 years? Well, I would break it down as follows:

(Everything is based on the player's overall career, not just his days as a Twin)

Star Players:

Chuck Knoblauch

Torii Hunter

Solid Players:

Jason Varitek

Mark Redman

Todd Walker

Todd Ritchie

Travis Lee

Complete Busts:

Dan Serafini

David McCarty

Jury Still Out and Looking Good:

Joe Mauer

Michael Cuddyer

Jury Still Out and Looking Bad:

Ryan Mills

Adam Johnson

B.J. Garbe

Jury Still Out, Period:

Denard Span

Matt Moses

One thing that struck me putting together this entry is that, for the most part, the bad picks have all come from one region, the West, while the good picks have come from the South.



Travis Lee (San Diego State)


David McCarty (Stanford)

Dan Serafini (California HS)

Ryan Mills (Arizona State)

B.J. Garbe (Washington HS)

Adam Johnson (Cal State Fullerton)



Chuck Knoblauch (Texas A&M)

Todd Ritchie (Texas HS)

Torii Hunter (Arkansas HS)

Jason Varitek (Georgia Tech)

Todd Walker (LSU)

Mark Redman (Oklahoma)

Michael Cuddyer (Virginia HS)



I don't know if this is anything significant, but it is certainly interesting. At the very least, the Minnesota scouts on the West Coast might want to keep their resumes updated, if you know what I'm saying...

By the way, Twins fans can feel very good about this year's first-rounder, Matt Moses. Why? Because he is from Virginia, of course!

Today's picks:

Oakland (Hudson) -140 over Florida (Redman)

Toronto (Lidle) +105 over St. Louis (Simontachi)

Texas (Thomson) +180 over Atlanta (Maddux)

Total to date: + $940

W/L record: 111-111 (1-5 for -550 yesterday, with one rainout. OUCH!)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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