May 30, 2012

Going to WAR: What to expect from the No. 2 overall pick

Two weeks ago I examined the five players most likely to be the Twins' target with the No. 2 pick, so today I thought it would be interesting to look back at the history of that spot in the draft. Elite-level talent varies wildly from draft to draft and trying to draw conclusions based on 47 players spanning 47 years is silly, so this is mostly just an exercise in curiosity. In other words, Reggie Jackson being the No. 2 pick in 1966 doesn't mean much for the Twins in 2012.

For the purposes of this little investigation I'm going to focus on the 25-year history of the No. 2 pick from 1982 to 2006, because going back any further seems particularly irrelevant to the Twins' current situation and for the most part the players selected since 2006 haven't really had a chance to establish themselves in the majors yet. So here are the 25 players selected No. 2 overall from 1982 to 2006, along with their career Wins Above Replacement totals:

YEAR   NO. 2 PICK           TEAM           WAR
1982   Augie Schmidt        Blue Jays      0.0
1983   Kurt Stillwell       Reds           1.6
1984   Bill Swift           Mariners      19.3
1985   Will Clark           Giants        53.2
1986   Greg Swindell        Indians       28.5
1987   Mark Merchant        Pirates        0.0
1988   Mark Lewis           Indians       -4.0
1989   Tyler Houston        Braves         1.0
1990   Tony Clark           Tigers        10.1
1991   Mike Kelly           Braves         0.0
1992   Paul Shuey           Indians        6.1
1993   Darren Dreifort      Dodgers        6.7
1994   Ben Grieve           Athletics      6.7
1995   Ben Davis            Padres         2.4
1996   Travis Lee           Twins          5.3
1997   J.D. Drew            Phillies      42.4
1998   Mark Mulder          Athletics     18.4
1999   Josh Beckett         Marlins       31.1
2000   Adam Johnson         Twins         -1.0
2001   Mark Prior           Cubs          15.9
2002   B.J. Upton           Rays          11.3
2003   Rickie Weeks         Brewers       11.8
2004   Justin Verlander     Tigers        28.5
2005   Alex Gordon          Royals        11.8
2006   Greg Reynolds        Rockies       -1.4

For some Twins-related context for those WAR totals, consider that Luis Rivas had -2.9 WAR for his career, Jacque Jones had 9.2 WAR for his career, Roy Smalley had 25.3 WAR for his career, Kent Hrbek had 35.7 WAR for his career, and Rod Carew had 76.6 WAR for his career. There are lots of factors, but basically 0-10 WAR is a role player, 10-20 WAR is a regular, 20-35 WAR is a very good regular, 35-50 WAR is a star, and above 50 WAR is Hall of Fame territory.

As you can see, that list of No. 2 picks isn't exactly packed with Hall of Famers. In fact, of the 25 players selected No. 2 from 1982 to 2006 two failed to reach the big leagues at all, three others produced negative WAR when they did, and a total of 13 didn't crack double-digit WAR. In other words, more than half of the No. 2 overall picks were no better than role players or, in a few of those cases, very good players who stumbled on the path to sustained stardom.

There are zero Hall of Famers on that 25-player list, although Will Clark is a fairly legitimate candidate, Justin Verlander may yet get there some day, and Mark Prior seemed headed for Cooperstown before injuries derailed him. Beyond that Josh Beckett, Mark Mulder, J.D. Drew, B.J. Upton, Bill Swift, Greg Swindell, Rickie Weeks, and Alex Gordon are stars, to varying degrees. Still, those 25 produced a lot less career value than I'd have guessed.

None of which is to say that there wasn't much more career value available with the No. 2 pick in those 25 years, because almost every draft class during that time included at least one star-caliber player who didn't go No. 1. For instance, when the Twins got zero value from No. 2 pick Adam Johnson in 2000 the class also included Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Webb, Ian Kinsler, and plenty of other familiar names.

Or when the Twins took Travis Lee at No. 2 in 1996, failed to sign him, and watched him have a mediocre career with four different teams the class also included Roy Oswalt, Barry Zito, Jimmy Rollins, Eric Chavez, and Travis Hafner, among others. That isn't fun for Twins fans to think about, but similar stories apply to every draft class during that 25-year span and rarely did the No. 2 pick actually produce the second-best player even when studs were available.

Oddly during the 10 years from 1987-1996 the No. 2 pick produced zero stars and all but one failed to crack double-digit WAR, whereas during the 10 years from 1997-2006 all but two No. 2 picks have already topped 10 WAR and depending on your definition there are as many as eight stars. With only one player per year it's tough to differentiate between randomness and something with predictive value, but maybe scouting and/or decision-making has improved.

As for what that all means for the Twins come June 4 ... I'm not sure. Between the consensus on this year's draft class being that it lacks elite-level talent and the fairly underwhelming history of No. 2 picks from 1982 to 2006 expectations certainly need to be held in check. For every Clark or Verlander there have been several flat-out busts and ultimately snagging a solid but unspectacular player would represent an above-average return from the pick.

Also worth noting is that while we read the glowing scouting reports and dream of this year's top prospects developing into stars history suggests that several of Byron Buxton, Mark Appel, Kyle Zimmer, Mike Zunino, and Kevin Gausman will prove to be busts and zero or one star emerging from that quintet is more likely than three or four. Whatever happens, the Twins can't possibly get less value from this No. 2 pick than they got picking there in 1996 and 2000.

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May 16, 2012

Getting to know the Twins’ draft options with the No. 2 overall pick

Not all draft classes are created equal and unfortunately for the Twins they've stumbled into a bad year to have their first top-10 pick since 2001 and five other top-100 selections. There's no year in which having the No. 2 overall pick won't allow a team to potentially land a future star-caliber player, but the consensus on this year's pool is that it lacks the elite-level talent typically available that high in the draft and isn't even particularly strong in overall depth.

Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton is widely considered the highest-upside prospect in the class, but several prominent draft analysts have suggested that he might not even be a top-five pick in many years. Stanford right-hander Mark Appel was once viewed as the clear-cut top college prospect and still sits atop many mock drafts, but his mid-90s fastball comes with more question marks than a typical college ace linked to the No. 1 pick.

In other words, the Twins are even bad--or at least unlucky--at being bad. And that's not just the opinion of various outsiders publicly analyzing the draft for an audience at Baseball America or or Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff for his thoughts on the overall quality of the draft class and he didn't pull any punches:

At this moment in time, this crop of talent is not very good. Last year, there was about seven or eight guys that were high end. We had eight guys with an 8 [on the 2-8 scouting scale]--the highest value you can give a guy--and this year we have zero.

It's worth noting that last year's class was considered unusually deep in elite-level prospects, with Jim Callis of Baseball America writing recently that "there were seven No. 1 overall pick-caliber talents available." Still, based on the above quote Radcliff is seemingly saying that the Twins' highest-rated targets in this year's draft wouldn't have been among their top eight targets in last year's draft and that's very discouraging for a team picking No. 2 overall.

Of course, lamenting the lack of elite-level talent isn't going to change anything and on June 4 the Twins will pick someone No. 2 regardless of where that someone would have been picked in other years. Whichever one of Buxton and Appel the Astros pass on with the No. 1 pick will seemingly be the favorite to land with the Twins one spot later, but that's far from guaranteed and a handful of total prospects could be in the mix. Let's get to know them ...

Byron Buxton, Georgia high school center fielder

Keith Law of says:

By far the best upside prospect ... his body and off-the-charts athleticism have earned him comparisons to players from the Uptons to Matt Kemp to Eric Davis to Willie Mays. If you want raw tools, this is about as good as it gets. ... There are risk factors here. Buxton has hit for very little power this spring ... raising questions about what his actual power ceiling might be.

Callis of Baseball America says:

A five-tool center fielder ... Buxton has emerged as the consensus top talent and compares favorably with [last year's No. 5 overall pick Bubba] Starling, his parallel as 2011's best athlete available.

Mark Appel, Stanford University right-hander

Numbers: Appel has started 12 games for Stanford this season, throwing 94 innings with a 2.68 ERA and 95-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Conor Glassey of Baseball America says:

Appel has the ingredients to be a front-line starter. He has a pro-ready body at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds to go along with his mid-90s fastball that touches 98. He throws a hard slider that has the potential to be an out pitch and his changeup has improved. ... The knock on Appel is that he hasn't dominated like most highly-ranked pitchers have in the past.

Law of says:

Appel has shown consistently above-average stuff all spring, but his command has come and gone and concerns over Stanford's abuse of his arm may keep him from going in the top two overall picks. ... The problem is that hitters seem to square up Appel's stuff more than they should given its quality and velocity.

Kyle Zimmer, University of San Francisco right-hander

Numbers: Zimmer has started 12 games for San Francisco this season, throwing 83 innings with a 2.59 ERA and 96-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Glassey of Baseball America says:

Recruited as a position player ... before transitioning into the role full-time last year. ... Zimmer's fastball typically sits in the 94-96 mph range and gets as high as 99 and his hammer curveball is just as good. ... Zimmer pounds the strike zone and throws all four pitches for strikes.

Jonathan Mayo of says:

Zimmer has the makings of four pitches that could be at least major league average. Any talk about the strong, durable right-hander has to begin with his plus fastball that he can run up to 97 mph. ... His curve is a power breaking pitch, one that could be an out pitch at the next level. ... He is a very consistent strike thrower.

Mike Zunino, University of Florida catcher

Numbers: Zunino has played 52 games for Florida this season, hitting .320/.379/.645 with 14 homers, 22 doubles, and a 35-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Law of says:

Zunino is the best college bat in a terrible year for college bats. ... He doesn't offer any real plus tools, but there's a lot that's average to above-average and no major holes. ... His weakest tool is his throwing arm, just average arm strength with a somewhat slow release ... I don't think he'll ever have to move, but he's unlikely to be plus back there.

Mayo of says:

Zunino is the best catcher in this draft class and he has the potential to be a very good everyday big league backstop. While he does have a bit of a long swing and can struggle with offspeed stuff at times, he has bat speed and loft, meaning he should have plenty of future power.

Kevin Gausman, Louisiana State University right-hander

Numbers: Gausman has started 13 games for Louisiana State this season, throwing 92 innings with a 2.95 ERA and 112-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Will Lingo of Baseball America says:

Gausman has two premium pitches with a fastball that sits 94-96 mph, touching 98, and he mixes in a low-90s two-seamer. ... Gausman's 85-86 mph changeup is a second plus pitch, but scouts do have significant questions about the development of his breaking pitches.

John Manuel of Baseball America says:

If I were drafting and I wanted a college right-hander this year, I'd go for Gausman. ... I think Gausman has the best combination of size, stuff, projection ... the breaking ball has been there in the past, it should be at least an average pitch, and his fastball and change could both be plus down the line.

In addition to those five prospects California high school right-hander Lucas Giolito was being talked about as the potential No. 1 overall pick before an elbow injury ended his season. Considering the Twins' tendency to shy away from high school pitching and recent bouts with organization-wide pitching injuries it seems unlikely that they'd target him, but if healthy he'd definitely be in the mix.