By Matt Snyder
As the MLB Draft inches closer and closer, it's time to take a look at the biggest gaffes of the past decade -- one per team. My esteemed colleague C. Trent Rosecrans took a look at the best pick for each team of the past 10 years Saturday, so I'll even things out by listing the worst first-round pick -- including sandwich picks in a few cases -- of the last 10 years for each team.
Obviously it's a bit subjective to make such a judgement, but we'll do our best. More weight will be placed on higher picks -- for example, a bust at No. 1 is way worse than a bust at No. 30. We'll avoid casting quick judgements on the past two to three years, because it's too soon to really determine the level of bustdom.
Next to each selection, I'll list at least one "could have had" pick that only takes into account other first rounders.
Anyway, let's dive in.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Snakes actually have done a pretty good job in the actual first round, so we'll have to go with a sandwich pick. In 2006, they took Brooks Brown 34th overall. He spent most of the ensuing five seasons in Double-A, where he was 27-28 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. He went 3-13 in 20 Triple-A appearances. Could have had: Chris Coghlan or Chris Perez.
Atlanta Braves: They don't really make terrible picks often, so we have to go with someone who might not turn out to be a bad pick at all. Cody Johnson was taken 24th overall in 2006. The outfielder is in his sixth pro season and hitting .223 with a .713 OPS in Double-A. He's only 22, so there's still hope, especially when considering he already has 10 doubles and 10 homers this year -- but he's not even with the Braves anymore (he's now in the Yankees organization). Could have had: Daniel Bard, Chris Coghlan or Chris Perez.
Boston Red Sox: The 27th overall pick in 2006 was shortstop Jason Place. He hasn't made it past Double-A and is currently and outfielder in Class A-Advanced in the Yankees organization -- and he's hitting .209 with a .633 OPS. There's still time for him to remove himself from bust consideration, at age 23, but he's the pick for now. Could have had: Chris Coghlan or Chris Perez.
Chicago Cubs: Tough call because there are some pretty bad ones here. I'll go with Mark Pawelek by a nose over Bobby Brownlie and Ryan Harvey (No. 3 overall pick in 2007, Josh Vitters, also has a shot to get here). Pawelek was taken 24th overall out of high school in 2005 and was playing Independent ball by 2010. He never made it higher than Class A-Advanced, where he had a 4.67 ERA in 18 appearances. Could have had: Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus or Clay Buchholz.
Chicago White Sox: Back in 2001, the White Sox selected Kris Honel, a right-handed pitcher, out of high school 16th overall. He stuck around for nine seasons, but never ascended higher than Double-A. His career ERA was 3.90, but most of his good work was in the deeper low levels. He was 8-10 with a 6.02 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in Double-A. Could have had: David Wright.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have been pretty good, but there's one sticking out like a sore thumb. Right-handed pitcher Chris Gruler was taken third overall back in 2002 and was out of baseball by 2007. He pitched most of his career in rookie ball, but appeared in 10 Class A games. His ERA in Class A was 9.27. Could have had: Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, etc. Yikes.
Cleveland Indians: Back in 2001, the Tribe took a talented starting pitcher out of high school by the name of Dan Denham. He lasted nine seasons in the minors until leaving baseball after 2009. He was 10-13 with a 5.83 ERA in 41 Triple-A appearances. Could have had: David Wright.
Colorado Rockies: Right-handed pitcher Casey Weathers is in Double-A right now, sporting a 4.96 ERA, but he was the eighth overall pick in 2007. At age 25, he should be further along than this. Not atrocious, but the Rockies haven't been bad overall in the first. Could have had: Madison Bumgarner or Jason Heyward, among others.
Detroit Tigers: Right-handed pitcher Kyle Sleeth was the third overall pick in 2003. He never made it past Double-A and had a career ERA of 6.30 in parts of three minor-league seasons before calling it quits. Could have had: Nick Markakis, John Danks, David Aardsma, Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin or Adam Jones.
Florida Marlins: Pitcher Jacob Marceaux was taken 29th overall in 2005 and never made it higher than Double-A, where he had a 4.68 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 46 appearances. He played Independent ball in 2010 and is now out of baseball. Could have had: Clay Buchholz or Jed Lowrie.
Houston Astros: Considering their best pick was Chris Burke, it's easy to see the Astros haven't been very good in the first round. Likewise, it's tough to narrow down one bust pick. We'll go with Derick Grigsby. He was the 29th overall pick in 2002 and was out of baseball by 2005, never advancing past Class A. Could have had: Mark Teahen.
Kansas City Royals: They've been solid lately, but in the early 2000s missed several times. The two biggest ones were Colt Griffin (ninth overall in 2001) and Chris Lubanski (fifth overall in 2003). We'll go with Griffin, as he was out of baseball by 2006 and never went past Double-A. He had a 4.02 career ERA in Double-A. Could have had: David Wright.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Every player the Angels took in the first from 2001-2006 has made the bigs, so we have to go with the worst one and it's not even close. Brandon Wood absolutely destroyed minor-league pitching for years but hasn't done anything at the big-league level. He actually has a negative WAR (wins above replacement) in about 200 games. That's tough to do for someone with so much talent. He was the 23rd overall pick in 2003. Could have had: Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin or Adam Jones.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Back in 2004, the Dodgers took Justin Orenduff 33rd overall. He only made it to Triple-A for one season before retiring at age 26. He was 3-7 with a 6.55 ERA in Triple-A. Orenduff has since unretired and is at extended spring training after just two appearances for Class A-Advanced Rancho Cucamonga. Could have had: Gio Gonzalez or Huston Street.
Milwaukee Brewers: Before the run where the Brewers nabbed Fielder, Weeks, Braun, LaPorta, pitcher Mike Jones was taken 12th overall in 2001. He climbed up to No. 56 in Baseball America prospect rankings at one point, but never made the bigs. He did appear in 12 Triple-A games, sporting a 4.32 ERA. He retired in January. Could have had: David Wright.
Minnesota Twins: They haven't missed badly much in the first, so the choice is a sandwich pick: Hank Sanchez. The first baseman was taken 39th overall in 2005 and flamed out after five seasons -- never getting past Class A. He hit .207 with a .634 OPS in 102 career games at those low levels. Could have had: Clay Buchholz or Jed Lowrie.
New York Mets: Every first-rounder from 1998 through 2007 has made the majors except for Nathan Vineyard. A sandwich pick out of high school in 2007, Vineyard was out of baseball before he turned 20. Could have had: Tommy Hunter.
New York Yankees: Not surprisingly, the Yankees very rarely have high draft picks, since that would mean they lost of a lot of games the previous season. One of the times they actually had a top-20 pick, they missed pretty badly. In 2005, the Yanks went with shortstop C.J. Henry 17th overall. He never got higher than Class A-Advanced and was done with baseball following the 2008 season. Could have had: Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus or Clay Buchholz.
Oakland Athletics: In 2004, the A's had back-to-back picks at 25 and 26, and both were sufficiently awful. We'll give the nod to Brad Sullivan (pick No. 25). He shuttled between rookie ball and Class A for five years before calling it a career. His ERA at Class A-Advanced in parts of four seasons was 5.98. His best season was 2004 at Class A Modesto, where Sullivan was 8-11 with a 4.65 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. Could have had: Carlos Quentin or Adam Jones.
Philadelphia Phillies: This is a tough one, because the Phils have done a pretty good job. We'll begrudgingly go with Joe Savery. He was 1-12 with a 4.66 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in Triple-A last season and is back in Class A-Advanced Clearwater this season, repackaged as a hitter. He's still only 25, though, so there's hope he makes it. Savery was the 19th overall pick in 2007. Could have had: J.P. Arencibia, Rick Porcello or Julio Borbon.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Every first-rounder from 2000 through 2008 has made the bigs, so we're left deciding from the guys who made it. Bryan Bullington was the top overall pick in the 2002 draft and only appeared in six games for the Pirates. Could have had: B.J. Upton, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, Denard Span, Jeremy Guthrie, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain and several others who outperformed Bullington.
San Diego Padres: Lots of bad ones, but this is an easy choice. Matt Bush was the top overall pick in 2004 and never got past Class A-Advanced (as a position player). He's widely regarded as one of the biggest busts in draft history. In parts of four seasons, Bush hit .219 with a .569 OPS. He's currently trying to make it as a pitcher and has climbed up to Double-A. He's still 25, so there's a chance he makes a career out of his pitching. Still, for the Padres, this is horrible, especially when you see this. Could have had: Justin Verlander, Jeff Niemann, Homer Bailey, Neil Walker, Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, Stephen Drew, Gio Gonzalez, Huston Street.
San Francisco Giants: They haven't been bad at all, so we'll go with a minor bust. Pitcher Craig Whitaker was taken 34th overall in 2003 and never made the bigs. He bounced around all levels of the minors for eight seasons, only getting to Triple-A for 14 games in 2010. In 193 career minor-league games, Whitaker was 14-13 with a 4.17 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Could have had: Adam Jones.
Seattle Mariners: Catcher Jeff Clement was taken third overall in 2005 out of USC and had a really productive minor-league career, but he was never able to put it all together at the big-league level. In parts of three seasons, Clement hit .223 with a .664 OPS. He was even moved out from behind the plate because of defensive issues. Considering he did make the majors, this wouldn't be such a horrible pick until you see this ... Could have had: Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus or Clay Buchholz. Ouch.
St. Louis Cardinals: They don't often completely miss, as every non-sandwich first-rounder between 2003 and 2008 has made the show. So the 28th overall pick in 2001 is our selection here. Justin Pope pitched eight seasons in the minors and only ascended higher than Double-A for 21 Triple-A appearances. He spent most of his time in Double-A, where he was 16-12 with a 3.04 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He's been out of baseball since 2009. Could have had: David Wright.
Tampa Bay Rays: They very rarely miss, so this was actually an easy choice. Only one first-rounder between 1997 and 2007 failed to make the majors and it was Wade Townsend. The right-handed pitcher was selected eighth overall in 2005. He never made it above Double-A, compiling a minor-league career that sports a 7-21 record with a 5.68 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. He's now out of baseball. Could have had: Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus or Clay Buchholz.
Texas Rangers: They've actually avoided complete busts, so we'll go with Matthew Purke in 2009, who the Rangers took 14th overall and were unable to sign. They did get a supplemental pick in 2010 for that, but it's still the 14th pick and not signing him. And, again, they aren't any real huge busts for the Rangers in the past decade. Could have had: Alex White, Mike Trout, Brett Jackson or several other prospects.
Toronto Blue Jays: He still has time to turn it around, but the Kevin Ahrens pick looks pretty bad. He was taken 16th overall in 2007 out of high school, so he's still only 22. It's just that he's only advanced to Class A-Advanced in five seasons. The third baseman is hitting .246 with a .705 OPS this season and it's his best yet. Could have had: Rick Porcello or Julio Borbon.
Washington Nationals: It was the Montreal Expos at the time, but it's the same franchise, and pitcher Josh Karp was taken sixth overall out of UCLA in 2001. He made it to Triple-A for two seasons, but compiled a 5.91 ERA in his 45 appearances. He was out of baseball by 2006, only to return to Independent ball in 2009 for a season. Could have had: David Wright.
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