King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Baseball's amateur draft: 42 years of fascinating failure. And it's now at your fingertips thanks to Baseball-Reference.


Salon Staff
June 6, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

These 10 people are part of a very specific group. I'll give you a hint that they were all pitchers, but see if you can guess what that exact thing is that they have in common:

Tim Belcher, Stan Hilton, Jackie Davidson, Darrel Akerfelds, Ray Hayward, Joel Davis, Rich Stoll, Wayne Dotson, Brian Holman and Erik Sonberg.

Advertisement:

Give up? They were all taken in the first round of the 1983 amateur baseball draft. The 11th pitcher taken was Roger Clemens.

Six of the 10 eventually made the major leagues, where they won a combined 204 games. And 146 of those were won by Belcher, who was the overall No. 1 pick, believe it or not, by the Minnesota Twins but did his winning -- and 140 games worth of losing -- for the Dodgers, Reds, White Sox, Tigers, Mariners, Royals and Angels in a 14-year big-league career.

Clemens is scheduled to go for win No. 349 Saturday when he makes his season debut for the New York Yankees, but my point here isn't har har major league teams sure are dumb for passing over guys like Clemens for guys like Belcher, and never mind Belcher, guys like Stan Hilton. Though don't let me stop you from saying that.

The point is that I learned this from yet another fun new tool at Baseball-Reference.com, one that lets you explore every baseball draft since 1965, searchable by franchise, round, pick, position and school.

What a fun way of exploring just how insanely difficult it is to evaluate baseball talent.

Advertisement:

Full disclosure: I know Baseball-Reference.com proprietor Sean Forman. Though I started writing about him and his site long before I met him, we're now friendly acquaintances, long-distance friends. I'd have written this exact same column if none of that were true, but now you know and can ignore me as shilling for a pal if you'd like.

You know firsthand how hard it is to evaluate baseball talent if you play fantasy baseball. Anybody take Carlos Zambrano this year? How about Carlos Delgado? B.J. Ryan. J.D. Drew. Who had Jason Marquis as one of the best pitchers in the National League?

Those are all established big-leaguers and they're just a few of the many who have been surprising this year, one way or the other. Same as any year, and any sport. Imagine how tough it is to see the future of a high school kid, or even a college kid. David Price of Vanderbilt, a left-handed pitcher who's the slam-dunk overall No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft Thursday, is no sure thing, if history's a guide.

You don't have to imagine how hard it is. It just got a lot easier to, say, look at the first round in 1975 and see that the top five picks played a total of 252 games in the majors, all of them by overall No. 1 Danny Goodwin, who was drafted by the California Angels and spent a half-dozen years as a backup catcher for them, the Twins and the A's.

Advertisement:

The only even solid major leaguers in that first round were Rick Cerone and Dale Berra, both of whom fell juuuuuust short of the Hall of Fame. Also the All-Star Game. Still, that's a lot better than the 12 -- out of 24 -- first-rounders that year who never made it to the show.

The first really good player taken in the '75 draft was second-rounder Lee Smith, the 28th overall pick, a seven-time All-Star and borderline Hall of Famer who retired as the all-time saves leader, though Trevor Hoffman has since passed him.

Lou Whitaker went in the fifth round. He was the second third baseman taken. That's right, third baseman. Of course you'd have seen he would turn into a Rookie of the Year and five-time All-Star in a 19-year career as a second baseman.

Advertisement:

You know who was the 24th third baseman taken that year, picked by the Kansas City Royals in the 22nd round with the 510th overall pick? Ron Hassey, who didn't sign with the Royals, was taken the next year in the 18th round by the Cleveland Indians, and had a decent journeyman career as a catcher.

And so on. Almost everyone knows the most famous draft stories, like Mike Piazza, 62nd-rounder in 1988. Did you know that 147 catchers were taken ahead of Piazza, who was actually listed as a first baseman? That among those were Mike Matheny, who didn't sign after being taken by Toronto as the 76th catcher picked that year? Matheny was drafted again three years later by Milwaukee. He was listed as an outfielder, though that might be an error. He never played the outfield in the minors.

Scott Hatteberg was the 26th catcher taken in 1988. He's now a veteran first baseman. Dizzy yet?

Advertisement:

You can spend all day, or at least I can, nerding out and finding little tidbits. You might know that Oakland general manager Billy Beane was taken in the first round in 1980 by the New York Mets. His eventual washout as a player is a big part of the story of his success as a G.M., which was told in Michael Lewis' influential "Moneyball," which featured Hatteberg prominently, by the way.

But did you know that the picks immediately before and after Beane that year were Terry Francona, now the manager of the Boston Red Sox, and John Gibbons, now the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays? Totally meaningless! And yet I'm about to spend three hours looking for similar convergences.

Man, look at the pile of schmoes the Yankees have taken with their first pick lately. Derek Jeter was a long time ago.

I'm sorry. Are you still here?

Advertisement:

Previous column: Ducks one win away from Stanley Cup

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

  • Bookmark http://www.salon.com/sports to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Get a Salon Sports RSS feed.
  • Discuss this column and the sports news of the day in Table Talk.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to kingnewsletter@salon.com.


  • Salon Staff

    MORE FROM Salon Staff

    BROWSE SALON.COM
    COMPLETELY AD FREE,
    FOR THE NEXT HOUR

    Read Now, Pay Later - no upfront
    registration for 1-Hour Access

    Click Here
    7-Day Access and Monthly
    Subscriptions also available
    No tracking or personal data collection
    beyond name and email address

    •••





    Fearless journalism
    in your inbox every day

    Sign up for our free newsletter

    • • •