If it seems like major league teams are getting better at drafting, it’s because they are. I won’t bore you with details because that’s not what this article is really about, but look at this draft board. The rate of top picks reaching the majors and panning out has risen over the years. Here’s a more in-depth analysis by Grant Brisbee at Baseball Nation if you’re interested.
Still, teams do occasionally miss badly in the draft, which is why I can write this piece. Here’s my list of the five worst number one overall draft picks of the last 20 years.
5. Delmon Young, Tampa Bay Rays. Delmon has managed to play the most of any player on this list despite being consistently terrible at everything other than hitting against the New York Yankees in the postseason and being the butt of snarky sabermetric jokes. After a 2007 season in which he finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting despite totaling 0.0 fWAR, Young was traded to the Minnesota Twins for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. In 2010 he had his best season, producing a 120 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR, but for his career, he’s totaled -1.2 fWAR. He accomplished the feat of grounding into as many double plays (20) as he drew walks in 2012, yet Ruben Amaro Jr. saw something in the 74 RBI and gave him 291 plate appearances the next season, in which he was terrible. The Rays brought him on as a DH in September, and he was less than terrible and he hit another playoff home run. He’s also had his legal troubles, and is just 28 though you wouldn’t know it from this picture.
4. Tim Beckham, Tampa Bay Rays. The shortstop out of Griffin High School in Georgia was selected first overall back in 2008. Billed as a five-tool player, Beckham hasn’t lived up to his potential. In six minor league seasons, he’s hit just 34 home runs and stolen only 81 bases. While he’s played mostly shortstop in the minor leagues, his range is modest, and he’s no more than a fill-in at short at the next level. Still just 23, Beckham received eight plate appearances as a September callup this past season, and had a chance to make the 2014 Opening Day roster as a utility infielder. However, he recently tore the ACL in his right knee, and will miss most of the 2014 season.
3. Bryan Bullington, Pittsburgh Pirates. Even the Pirates didn’t think Bullington was the best player in the 2002 draft, but they selected him first overall because of signability concerns with other prospects. Baseball America wasn’t too impressed either, as they ranked Bullington just the 52nd best prospect going into the 2003 season. The Pirates expected him to reach the majors quickly, as a sure-fire mid-rotation starter. Ultimately, Bullington threw just 81.2 major league innings, with a 5.62 ERA and 5.23 FIP. He transitioned overseas to the Hiroshima Carp of the NPB, where he’s been a solid starter for the past three seasons.
2. Matt Anderson, Detroit Tigers. The Tigers snagged Anderson with the first overall pick of the 1997 draft. Anderson, a flamethrowing righty out of Rice, could touch triple digits. However, he never mastered his control. In seven minor league seasons, he posted a 4.8 BB/9. Anderson wouldn’t make a start in the big leagues, and over 256.2 innings in relief, he posted a 5.19 ERA and 4.83 FIP. In 2002, he tore a muscle in the armpit of his throwing arm during a bullpen session, after participating in an octopus throwing contest earlier in the day. Nice move.
1. Matt Bush, San Diego Padres. This one is pretty easy. Bush was drafted as a shortstop by the Padres in 2004, receiving a signing bonus of $3.15 million. Despite his small size, the Mission Bay High School product had a rocket arm that could touch the upper 90’s off the mound. His professional career got off to a difficult start, as he was suspended for a bar fight before he ever took the field. He proceeded to hit .192/.296/.253 in his first season.The next three seasons were pretty dismal for Bush, as he never managed an OPS above .659, and did not advance past High-A.
In 2007, the Padres moved him to the mound, but he tore a ligament in his elbow after making just seven appearances. In 2008, he was designated for assignment and deal to the Toronto Blue Jays for a PTBNL or cash considerations. With the Jays, he ran into more legal troubles, and never saw the field. The Tampa Bay Rays then picked him up in 2010. Bush had some success in Double-A in 2011, striking out 77 hitters in 50.2 innings. However, during spring training the next season, an intoxicated Bush ran over an older man in a parking lot. After a no-contest plea arising out of that incident, Bush is currently serving out a 51 month sentence. Making matters even worse is the fact that the Detroit Tigers selected Justin Verlander with the next pick.
These weren’t the only bad number one picks. Paul Wilson was a mediocre starter for the Devil Rays and Cincinnati Reds for a handful of seasons before leaving the game. Luke Hochevar has attained some measure of redemption after moving to the bullpen, but has been mostly terrible.
Teams might be getting better at drafting, but it’s still an inexact science. Regardless, don’t give up your first-round draft pick to sign Nelson Cruz.
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