MLB Draft: A Recent History of Criticism

We often say on draft day and the days following, as a precursor, that you can’t judge a draft class until two or three years down the road. However, today you’ll find outlets across the interwebs – including this one at 7 p.m. EST– willing to judge immediately. I don’t know if tonight’s top 10 picks will have a surprise that throws off the mock drafters, but like every year, it will have a pick that we, the “experts”, question. As a review of how that usually turns out, here’s a look at six players over the last three years that have baffled the collective minds.

2007 Draft

Pittsburgh Pirates select Dan Moskos, lhp, Clemson. (Fourth Overall)
We wondered why he went before
: Ross Detwiler, lhp, Missouri State. (Matt Wieters, too).

The Pirates wrote off Wieters early in the spring, so while we wonder in hindsight how they could have passed on him, the narrative on draft day was why you’d lean Moskos over Detwiler. Pittsburgh did so intending to keep Moskos in the rotation – he’d had an up-and-down junior season as a starter after starring as a sophomore (and on Team USA) in a relief role. In two years as a starter, Moskos had a walk rate of 3.5, uninspiring strikeout rates, and was generally ineffective. But this year, in a return to the bullpen, he’s been really good: allowing just one earned run in four of his 21 Double-A outings. Time will tell on Moskos vs. Detwiler, but for the first time since he was drafted, I’m really starting to believe in the idea of Moskos the Major Leaguer.

Milwaukee Brewers select Matt LaPorta, LF (?), Florida. (Seventh Overall)
We wondered why he went before
: Quoting myself, minutes after the pick, “They must have some belief that LaPorta can play left, but here’s my question: if you want an outfielder with plus power, does LaPorta really project better than Jason Heyward?”

This was an even stranger pick at the time than Moskos, as the draft day buzz around LaPorta was more focused on the late first round. It would be unfair to limit LaPorta’s analysis to comparing him to Jason Heyward, though obviously that decision still baffles today. However, LaPorta is a big league player that was twice ranked among Baseball America’s top 30 prospects, so, he was probably undervalued by media outlets on draft day 2007. Still, it seemed clear even then that the Brewers may have taken LaPorta just to inevitably trade him, which they did in acquiring C.C. Sabathia in 2008. We should also mention that he’s been a mess this season, negating the value he provided last year (0.5 WAR) in a decent rookie cup of coffee.

2008 Draft

Houston Astros select Jason Castro, c, Stanford. (Tenth Overall)
We wondered why he went before
: Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace, 1Bs.

This was Bobby Heck’s first draft in Houston, so unlike when a revered scouting director like Tim Wilken drafts Tyler Colvin, we didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. Castro was a guy that a lot of people liked, but he was also one without a track record: he’d hit .167 as a sophomore. I’m sure the Astros didn’t go into the draft thinking Smoak would even be available, but there he was — and no one had Castro ranked ahead of Smoak. That analysis still seems correct, but Castro has quieted a lot of critics, especially after a good 2009. He struggled early this season, his OPS at .603 on May 6, but he’s since hit .330/.422/.404. The power doesn’t look to be there, but Castro should make good on the expectations of a tenth overall pick.

2009 Draft

Pittsburgh Pirates select Tony Sanchez, c, Boston College (fourth overall)
We Wondered Why He Went Before
: A lot of pitchers and Grant Green, ss, USC.

This was problematic for a couple reasons. First, Pirates fans are particularly sensitive nowadays about going the inexpensive route. Second, Sanchez wasn’t being talked about as a top-5 overall player. Third, he didn’t really have a discernible plus tool. It was just puzzling across the board. But now, the catcher is batting a robust .318/.423/.460 in the Florida State League, showing patience and gap power. However, his defense – at times praised more than his bat entering last year’s draft – has really lagged behind. Sanchez has thrown out just 7 runners in 50 basestealing attempts, and leads the league with seven errors. I think the pick looks good right now, but I still have questions about his ultimate success. And why the Pirates made that pick.

Baltimore Orioles select Matt Hobgood, rhp, California HS (Fifth Overall)
We Wondered Why He Went Before
: Jake Turner, Matt Purke, Tyler Matzek.

With the next pick after Sanchez, the Baltimore Orioles made Matt Hobgood the first high school pitcher taken in the draft, a spot where no media outlet had him ranked. The Orioles, even more than the Pirates, were adamant that Hobgood was ranked higher on their boards than the other high school talents. Given this position by the Orioles, I wrote last year that Scouting Director Joe Jordan was “ballsy to not blame ownership and stand behind your scouting.” So far, the big right-hander has had a decidedly up and down first professional season. Hobgood has a 4.40 ERA in the Sally League, with a not-so-solid 39/26 K/BB ratio through 59.1 innings. However, he is showing a heavy fastball, given the 1.91 GO/AO ratio, and has showed brilliance at times. And given how seldom Turner and Matzek have pitched this spring, it’s not as if his peers are particularly outpacing him.

Atlanta Braves select Mike Minor, lhp, Vanderbilt (Seventh Overall)
We wondered why he went before
: Mike Leake, Aaron Crow, Alex White.

Considered the most egregious of the three 2009 surprises, I think this quote from Kevin Goldstein managed to put a finger on the complaints behind the pick: “It’s a horrible pick FOR ME, but I think early picks should be all about upside. Minor has a better shot of reaching [the] big leagues than anyone other than Strasburg in this thing, but his ceiling is a fourth starter.” But I suppose it’s only fitting that last year’s weirdest selection is this year’s biggest enigma. Minor seems a different pitcher in the Braves organization than he was in college, then lauded for his command and pitchability. Now, he’s among the minor league leaders with 91 strikeouts in 63.2 innings, but he’s been walking people, with 28 free passes handed out. Apparently, the Braves were keen on Minor’s development of his third pitch (curveball), and believed his change-up would play better in pro ball. Now, it just seems foolish we ever questioned the Braves fantastic scouting department.




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14 Responses to “MLB Draft: A Recent History of Criticism”

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  1. Mike Green says:

    Moskos vs. Wieters was easy to understand. The Pirates didn’t want to fork over the greenbacks. Moskos over Heyward was just plain insanity. They were not on the same level talent-wise, and (not that this is particularly important), the Pirates did have need of Heyward’s abilities (terrific hitting corner OF).

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    • Alex says:

      The only team considering Heyward before the Braves pick that year was Florida. Scouts just never got a chance to see him. The East Cobb baseball program (best in the country) discouraged its players from participating in national showcases (where cheap teams do the majority of their HS scouting) and scouts rarely got to see him swing in HS because he got pitched around constantly and never took BP on the field, opting to do so in the cage instead. Most teams just never got any sort of read on how good he actually was, so I think its tough to place any blame on the blame on the Pirates for passing on him.

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  2. Bryan Smith says:

    “The only team considering Heyward before the Braves pick that year was Florida.”

    This is inaccurate. It was revealed after the draft that Heyward was a back-up plan for a lot of teams in front of the Braves, but the perfect storm allowed him to drop. You are right that he didn’t get to show scouts much as a high school senior, but it’s just not true that there weren’t others considering him.

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    • Alex says:

      How about seriously considering then? I’m not sure what teams said after the fact and when they said it, but the Braves were clearly very confident that only one team picking ahead of them might actually take him. They were in constant contact with Heyward, and I get the feeling that he didn’t think any other team, outside Florida, was considering him prior to the Braves pick. Heck, Florida wanted him to come in and hit at a private workout, but he declined because he wanted Atlanta to pick him. Not to mention consistently lowballing his own size (apparently listed at 6’1″ 198 lbs at one showcase he went to).

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        Alex — I will give you some credit. On draft day, reviewing Kevin Goldstein’s mock draft from that year (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=6319) — it seems that only the Rockies and Marlins were seriously considering Heyward. I think I’ve projected my own curiosity as to why the Brewers weren’t interested — they were drafting for power, after all.

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      • Alex says:

        No problem, it seems like Heyward was a guy that actually got more love from the media and fans than from actual teams. I guess scouts not getting to see him swing enough and thinking he was too passive at the plate turned a lot of teams off. Seems silly in retrospect, but how many of us would be pushing for our team to take a guy we saw swing a couple times with our jobs as a scout depending on it?

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  3. Alex says:

    Also, on the Tony Sanchez pick, isn’t it obvious now why they made the move? They didn’t want to overpay with their top pick, instead choosing to go overslot on a lot of their later round picks. At this point we can’t judge if it was a smart move or not, but I think the willingness to think outside the box was at least a step in the right direction.

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    • WTM says:

      Another thing about Sanchez — He’s playing with a bad right shoulder, which probably accounts for a lot of his throwing problems. In fact, he’s DHing quite a bit for that reason.

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  4. GZ says:

    Love this kind of article… Definitely need more of it wrt draft hype and predictions in general.

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  5. Mike Green says:

    Jason Heyward was pretty obviously a beast, and most observers thought so at the time. That other teams didn’t choose him reflects (except in the case of Wieters) a widespread error of the type that led quite a few teams to pass over Frank Thomas. It amazes me that teams still do not take adequate account of strike zone judgment from time to time, and this would be one of those instances.

    But, to choose Moskos over Heyward in the Pirates’ position takes a special kind of, um, quality.

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  6. Dw says:

    I thought it was common knowledge that Heyward would goto UCLA if Atlanta did not draft him.

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  7. Paul says:

    Re: Minor and the criticism of college players in general being what they are. Can we please stop? Very few college pitchers start as freshmen, their catchers often have no idea what they’re doing, and in almost no programs are they developed for the major leagues but rather pitch to win college games. Just different. That said, I believe Minor pitched in the Cape and maybe wasn’t much different, but that is a testament to the Braves staff for seeing a quick arm that wasn’t getting the velo he was capable of instead of just going along with the industry storyline.

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  8. Kenneth Weber says:

    I think the ultimate head scratcher (my polite term for this pick as a Rockies fan) is still Greg Reynolds. Longoria, Morrow, Andrew Miller, Kershaw, Lincecum, Scherzer. Reynolds didnt ever do anything to merit being a #2 pick and if you have Tulo/Longoria on the left at Coors the NL is a whole different story. Still pisses me off to this day every time draft day approaches.

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  9. Laura says:

    I will eternally be amused by the Markakis pick, which I and almost everyone else thought was solely signability. Adding that he was picked as a OFer instead of a pitcher, I was furious at the Orioles that day.

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