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.
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.
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.
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.
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.