In a few days, major league baseball will have their annual amateur Draft. While it can’t compare with the popularity and impact of the NFL Draft, it does create speculation among fans and card collectors. And, it becomes even more interesting while being viewed with 20/20 hindsight.
With the convergence of multiple baseball card manufacturers and the Internet in the 90s’, many collectors turned into speculators and, therefore, investors. Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft has taken place every June since 1965, but the attention on the players has intensified ten-fold during that time. If you were a baseball fan in 1966, you probably didn’t know that Steve Chilcott, a High School Catcher from Lancaster, California was the first overall pick in the country (by the Mets). And, even if you did, it wasn’t anticipated that he would have a baseball card until he (someday) reached the Majors. The end result was that he had a seven-year minor league career, never had a baseball card and the Mets could have had Reggie Jackson instead.
Bryce Harper, the #1 pick in 2010, was the hottest card in the industry in 2011 and he’s proved his worth ever since with a career that includes a MVP award. The same phenomenon took place in 2010 with Stephen Strasburg but he ended up on the operating table before the 2011 season was over.
So, with some help from Baseball America, let’s look at an 18 year span and pick out a top-ten draft choice who didn’t make the grade…that’s a nice way of saying “failed miserably”.
> 1997 – Geoff Geotz (#6), Mets P…was included in the Mike Piazza trade the following year but never made it to the majors…pitched nine seasons in the minors with a record of 22-20…Lance Berkman went at #16
> 1998 – Ryan Mills (#6), Twins P…a top prospect out of ASU, he never overcame elbow issues and posted a 17-40 record in seven minor league seasons…his Dad was Dick Mills, who made two appearances with the Red Sox in 1970…the Twinkies could have chosen C.C. Sabathia, who was the #20 pick
> 1999 – Corey Myers (#4), D’Backs SS…drafted out of High School where he smashed numerous Arizona state records, he spent nine years in the minors and never made it to “The Show”…Barry Zito was taken by the A’s at #9
> 2000 – Mike Stodolka (#4), Royals P/1B…long before it became fashionable, he had near-equal ability as a hitter and pitcher…toiled in the minors as a Pitcher for six seasons with a 20-39 record, then tried hitting for three years before retiring…Chase Utley was scooped up by the Phillies at #15
> 2001 – Josh Karp (#6), Expos P…as with many young hurlers, never could overcome arm issues…pitched four years in the minors with a 4.73 ERA and was done at age 25…David Wright was drafted by the Mets in the supplemental round after 30 other players were taken
> 2002 – Bryan Bullington (#1), Pirates P…an example of why the Pirates weren’t relevant for so many years, he was 1-9 with a 5.60 ERA in parts of five seasons…players taken after him in the top ten included B.J. Upton, Zack Greinke & Prince Fielder
> 2003 – Kyle Sleeth (#3), Tigers P…had a 25-game winning streak in college but went under the knife for TJ surgery in ’05 and was never the same…out of the game at age 25 with a lifetime minor league ERA of 6.30…Nick Markakis was the #7 pick and is still a productive player in 2019
> 2004 – Matt Bush (#1), Padres SS…a complete bust, he ended up in jail before resurrecting his career as a relief Pitcher with the Rangers 12 years later…Justin Verlander was picked next in this draft
> 2005 – Jeff Clement (#3), Mariners C…ended up with only 385 lifetime major league at-bats and his WAR was -1.2…the next two choices in the first round were Ryan Zimmerman & Ryan Braun
> 2006 – Luke Hochevar (#1), Royals P…pitched in parts of nine seasons with a lifetime ERA of 4.98…got a $3.5 Million signing bonus…Clayton Kershaw went at #7
> 2007 – Josh Vitters (#3), Cubs 3B…managed only 99 AB’s in the majors and hit .121…in three AAA seasons, he had 203 K’s & 64 BB…Madison Bumgarner was picked at #10
> 2008 – Kyle Skipworth (#6), Marlins C…appeared in four games in 2013 going 0-for-3…his minor league BA over nine seasons was .211…both Justin Smoak & Aaron Hicks went outside the top ten
> 2009 – Donovan Tate (#3), Padres OF…injuries and substance abuse short-circuited his career and he never got to the big leagues…hit 10 HR’s in over 1,000 minor league AB’s…this is the draft where Mike Trout was taken at #25
> 2010 – Christian Colon (#4), Royals SS…highly touted out of Cal State Fullerton, he’s always been on the fringes of the major leagues…has a weak .630 OPS in parts of four MLB seasons…you can currently find him playing at AAA Louisville hitting .301…Chris Sale went #13 and Christian Yelich #23
> 2011 – Bubba Starling (#5), Royals OF…at 6’4”, he had a chance to play QB at Nebraska but a $7.5 Million bonus helped him choose baseball…has never appeared in the majors but is amazingly still in KC’s organization currently hitting .341 at AAA Omaha…Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor & Javier Baez were taken right behind him
> 2012 – Kyle Zimmer (#5), Royals P…has never been healthy and just recently made his MLB debut…in the minors, hasn’t pitched more than 64 innings in any of the last five seasons…Corey Seager was picked at #18
> 2013 – Mark Appel (#1), Astros P…has given up the game at age 26 after five minor league seasons…his lifetime ERA is 5.06…Kris Bryant was the next pick.
> 2014 – Brady Aiken (#1), Astros P…didn’t sign with Houston and was drafted as the 17th player by the Indians in 2015…three seasons in the minors have produced an ERA of 5.18…still only 22…Aaron Nola was the #7 pick
That takes us up to five years ago and the crapshoot continues for scouts and analytic directors.
So, if you “invested” in the initial baseball cards of these 18 players, what kind of success would you have realized? You know the answer and you also know that those collectibles should no longer be taking up space in your house.