If Mark Prior, the second overall pick in 2001, can’t stay healthy this season, there will be plenty of sweating at Wrigley.
I suddenly realized the other day that it’s been far too long since my last MLB Draft Review. And with the prospect of another season of hardball looming (with pitchers and catchers just a couple of weeks from reporting), what better a time to take a look back and see how major league teams have fared in first-year player drafts gone by.
When we last checked in, we had sucked the 2000 draft a bit dry, so it’s time to switch our attention to the 2001 draft. While there were plenty of flops, this will go down as one of the more fruitful draft years in recent memory thanks to the huge successes of three of the first five picks. Add Jeremy Bonderman and David Wright to the mix, plus several players still poised to make their mark, and you’ve got a tremendous looking first round. Let’s review.
1. Joe Mauer, catcher, Minnesota
The Skinny: Homegrown talent was plucked out of high school and penned for what now seems a bargain price of $4 million. Just 23, the 6’4′, 220-pound Mauer is an amazingly skilled athlete who’s managed to live up and perhaps even surpass the hype. Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2003, Mauer hit .332 in the minors, and after last year becoming the first AL catcher in 64 years to win a batting title, he’s a .321 hitter through two full seasons as a major leaguer. Now arbitration eligible, the Twins would like to lock him up with a multi-year deal, but it won’t be cheap.
Strengths: Flawless swing; durability; strike zone judgment; power projection.
Weaknesses: Is there one? I suppose we could complain that the stolen base skills he showed in 2005 slipped somewhat last year. After a knee injury in his rookie season, it’s unlikely he’ll ever burn up the basepaths again, but this is nitpicking at best.
Final Analysis: Many criticized the Twins’ selection of Mauer over Mark Prior, suggesting it was a signability choice given Prior’s demands and that Minnesota was taking a risk by picking a high school catcher, generally one of the least likely picks to pan out. Prior’s rapid ascent and immediate impact swung the pendulum in his favour for a couple of years, but it’s been no contest since. The Twins made the perfect pick here and will reap the rewards for years to come.
2. Mark Prior, RHP, Chicago Cubs
The Skinny: This former USC standout, one of the most dominant collegiate hurlers ever, took a mere nine minor league starts before he was ready for Wrigley. Upon arrival in the Show, Prior was instantly successful, and the following season, he was an all-star, finishing third in Cy Young voting. Then, the injuries started. For the past three seasons, Prior has been on and off the DL as he seems to have followed in the footsteps of rotation mate Kerry Wood.
Strengths: Power pitching combined with tremendous command.
Weaknesses: Occasional issues commanding his curveball; durability. Wood and Prior were supposed to form the one-two combo that would finally deliver a World Series to the Cubs. Instead, the Curse of the Billy Goat seems to have struck again.
Final Analysis: Still just 26, there’s time for Prior to turn his career around and get back to the pitcher who was so dominant in 2003. The Cubbies have obviously gotten their $4.6 million signing bonus worth out of Prior, but if he can’t return to his previous levels, this selection will go down as a disappointment for no other reason than what might have been.
3. Dewon Brazelton, RHP, Tampa Bay
The Skinny: Despite his dominating performance at Middle Tennessee St. U. (that known baseball star machine), Brazelton flopped badly after being rushed the majors. Tampa Bay gave him his chances ‘ he was their Opening Day starter in 2005 ‘ but after four years of riding the Durham-Tampa Bay express, Brazelton finally wore out his welcome with a 1-8, 7.61 performance in 2005. The Rays made what seemed a good low-risk, potentially high-reward move when they shipped him to San Diego for equally disappointing prospect Sean Burroughs. The change of scenery didn’t help Brazelton, who lasted all of nine games before his 12.00 ERA forced the Pads to outright him to Triple-A. He’ll have to try to win a job with the Royals this spring, but I don’t like his chances.
Strengths: Size. At 6’4′, 214, he’s got a workhorse pitcher build. Decent low-90s fastball.
Weaknesses: Command. Brazelton’s results at Triple-A have at varying times been passable, but he’s averaged almost a walk and a half more per nine innings during his time in the majors, and that’s been his undoing. Reticence to employ a third pitch has also cost Brazelton, and will likely limit his MLB opportunities to relieving as opposed to starting.
Final Analysis: The Rays went with the cheaper-to-sign pick here ($2.5 million), but Brazelton was never able to duplicate the promise he showed in his first professional season. He’s 26, so could still wind up as a middle reliever perhaps, but there’s probably a better chance that your ’74 AMC Gremlin will make a comeback first.
4. Gavin Floyd, RHP, Philadelphia
The Skinny: After signing for $4.2 million out of a Baltimore high school, Floyd looked like he was worth every penny the Phils paid him when he shot up the prospects lists in his first three pro seasons. But after a horrid 2005 followed by an only marginally better 2006, Philadelphia dispatched him to the Chisox in the Freddy Garcia deal.
Strengths: Floyd has a tremendous curveball.
Weaknesses: His fastball tends to be up in the strike zone too much.
Final Analysis: Floyd just turned 24 last week, so there is time yet for him to earn his keep. So far, he seems to be taking advantage of his fresh start with the Sox. He was very impressive in the AFL and is said to be the front runner for the fifth starter job if he can duplicate that effort. Consider him a sleeper at this point.
5. Mark Teixeira, 3B, Texas
The Skinny: Drafted as a third baseman, the switch-hitting Teixeira has settled in as a Gold Glove winning all-star at first base for the Rangers. Ironically, he attended the same high school as Floyd, but Teixeira opted for college, parlaying a Baseball America College Player of the Year performance at Georgia Tech into his $2.5 million bonus from Texas. He’s been more than worth the investment, dominating in his only minor league season and developing into a feared slugger in the bigs. Teixeria’s numbers slipped last year, but it seems silly to describe a 110-RBI season as an off year.
Strengths: Murders lefties; run production; range in the field.
Weaknesses: Breaking balls. He hit just .211 off curveballs and .130 against sliders last year.
Final Analysis: This 26-year-old, considered among the finest college hitters ever, has not disappointed. While many of his homers turned into doubles last year, he smoked 24 long balls after the break compared to just nine before it. Don’t be gun shy when it comes time to bid for this slugger.