Tip of the hat to baseball-reference, where all of my info for this series of posts is coming from.
The first round of the MLB amateur draft is today. In the past few years, the event has gotten more publicity than it used to, but it has always taken a back seat to the drafts in the NFL and NBA. The main reason is that, where in basketball and football top picks make an immediate impact on the professional team, in baseball the best players often spend years in the minor leagues. Today's draft will pay off in 2013 and beyond, not in this year's pennant race.
Anyway, since today is the draft, I wanted to look back at the Rockies draft history since their inception in 1992 (I know, the Major League team started in '93, but the Rockies first draft was in '92). Much of the Rockies top-tier talent in recent years comes from Venezuela, the Dominican, and Panama, of course, which are not a part of a draft limited to Canadian and United Statesian players. But the team has had some success with its draft picks as well, though maybe not as much as you'd think.
So here's the first part of my year-by-year, blow-by-blow review. I'll be using primarily WAR (Wins Above Replacement) to assess players, just because it's an easy, one-size-fits all approximation of a players' career value, and because it is on a fairly intuitive scale (1 WAR is, basically, 1 Win). I won't debate the merits or drawbacks of WAR here, rather, I'm using it to get a sense. Anyway, here we go.
Round 1, Pick 27 - RHP John Burke, -0.3 WAR
Burke pitched for the Rockies briefly - in 28 games - in 1996 and 1997, but was never really any good. He punched up a 6.75 ERA in those two years, and didn't last long after that.
Round 2, Pick 65 - RHP Mark Thompson, -0.3 WAR
Thompson, like Burke, was picked out of college, but he lasted much longer in the Majors. His career WAR of -0.3 is misleading, because he did have a couple of decent seasons. Reaching the Majors at 23, in 1994, Thompson had his best season as a 25-year-old in 1996, finishing 9-11 with a 5.30 ERA in the early, high-scoring days of Coors Field. Despite the high ERA, he was actually right around league average that season, but injuries derailed his career, and he never made more than 6 starts in a season after that, finishing his career as a reliever with St. Louis in 2000.
Round 3, Pick 95 - RHP Roger Bailey, 4.4 WAR
The Rockies were pitching-happy in their early drafts. Bailey was followed in the fourth round by fourth pitcher, Lloyd Peever (who never reached the majors). The Rockies didn't pick a position player until the 151st pick of the draft.
Bailey had the best career of any pitcher the Rockies selected in this draft, believe it or not. His 4.4 WAR is not impressive, but it's not too bad over a 92 game career. He put up a well above-average season at 26 in 1997, going 9-10 with a 4.29 ERA. Unfortunately, a car accident that off-season ended his career prematurely.
Round 7, Pick 207 - SS Jason Bates, -2.6 WAR
Jason Bates never played for anyone except the Rockies, and his rookie year in 1995 was also his best. At the age of 24 he netted 116 games played and 368 PAs, hitting .267 with 8 HRs. Thereafter he was a utility infielder until 1998, but increasingly struggled as a hitter and was done as a Major Leaguer after a .189 average in his final season.
Round 10, Pick 291 - RHP Garvin Alston, -0.1 WAR
Alston appeared in 6 games for the Rockies in 1996, but, like many players, didn't last.
Round 11, Pick 319 - SS Craig Counsell, 18.4 WAR
Counsell is easily the best player the Rockies selected in the 1992 draft. The book hasn't even closed on his career yet, as he is still plying his trade for the Milwaukee Brewers even now, in 2010. Counsell has won the World Series twice, with the Marlins in 1997 and the Diamondbacks in 2001, and has been a generally competent, if unimpressive, semi-regular infielder throughout his career. In over 5,000 career PAs, Counsell has a .258 average, a .344 OBP, and a .350 SLG.
Round 14, Pick 403 - RHP Juan Acevedo, 3.2 WAR
Acevedo was never a great pitcher, but he was good enough to stick around from 1995 until 2003, bouncing from the Rockies to the Mets to the Cardinals to the Brewers, back to the Rockies, on to the Marlins, then on to the Tigers, Yankees, and finally, the Blue Jays. Phew. Definition of a journeyman. But it is certainly remarkable for a 14th rounder to throw 570 innings in the Majors, which Acevedo did in his career, punching up a respectable 4.33 ERA.
Round 17, Pick 487 - OF Angel Echevarria, -1.0 WAR
A career backup, Echevarria was never really given a chance to shine. In his best season, as a 28-year-old in 1999, he hit .293 with 11 homers in only 191 ABs before the Rockies sent him out of hitter-friendly Coors Field. As a Blue Jay, he struggled mightily, and was out of the game by 2003.
Round 25, Pick 711 - 2B Quinton McCracken, -2.6 WAR
For a 25th round pick, McCracken had a remarkable career. He lasted from 1995 until 2006, playing in 999 games and stealing 89 bases. As a speedy, backup outfielder (not as a 2B, where he was drafted), McCracken was able to stick around for longer than you would expect, but he never was able to hit for enough power to play regularly. Nevertheless, his best season, at 31 in 2002 - with the Arizona Diamondbacks - was well above league average, as he hit .309 with a .367 OBP and a .458 SLG.
Round 28, Pick 795 - C Mark Strittmatter, -0.1 WAR
Strittmatter played only 4 games in the Majors, but he is and has been the Rockies bullpen catcher for as long as I can remember.
Round 1, Pick 28 - RHP Jamey Wright, 6.0 WAR
Wright has had a long and mediocre career. Currently he's a reliever for the Cleveland Indians, having left the rotation for good with Texas in 2007. In his 1,700+ inning career Wright has a not-so-great 5.03 ERA, and has walked almost as many batters as he has struck out. Wright was picked out of high school, but made the Majors in 1996 at only 21-years-old, perhaps rushed by a Rockies franchise desperate for pitching help. Wright never really fit at Coors Field, which is hardly a surprise because he hasn't really fit anywhere else either. Nevertheless, Wright has stuck in the Majors, especially because he's not nearly as dangerous to his own team in the pen as he was as a starter.
Round 2, Pick 70 - RHP Bryan Rekar, 0.7 WAR
Rekar had a 655 inning career that ended in 2002, probably most remarkable because he was picked by the Devil Rays in the 1998 expansion draft. His 5.62 ERA was unimpressive, as was his 25-49 W-L record.
Round 7, Pick 212 - RHP John Thomson, 12.4 WAR
Missing here, again, is rounds 3 through 5, all pitchers, none of whom made the Majors. Thomson was the best player from this draft for the Rockies, lasting in MLB until 2007. Injury troubles kept Thomson from being as good as he could have been, but he manager to put up a 4.68 ERA and strikeout over twice as many batters as he walked. His 63-85 record has more to do with the middling to poor teams he played with than his own shortcomings. He easily could have been a better-than-.500, middle-of-the-rotation starter, as evidenced by his 14-8, 3.72 ERA year in 2004 with the Braves.
Round 10, Pick 296 - OF Edgard Clemente, -1.8 WAR
Clemente had a short career, hitting only .249 with an awful .276 OBP in 270 PAs over three seasons, from 1998-2000.
Round 13, Pick 380 - OF Derrick Gibson, 0.4 WAR
Gibson played in 17 games over two years with the Rockies, obviously not impressing enough to warrant a shot anywhere else.
Round 30, Pick 856 - RHP Mark Brownson, 0.3 WAR
Brownson pitched in 11 games over three seasons, but his best known for his debut. Against the Astros he pitched a complete game shutout, surrendering only 4 hits. Unfortunately, he never captured that lightening again.
Round 40, Pick 1136 - OF Terry Jones, 0.5 WAR
Jones played mostly with the Expos from 1998 to 2001 as a backup outfielder. He may not have had an impressive career, but making the Majors at all after being a 40th round pick is exceptionally rare, let alone sticking around to play in 227 games.
Round 1, Pick 7 - LHP Doug Million
Million didn't make the Majors, but I list him because his reason for not making it has nothing to do with talent. Million died of a severe asthma attack in 1997 while in the minor leagues. What his career would have been is unclear, but he would have undoubtedly made the Majors if not for his tragic death.
Round 6, Pick 154 - RHP Luther Hackman, -2.3 WAR
Hackman had a couple passable years as a reliever with the Cardinals and Padres, but was never exceptional. Hackman was part of the trade that sent Daryl Kile to and brought longtime closer Jose Jimenez from the Cardinals to the Rockies.
Round 12, Pick 322 - RHP Mike Saipe, -0.3 WAR
Saipe appeared in only 2 games in 1998 for the Rockies.
Round 49, Pick 1326 - RHP Bart Miadich, -0.1 WAR
Miadich did not sign after being picked in the 49th round, eventually joining the Red Sox organization before being traded to the Angels, where he made his 12 career appearances.
Round 51, Pick 1366 - 2B Brandon Knight, -0.9 WAR
After not signing with the Rockies, Knight was drafted by the Rangers in the 14th round in 1995, and eventually made the majors as a pitcher for the Yankees. As his -0.9 WAR attests, Knight was no good (he had a 8.62 ERA) in 15 games played over 3 seasons. Strangely, those seasons were 2001, 2002, and 2008. Sometimes players stick around a long time in the minors.
Round 1, Pick 8 - 1B Todd Helton, 57.5 WAR
Easily the best player in Rockies history, and the first ever non-pitcher the Rockies selected in the first round, Helton's career OBP of .426 is among the best baseball has ever seen. It remains to be seen whether Helton will be a good enough player in the next three or four seasons to cement his borderline case for the Hall of Fame, but regardless he'll go down as the first truly great player the Rockies ever picked, developed, and then watched play through a long and successful career.
Round 2, Pick 38 - C Ben Petrick, 0.5 WAR
Petrick's career was cut short by Parkinson's disease. As he struggled to establish himself as a young catcher in the, called to the Majors at 22, Petrick had barely settled in when he had to retire in 2003. Where Helton's pick is has been one of the happiest stories the Rockies have enjoyed, Petrick's - along with Million's - is one of the saddest.
Round 11, Pick 291 - RHP Scott Randall, -0.5 WAR
Randall made the Majors as a Cincinnati Red in 2003, pitching in only 15 games and struggling with a 6.51 ERA. With 25 strikeouts against 11 walks, Randall maybe deserved a longer look, but he never got it.
Round 23, Pick 627 - RHP David Lee, 1.0 WAR
Lee pitched in 96 games over 5 seasons. In his rookie year in 1999, he punched up a 3.67 ERA over 49 innings, showing some promise. Likewise with the Padres in 2001, he had a 3.70 ERA in 48.2 innings, but Lee missed 2002, and was out of the game by 2004. Wikipedia tells me he now coaches little league in Pennsylvania.
Round 1, Pick 21 - RHP Jake Westbrook, 11.5 WAR
The Rockies traded Westbrook to the Expos as part of the deal that brought them Mike Lansing, and the Expos traded him to the Yankees as part of their deal for Hideki Irabu. Finally, the Yankees moved Westbrook, along with Zach Day and Ricky Ledee, to the Cleveland Indians - with whom he has spent his whole career - for David Justice. Westbrook is still pitching for Cleveland, after missing 2009 due to injury. In 2004 he was an All-Star on the way to a 3.38 ERA and a 14-9 record.
Round 3, Pick 86 - RHP Shawn Chacon, 4.4 WAR
Oh Shawn Chacon. He was the first Rockies pitcher to make the All-Star game, but an injury prevented him from appearing. After that injury, he was never the same. The Rockies moved Chacon to the bullpen in 2004, the year after his All-Star berth, and he collected 35 saves, but had an atrocious 7.11 ERA. He was eventually traded to the Yankees, but it is now clear that his injury did irreparable harm, and he never lived up to the promise he showed as a young starter for the Rockies.
Round 11, Pick 326 - LHP Tim Christman, 0.0 WAR
Christman appeared in only one game for the Rockies in 2001, hence the 0.0 WAR.
Round 38, Pick 1136 - RHP Adam Bernero, -2.6 WAR
Bernero was picked in 1994 by the White Sox, but didn't sign. He also didn't sign at this pick, eventually joining the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1999. He was never all that impressive as a Tiger, and was traded to the Rockies - who apparently really, really wanted him - for Ben Petrick before Ben's Parkinson's was diagnosed. As a Rockie, Bernero was an unimpressive reliever. For his career, he went 11-27 with a 5.91 ERA in 376 innings.
Round 2, Pick 70 - RHP Aaron Cook, 13.1 WAR
The Rockies first round pick in 1997 was Mark Mangum, a pitcher who never made the Majors. Cook has turned out to be the much better pick, working over 1,150 innings in his still-running Rockies career. Cook has never been much of a strikeout pitcher, but he was the vanguard of the new style of Rockies pitcher which has led to so much success in the late 00's. Cook throws a hard sinker, pitching to contact and keeping the ball on the ground. The result is a lot of hits on balls that find holes, but by keeping walks and home run totals low, Cook has been an effective Major Leaguer, winning as many as 16 games in 2008 and posting a respectable 4.36 ERA for his career.
The most famous Aaron Cook story is probably his brush with death while pitching in 2004. Suffering from pulmonary embolism, Cook felt dizziness and numbness on while pitching in a mid-season start. He was rushed to the hospital, where the blood clots were removed. Cook missed a full year dealing with the condition.
Round 3, Pick 102 - 1B Todd Sears, 0.0 WAR
Sears played very briefly in the Majors for the Minnesota Twins after the Rockies traded him for Butch Husky and Todd Walker in 2000. Walker was a solid, if unremarkable, second baseman for the team for a couple seasons.
Round 4, Pick 132 - SS Chone Figgins, 21.1 WAR
The proverbial one that got away. Figgins has had one the best careers of any Rockies draft pick, mostly for the Anaheim (or Los Angeles or California) Angels. The Rockies traded Figgins for Kimera Bartee in July of 2001. And who can forget Kimera Bartee?
Figgins has never been a power hitter, but his career .361 OBP, his excellent defense all over the infield, and his exceptional speed (292 career stolen bases against 99 times caught stealing) have made him an All-Star, and have garnered him a handful of MVP votes throughout his career.
Round 5, Pick 162 - RHP Justin Miller, 0.7 WAR
The lowest pick from the 1997 draft that made the Majors from the Rockies, Miller has appeared in four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, bringing his career total to 201 games since 2002.
If you're wondering why the Rockies were so bad from 2000 until 2007, look no further than their first 6 drafts. The only 10 or more WAR players the Rockies picked were Helton, Figgins, Thomson, Counsell, Cook, and Westbrook. Only Figgins and Helton have wracked up more than 20 WAR, and Figgins did all of that work with another team.
The number of players who made the Majors from these drafts - or, rather, the number who didn't - is nothing surprising. Most teams have about the same level of success as the Rockies did in terms of overall numbers, but the number of high-round pitchers that didn't work out for the Rockies is somewhat damning. Some of that had nothing to do with player development, of course - injuries, car accidents, and unexpected deaths are hard to predict when you draft - but the Rockies never really learned from their success in picking Helton in the first round. He was the only first-round position player for the franchise in from '92 to '97, and was also their best pick.
Tune in next time for 1998 through 2003!