What If: The MLB Draft

What If
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With the 2019 MLB Draft taking place this week, it seemed like a good time for reflection on the mistakes of previous drafts. Everyone knows Mike Trout fell too far. However, not every team that passed on Trout made a mistake. Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor, Mike Leake, A.J. Pollock, Kyle Gibson, and even Shelby Miller and Randal Grichuk have all had at least productive careers in the major leagues. Those picks aren’t mistakes. Sure, it would be nice to land an all-time great, but scouting is an inexact science. This isn’t about the Mike Trout mistake. This is about some recent times when a team whiffed with a first round pick, and the very next player picked was a star, and everyone wonders: what if?

What If: The MLB Draft

2010: What If the Toronto Blue Jays . . .

In the 2010 draft, the Blue Jays completely whiffed on their first-round selection. It happens. However, it did not have to be that way. 2010 was not a “down” draft class. There was plenty of star-level talent to be had. That’s why “What If” exists. No one cares if someone drafted a back-up infielder over a long-reliever. If no one becomes a superstar, there’s no reason to second guess it. That is not the case here.

With the number 11 pick, the Blue Jays selected Deck McGuire, who is now 30 and pitching in Korea after 51 2/3 innings of middling ball in the majors. That stings because the 12th pick was Yasmani Grandal and the 13th pick was Chris Sale. Imagine adding one of those two names to the 2015-2016 teams that made it to the ALCS. Either one might have been enough to get them over the hump and into the World Series. Grandal might also have saved them a ton of money on the Russell Martin signing. That’s a big miss.

Honorable Mention: The Texas Rangers selected Kellin Deglan the pick before Christian Yelich. The Rangers also made the playoffs in 2016 with Ryan Rua as their primary left fielder while Yelich was hitting .297 with 21 home runs in Miami.

2011: What If the Kansas City Royals . . .

The Royals got their championship, so in some ways this is unfair. That said, how much easier would that championship have been, and how many more could they have contended for if they had drafted a little better? Obviously, there is no definitive answer.

That said, with the fifth overall pick in 2011, the Royals selected Bubba Starling. He’s 26, currently raking in AAA, and has never seen major league action. He may yet, but it will never erase the fact that, with the sixth overall pick, the Washington Nationals selected Anthony Rendon. The same Anthony Rendon who has two top 10 MVP finishes (and an 11th place finish) in his career and is currently raking in the major leagues, not AAA. Adding Rendon to Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, and the late Yordano Ventura would have drastically strengthened an already strong group. It probably stings much less than it would have had they not won a championship.

Honorable Mention: In the supplemental first round, the New York Yankees took Dante Bichette Jr the pick before Blake Snell. That is probably a pick they would like back.

2012: The Toronto Blue Jays (Again)

To give the Blue Jays some credit, they did pick Marcus Stroman a few picks after this, so all was not lost. However, imagine those 2015-2016 ALCS teams if the Blue Jays hadn’t drafted D.J. Davis the pick before the Dodgers took Corey Seager. This may be too much salt in the wound. Let’s move on.

Honorable Mention: The aforementioned Marcus Stroman was selected with the 22nd pick. With the 21st pick, the Atlanta Braves took Lucas Sims. The Braves then had to pick roughly a billion arms the next few drafts because they had no pitching. They would probably like a re-do.

2013: What If the Atlanta Braves . . .

The Braves had just spent that offseason bringing the Upton brothers to Atlanta. While Justin was doing well, it was abundantly obvious that B.J. was struggling. Either way, they probably still assumed their outfield was set for the foreseeable future. Maybe that created the draft mistake, or maybe they just missed.

With the 31st pick, the Braves selected Jason Hursh. The 2013 team won 96 games. The 2014 team fell apart, the GM got fired, and the new GM authored a very strange attempt at a rebuild by focusing primarily on minor league pitching and then got banned for life. So this pick definitely loomed large. Nothing against Hursh, but with the very next pick the Yankees selected Aaron Judge. How much of the 2014-2017 mess could have been avoided with his talent in the system?

Honorable Mention: Well, there is that whole “Mark Appel being taken first overall by the Houston Astros and retiring before ever pitching in the majors” thing. Especially with Kris Bryant going second.

2014: The Milwaukee Brewers and the Pittsburgh Pirates (tie)

The Brewers, with World Series hopes the last two years, spent their 2014 pick on Kodi Medeiros. With the very next pick, the San Diego Padres took Trea Turner. No disrespect to Orlando Arcia, but adding Turner to Yelich, Cain, Moustakas, Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, Grandal . . . that would have been an incredibly fearsome offense. They may still win a championship, but that certainly would have made it easier.

The Pirates, on the other hand, are still battling the curse of Sid Bream. While Cole Tucker has fantastic hair, it probably chafes a bit that Matt Chapman — as in power-hitting, improving every year, best defensive third baseman in baseball Matt Chapman — went to the A’s with the very next pick. Tucker may yet be great, but Chapman already is.

The Last Word

Scouting is hard, and so is baseball. The draft brings so many possibilities and so much hope, but so many missed opportunities as well. Every team makes draft mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes can change the course of two franchises. One falls on the miss, the other rises. That’s the sad, fun truth and why fans always wonder “what if?”

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