On Draft Day, Devil Rays Are Winners
CHICAGO—In their short existence, the Devil Rays never have won more than 70 games nor finished higher than fourth place. They've occupied the American League East basement in eight of their nine seasons.
But one thing Tampa Bay has done well is execute first-round picks. The Rays reached for Paul Wilder with their first-ever draft choice in 1996, but since then they haven't missed too often.
They didn't pick until the fourth round in 1998, and Dewon Brazelton was a disaster in 2001. But Josh Hamilton (1999) has enjoyed an amazing resurgence this spring—albeit with the Reds—and Rocco Baldelli (2000), B.J. Upton (2002), Delmon Young (2003), Jeff Niemann (2004) and Evan Longoria (2006) are all key building blocks for a promising future with Tampa Bay. Even Wade Townsend (2005) is bouncing back after Tommy John surgery last year.
Of course, the higher a team picks in the first round, the more likely it is to make a good choice. MLB stuck the Devil Rays with the 29th overall pick in 1996 before they played their first official game, but their woeful on-field performance since has earned them the first, sixth, third, second, first, fourth, eighth and third selections in the last eight drafts.
They're slated to choose first in 2007, marking the ninth consecutive year they've owned a top-10 pick. If the Devil Rays stretch that string to 10 in 2008, they'll tie a record shared by the 1970-79 Expos and 1978-87 Mariners.Expos, Mariners Waste Picks
As with Tampa Bay, Montreal's and Seattle's streaks coincided with the inception of their franchises. Part of the reason for those franchises' continual ineptitude was that they repeatedly squandered their premium draft picks.
The Expos' top-10 choices combined for five all-star appearances, all by Tim Wallach (1979). He and Bill Gullickson (1977) were important cogs in Montreal's climb to respectability.
Beyond them, Barry Foote (1970), Gary Roenicke (1973) and Bob James (1976) were no more than role players, and the other five never reached the majors.
Condredge Holloway (1971) declined to sign and went on to become a star quarterback at the University of Tennessee and in the Canadian Football League.
The Expos viewed Bobby Goodman as the best prospect in the 1972 draft, but he was waylaid by a series of injuries and topped out in Triple-A, as did Glenn Franklin (1978). Neither Ron Sorey (1974) nor Art Miles (1975) got past Class A, and Miles broke his neck diving into Florida's Intercoastal Waterway while celebrating the 1977 Florida State League championship.
The Mariners got nine of their 10 straight top-10 picks to the big leagues, hitting the jackpot with Ken Griffey Jr. (1987). But they lost their other good choices—Mike Moore (1981), Spike Owen (1982) and Billy Swift (1984)—to free agency or in one-sided trades.
Darnell Coles (1980) was the best of the rest, an undistinguished group that included Al Chambers (1979), Darrel Akerfelds (1983), Mike Campbell (1985) and Pat Lennon (1986). Tito Nanni (1978) couldn't ascend past Triple-A.Brewers Strike It Rich
Two members of the Expos' 1969 expansion brethren had nine-year streaks from 1970-78.
The Brewers landed a pair of Hall of Famers in Robin Yount (1973) and Paul Molitor (1977), and Darrell Porter (1970) was a four-time all-star and a World Series MVP—against Milwaukee in 1982. None of the Brewers' other top-10 choices were significant, though Tom Bianco (1971), Danny Thomas (1972), Butch Edge (1974) and Bill Bordley (1976) did get to the majors. Rich O'Keefe (1975) and Nick Hernandez (1978) flamed out in the minors.
The Padres weren't as fortunate, though they too found a Hall of Famer in Dave Winfield (1973). San Diego blew No. 1 overall picks on Mike Ivie (1970), Dave Roberts (1972) and Bill Almon (1974) and No. 2 selections on Jay Franklin (1971) and Mike Lentz (1975). Bob Owchincko (1976), Brian Greer (1977) and Andy Hawkins (1978) also underachieved. At least everyone but Lentz played in the big leagues.
The longest stretch of top-10 selections for a non-expansion club is seven, shared by the 1978-84 Mets and the 1997-2003 Royals. New York wouldn't have won the 1986 World Series without Darryl Strawberry (1979) and Dwight Gooden (1983), nor without dealing for Gary Carter, using Hubie Brooks (1978) as the prime piece of trade bait. Tim Leary (1979), Terry Blocker (1981), Eddie Williams (1983) and Shawn Abner (1984) all were major leaguers.
Kansas City has no competition for putting together the worst extended run of premium draft picks ever. Dan Reichert (1997), Jeff Austin (1998) and Kyle Snyder (1999) have combined for just 30 big league victories, while Mike Stodolka (2000) has converted from pitcher to first baseman and Colt Griffin (2001) proved that velocity isn't everything. Zack Greinke (2002) and Chris Lubanski (2003) have some promise, but they're still works in progress.
The Royals have done a much better job the last two years, taking Alex Gordon at No. 2 in 2005 and Luke Hochevar at No. 1 last June, and they'll pick No. 2 behind the Devil Rays in 2007. No team enjoys losing, but at least it affords the opportunity to acquire difference-making talent. If the club can't take advantage, it's going to keep getting that chance, usually until it gets it right.
You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org