Two first-round picks were designated for assignment Thursday, with the Blue Jays removing Russ Adams from the 40-man roster to make room for lefty Brian Burres, and the Padres doing likewise with Matt Bush to sign Cliff Floyd.
Bush’s case has been more celebrated because he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2004, but he’s given only a glimpse of having that kind of talent. He was a compromise pick from the outset, taken when the Padres decided to settle for someone other than their top choices of Stephen Drew, Jeff Niemann and Jered Weaver. All three of those players have at least reached the majors, with Drew and Weaver establishing themselves as solid big leaguers.
Bush, meanwhile, has yet to play above Class A; has switched positions from shortstop to pitcher; and has had at least two significant run-ins with the law. The first happened shortly after he was drafted in ’04; the latest happened recently, as the San Diego Union-Tribune has reported. Sadly for Bush, the latest arrest makes him sound pretty pitiful.
The Padres could try to trade Bush to another club over the next 10 days, or he could pass through waivers, in which case the Padres could either assign him to their Triple-A roster or just release him. It’s doubtful the Padres will get anything for a pitcher with 7 2/3 career minor league innings who has to be kept on a 40-man roster, even if that pitcher has shown high-90s velocity when healthy.
Bush just has too much baggage. He is almost certain to go down in history as the worst No. 1 pick in draft history, taking that title from Steve Chilcott, the catcher the Mets picked in 1966, one spot ahead of Reggie Jackson. Chilcott reached Triple-A. The only other No. 1 overall picks never to reach the majors are 1991’s Brien Taylor, the talented lefthander whose career was sidetracked by injury in Double-A; and 2008 top choice Tim Beckham. If you search for Matt Bush in this 2003 amateur notebook, you get a quote about his potential from Bush himself:
"The one thing I’ll take out of this is knowing that I can play at a high level with the best players in the country," Bush said after collecting a single, triple and stolen base in the Area Code all-star game. "I just have to stay humble and work hard."
Adams was the 14th overall pick in 2002, one spot ahead of Scott Kazmir. He was the first first-round pick of general manager J.P. Ricciardi’s tenure in Toronto and in some ways symbolizes Ricciardi’s regime. He was definitely a consensus first-round pick that year, having torn up the Cape Cod League the previous summer, but most scouts saw him as a second baseman, considering his arm insufficient to be a big league shortstop. That would be particularly true on an artificial surface, as the Jays have at Rogers Centre.
Ricciardi and the Jays didn’t agree and pushed Adams through the minors at short, then made him Toronto’s everyday shortstop in 2005. He hit .256/.323/.383 with 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts, far from a worldbeater but acceptable for a rookie. Defense was the bigger issue, though, as Adams eventually lost his starting job in 2006 to John MacDonald, a glove-first player to say the least.
Adams’ stock had fallen to the point that in 2008, he played primarily outfield at Triple-A Syracuse (71 games in the outfield, 42 at second base and even one at first). The 28-year-old wasn’t promoted to the majors in September. He hit .259/.341/.417 for the Chiefs with a career-best 15 home runs to go with 11 steals.