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MLB Draft History: ‘Bonanzas’ Yield Mixed Results At Best

Image credit: The Rays had 12 of the first 89 picks in the 2011 draft. One of them was Blake Snell. (Photo by Cliff Welch)

Every few years, a series of events transpires to give one team an oversized share of the picks at the top of a draft. When it happens, it’s colloquially referred to as a draft “bonanza.”

This year, the D-backs are the proud owners of such a bonanza with seven of the top 75 selections. In addition to holding their own first-round (No. 16) and second-round (No. 56) picks, they also have a compensation pick (No. 26) for failing to sign 2018 first-rounder Matt McLain, two compensation picks (Nos. 33 and 34) for losing Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock in free agency, a competitive balance pick (No. 74) for being a small-market team and a second competitive balance pick (No. 75) they acquired from the Cardinals in the trade for Paul Goldschmidt.

Having seven picks before the start of the third round represents a prime opportunity for the D-backs to provide an infusion of talent into their farm system, which ranked No. 21 entering this season.

But while the opportunity is present, nothing is guaranteed. In fact, the history of teams taking advantage of such “bonanzas” is mixed, at best.

The D-backs themselves had one just 10 years ago. In 2009, they owned seven of the top 64 picks, an even higher concentration of selections at the top of the draft than they have now. They landed one future All-Star in A.J. Pollock and two other players who have had extended major league careers in Chris Owings and Matt Davidson.

That outcome—one All-Star and one or two complementary players—is in line with the best-case scenario of similar bonanzas, historically.

“Our (philosophy) was always the top players, the impact players, are what you’re looking for throughout the top part of the draft,” said Tom Allison, who was the D-backs’ amateur scouting director in 2009 and is now the Mariners’ pro scouting director. “On the backside, I reiterate the pool of players is only what the pool of players is. Those are the things that are important to keep in perspective. As much as you want to be risk-adverse in certain areas, you also have to use common sense.”

A wrinkle to modern draft bonanzas is that they are operating under a different system than their predecessors. Prior to this year, every instance of a team having at least seven picks before the third round came before the 2012 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which introduced the current bonus pool system and placed formal restrictions on how much money teams could spend on draft bonuses without incurring penalties.

Such restrictions have forced teams to take signability into account more than ever, and it can sometimes lead to mistakes when teams have to pack so much talent at the top into a set, limited pool of available dollars.

“It’s tough. You cannot fall into the trap of, ‘Hey, this guy is a great multiple-pick guy,’” said Padres special assistant to the GM David Post, who has helped oversee top-heavy drafts with the Padres and Astros. “You have to line up the talent and take them for what they are. I’ve heard it a thousand times, ‘This guy is a great multiple-pick guy.’ You cannot have that mindset.”

With an assist from Baseball America founder Allan Simpson, here is every instance of a team having at least seven picks prior to the start of the third round—as the D-backs do this year—and how those bonanzas turned out.

Bold = Reached major leagues.

1990 Expos

10 of top 53 picks

3B Shane Andrews (11)
OF Rondell White (24)
LHP Gabe White (28)
RHP Stan Spencer (35)
LHP Ben Van Ryn (37)
OF Stan Robertson (40)
SS Mike Hardge (49)
RHP Tavo Alvarez (RHP)
LHP Chris Haney (51)
SS Chris Martin (53).

White had an excellent 15-year career and White and Andrews were solid contributors. None of the other players amassed more than one career WAR.

1990 Athletics

Seven of top 66 picks

RHP Todd Van Poppel (14)
RHP Don Peters (26)
LHP Dave Zancanaro (34)
RHP Kirk Dressendorfer (36)
LHP Curtis Shaw (42)
C Eric Helfand (65)
OF Gary Hust (66)

Van Poppel was the star of the draft and signed for a then-record $1.2 million bonus, but he was released by Oakland six years later and retired with a career 5.58 ERA. He was the most successful of the A’s picks.

1991 Astros

Seven of top 50 picks

*RHP John Burke (6)
 SS Shawn Livesey (29)
C Jimmy Gonzalez (40)
3B Mike Groppuso (44)
OF Buck McNabb (48)
RHP Jim Lewis (49)
3B Eddy Ramos (50)

*Burke did not sign

The Astros famously tried to save money in this draft and got nothing out of it, coming away empty despite a bounty of picks.

1997 Expos

Nine of top 74 picks

RHP Donnie Bridges (23)
RHP Chris Stowe (37)
SS Scott Hodges (38)
RHP Bryan Hebson (44)
1B Tom Pittman (45) 
RHP T.J. Tucker (47)
RHP Shane Arthurs (48)
OF Tootie Myers (52)
RHP Kris Tetz (74)

The Expos picked high schoolers with eight of their nine picks and came up mostly empty. Tucker spent parts of five seasons with the Expos and Nationals pitching in relief. Hebson, their lone college selection, pitched two career innings. None of the other seven picks made it to the majors.

1997 White Sox

Seven of top 62 picks

SS Jason Dellaero (15)
RHP Kyle Kane (33)
Brett Caradonna (34)
RHP Aaron Myette (43)
LHP Jim Parque (46)
RHP Rocky Biddle (51)
*RHP Jeff Weaver (62)

*Weaver did not sign

Like the 1991 Astros, the White Sox also tried to save money and came away with little to show for it. Dellaero had 33 major league at-bats, and Parque, Biddle and Myette all finished with career ERA’s above 5.40. Weaver was re-drafted in the first round by the Tigers the following year and had an 11-year career.

1998 Giants

Seven of top 72 picks

3B Tony Torcato (19)
RHP Nate Bump (25)
OF Arturo McDowell (29)
LHP Chris Jones (38)
LHP Jeff Urban (41)
C Sammy Serrano (68)
OF Chris Magruder (72)

The Giants landed three major leaguers in their bonanza, but none was more than a bit player for a short time.

1999 Orioles

Seven of top 50 picks

RHP Mike Paradis (13)
LHP Rich Stahl (18)
OF Larry Bigbie (21)
OF Keith Reed (23)
LHP Josh Cenate (34)
LHP Scott Rice (44)
SS Brian Roberts (50)

Roberts became a two-time All-Star and Bigbie had some nice years as a contributor. Of the other five picks, Reed had six career plate appearances and Rice reached the majors as a reliever—14 years later.

1999 Padres

Seven of top 79 picks

OF Vince Faison (20)
RHP Gerik Baxter (28)
RHP Omar Ortiz (29)
RHP Casey Burns (41)
LHP Mike Bynum (49)
C Nick Trzesniak (51)
C Alberto Concepcion (79)

Only Bynum reached the majors, and he had a career 7.73 ERA in what stands as one of the least successful draft bonanzas of all-time. The Padres made up for it later, though, when they drafted Alabama prep righthander Jake Peavy in the 15th round.

2002 Athletics

Eight of top 67 picks

1B Nick Swisher (16)
RHP Joe Blanton (24)
SS John McCurdy (26)
RHP Ben Fritz (30)
C Jeremy Brown (35)
RHP Steve Obenchain (37)
 3B Mark Teahen (39)
OF Steve Stanley (67). 

Swisher had an 12-year career that included an All-Star selection, Blanton was a solid pitcher for more than a decade and Teahen had some decent years with the Royals. None of the other five, headlined by the “Moneyball”-famous Brown, had careers of note.

2005 Marlins

Seven of first 79 picks

RHP Chris Volstad (16)
LHP Aaron Thompson (22)
RHP Jacob Marceaux (29)
RHP Ryan Tucker (34)
LHP Sean West (44)
OF Kris Harvey (64)
C Brett Hayes (79)

Five of the Marlins’ seven picks got to the majors, but only Volstad had more than one season as even a semi-regular.

2007 Padres

Eight of top 87 picks

LHP Nick Schmidt (23)
OF Kellen Kulbacki (40)
SS Drew Cumberland (46)
C Mitch Canham (57)
LHP Cory Luebke (63)
OF Danny Payne (63)
2B Eric Sogard (81)
OF Brad Chalk (87)

Injuries short-circuited Luebke’s career, and Sogard is still bouncing around the majors with the Blue Jays. None of the other six played in the major leagues.

2007 Blue Jays

Seven of top 88 picks

3B Kevin Ahrens (16)
C J.P. Arencibia (21)
LHP Brett Cecil (38)
SS Justin Jackson (45)
RHP Trystan Magnuson (56)
2B John Tolisano (85)
OF Eric Eiland (88)

Arencibia and Cecil carved out major league careers, with Cecil garnering an All-Star selection. Magnuson pitched nine games in the majors and was the only other pick to make it to the big leagues.

2009 D-backs

Seven of top 64 picks

3B Bobby Borchering (16)
OF A.J. Pollock (17)
3B Matt Davidson (35)
SS Chris Owings (41)
LHP Mike Belfiore (45)
RHP Eric Smith (60)
OF Marc Krauss (64)

The D-backs had one of the better draft bonanzas by landing three accomplished major leaguers who are still active today. They also picked Paul Goldschmidt (eighth round), Chase Anderson (ninth) and Keon Broxton (third) later in what became a banner draft class.

2010 Blue Jays

Seven of first 80 picks

RHP Deck McGuire (11)
RHP Aaron Sanchez (34)
RHP Noah Syndergaard (38)
RHP Asher Wojciechowski (41)
LHP Griffin Murphy (61)
3B Kellen Sweeney (69)
LHP Justin Nicolino (80).

The Blue Jays snagged two future All-Star righthanders in Syndergaard and Sanchez. None of their other five selections are in the majors today.

2011 Rays

12 of top 89 picks

RHP Taylor Guerrieri (24)
OF Mikie Mahtook (31)
SS Jake Hager (32)
SS Brandon Martin (38)
OF Tyler Goeddel (41)
RHP Jeff Ames (42)
LHP Blake Snell (52)
OF Kes Carter (56)
LHP Grayson Garvin (59)
OF James Harris (60)
CF Granden Goetzman (75)
RHP Lenny Linsky (89).

The Rays whiffed on 11 of their 12 picks in the largest draft bonanza of all-time, but their one hit—Snell—was enormous.

2011 Blue Jays

Seven of top 78 picks

*RHP Tyler Beede (21)
 OF Jacob Anderson (35)
RHP Joe Musgrove (46
OF Dwight Smith Jr. (53)
RHP Kevin Comer (57)
LHP Daniel Norris (74)
RHP Jeremy Gabryszwski (78).

*Beede did not sign

The Blue Jays landed four big leaguers, but the players’ success has largely come elsewhere. Beede did not sign, Musgrove was traded as a minor leaguer, and Norris and Smith Jr. were also traded after short stints in Toronto.

There has not been a bonanza as large as this year’s D-backs since 2011, primarily because of changes governing free agent compensation introduced in the 2012 Collective Bargaining Agreement. However, there have been other, smaller bonanzas since the 2011 Rays and Blue Jays. Here is how they turned out.

2012 Padres

Six of top 70 picks

LHP Max Fried (7)
RHP Zach Eflin (33)
OF Travis Jankowski (44)
RHP Walker Weickel (55)
OF Jeremy Baltz (68)
C Dane Phillips (70). 

Fried and Eflin blossomed into rotation staples on playoff contenders and Jankowski has been a solid contributor when healthy. The last three picks of their bonanza are career minor leaguers to date.

2012 Blue Jays

Six of top 81 picks

OF D.J. Davis (17)
RHP Marcus Stroman (22)
LHP Matt Smoral (50)
3B Mitch Nay (58)
RHP Tyler Gonzales (61)
RHP Chase De Jong (81).

Stroman became an ace at his peak and De Jong reached the majors. None of Toronto’s other four picks advanced past Double-A.

2012 Cardinals

Six of top 86 picks

RHP Michael Wacha (19)
OF James Ramsey (23)
OF Stephen Piscotty (36)
3B Patrick Wisdom (52)
C Steve Bean (59)
Carson Kelly (86)

The Cardinals hit on Wacha and Piscotty, while Kelly and Wisdom reached the majors and are still in the early stages of their big league careers.

2015 Braves

Six of top 89 picks

LHP Kolby Allard (14)
RHP Mike Soroka (28)
3B Austin Riley (41)
C Lucas Herbert (54)
LHP A.J. Minter (75)
RHP Anthony Guardado (89). 

The Braves have received promising early returns from their 2015 draft. Soroka is one of MLB’s top young pitchers, Minter has been a part of the Braves bullpen the last three years and Riley is the club’s No. 1 prospect. Allard also reached the majors.

2016 Padres

Six of top 85 picks

RHP Cal Quantrill (8)
3B Hudson Potts (24)
LHP Eric Lauer (25)
OF Buddy Reed (48)
RHP Reggie Lawson (71)
RHP Mason Thompson (85). 

Quantrill and Lauer have reached the majors and are part of the young wave of arms the Padres are trying to ride to contention. Potts, Reed and Lawson are in Double-A and rank among the club’s Top 30 prospects.

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