Today is the first day of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft—also known as the sports draft that you’ll most likely ignore. It’s hard to blame you. Even for the most fanatical baseball watcher, the MLB draft does not have the attraction of the professional drafts for basketball and football. Maybe it’s because hundreds of players you’ve never heard about are taken each year, or maybe it’s because most of these guys will never play in the major leagues.
So why should a Colorado Rockies fan care? Well, the team has the 10th-overall pick, and first-round players matter. A lot. As you might expect, first-rounders, on average, produce more career value than players from any other round. In other words, a team is most likely to find high-end talent—and a guy whose jersey you’ll be buying in three years—in a first-round pick than from any other part of the draft.
That is, unless you’re the Rockies.
Maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but not by much. In all fairness, many other teams have blown opportunities to pick quality players in the first round—the San Diego Padres come to mind—and the Rockies have done a phenomenal job discovering and grooming Latin American players. But since the team hired Dan O’Dowd as its general manager late in the 1999 season, the team has found only one no-doubt-about-it star (Troy Tulowitzki) in the first round (see below). For simplicity’s sake, I’ve only included the Rockies’ first pick each year and not supplemental first-round selections.
Rockies’ First-round Picks in the MLB Draft:
2000: Matt Harrington
2002: Jeff Francis
2003: Ian Stewart
2004: Chris Nelson
2005: Troy Tulowitzki
2006: Greg Reynolds
2007: Casey Weathers
2008: Christian Friedrich
2009: Tyler Matzek
2010: Kyle Parker
2011: Tyler Anderson
While you can debate the quality of the recent players who’ve been taken, that’s not exactly a who’s-who of major-leaguers. Consider the team’s current woes in the infield—especially at third base—and at the starting-pitcher position. In 2006, the Rockies had the second-overall selection, which the team used on Reynolds—a Stanford University starting pitcher. Pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum were available, as was third baseman Evan Longoria. The pick was puzzling enough when it happened, but now it’s considered downright awful. Since that draft, Kershaw and Lincecum have combined for three National League Cy Young awards—given to the league’s best pitcher—and Longoria is a three-time all-star. In terms of all-time bad draft decisions, this one was a stinker.
There’s a statistic called Wins Above Replacement that attempts to answer a question with one number, namely, “How many wins did a player contribute to his team’s win total beyond what the team would have gotten from a minor-leaguer or someone from the team’s bench?” During his six seasons in the major leagues—including this year—Lincecum has produced 28.8 WAR. In five major-league seasons, Longoria has produced 27.8 WAR. Kershaw has produced 18.7 WAR in five years. (For comparison’s sake, Tulowitzki has 26.1 WAR in seven years.)
But what about Reynolds? In parts of two seasons pitching for the Rockies (in 2008 and 2011), Reynolds earned -.6 WAR. That’s right. The Rockies would have been better off forfeiting its first-round pick than selecting him.
And that, Rockies fans, is why today’s draft matters.
—Image via Shutterstock.