I recently noticed that new Jay R.A. Dickey was drafted exactly two picks after Joe Lawrence. This isn’t brought up only as draft revisionism. It’s more an excuse to rag on Joey, without a doubt the worst Blue Jay ever, and the #1 warning against drafting football players to play baseball.
Still, drafting that bust at 16th overall looks like a horrible draft pick now … but was it the worst one the Jays ever made? We will try to answer this objectively.
The basis for this post is this model of how many wins above replacement to expect from a draft pick, given his spot in the draft (top 500 picks only) and whether he was a college or high-school pick, and whether or not he was a pitcher. The model, published in 2009, did not use any draft picks after 2001, so we will restrict this to the 2004 draft and before. (Even if it means not being able to run through my Deck McGuire vs. Chris Sale complaints.) Actually, I only went back as far as 1990, because any earlier and I’m either unaware of the players or not alive when they played.
A player’s expected WAR is given by that model, and we have their career WAR from Baseball-Reference. Roy Halladay, for example, was expected to have 3.0 WAR, and (so far) has 62.3, for a surplus of 59.3, clearly the best draft pick they’ve made in hindsight.
Positions listed are those as of the draft, and draft info is listed as year-round-overall pick. Arguably, someone who never made the majors is a worse draft pick than someone who did, even if the ones who made it were very bad. So for those who did NOT make it, I simply gave them the average of the 25 worst WAR of all these players (which was -1.0).
And here’s the list…
10. Dominic Rich, college 2B, 2002-2-58 (3.5 expected, did not make it)
This might have been one of the times the Jays unsuccessfully tried to “scout by stat lines”, as Keith Law has since described it.
Rich was often overlooked, being the regular 2B on a Double-A team that had a higher pick and bigger prospect at SS two years in a row, including 2004 with Aaron Hill. But, really, there’s a reason he was overlooked, and a reason that Hill debuted in the majors the year after playing with Rich, by which time Dominic was out of baseball. In college, Rich played with Gabe Gross, another Blue Jays prospect who did make the majors — of course, Gross hit 100 points higher at Auburn, or whatever it was, so one kind of saw that coming.
9. Matt Farner, HS OF, 1993-1-37 (3.5 expected, did not make it)
No clue who this was. Was a draft pick they got in exchange for losing one of David Cone, Tom Henke, or Jimmy Key (don’t remember which).
8. Brandon Cromer, HS SS, 1992-1-34 (3.7 expected, did not make it)
Played in two Canadian cities but never Toronto. Part of the inexplicable trade that brought Orlando Merced to town. Had one good year at Double-A at the time, but didn’t crack a .300 OBP in Triple-A and so never advanced beyond that. Played for four organizations in four years.
7. David Purcey, college LHP, 2004-1-16 (4.3 expected, -0.9 actual)
Sigh. This wasn’t such a bad idea at the time, was it? Maybe it was. It was all “if he can fix his control problems…” which can work out great, and can also not. It wasn’t a stretch to take him at 16, but there was risk involved. Unfortunately for the Jays, not much reward.
Also, please look at this string of transactions:
Nov. 17, 2010: Oakland traded Rajai Davis to Toronto for Trystan Magnuson and Danny Farquhar
Apr. 18, 2011: Oakland traded Danny Farquhar to Toronto for David Purcey
May 27, 2011: Oakland traded David Purcey to Detroit for Scott Sizemore
Nov. 4, 2011: Toronto purchased Trystan Magnuson from Oakland
Jun. 9, 2012: Oakland selected Danny Farquhar off waivers from Toronto
Effectively, the A’s sold high on Davis, and turned him into Sizemore within six months, without giving up anyone else. That’s already two or three wins gained there, and will be more if/when Davis keeps being terrible and/or Sizemore comes back.
6. Todd Steverson, college OF, 1992-1-25 (5.2 expected, -0.3 actual)
5. Pete Tucci, college 1B, 1996-1-31 (4.7 expected, never made it)
I literally have no idea who these people are.
4. Kevin Witt, HS SS, 1994-1-28 (4.0 expected, -1.7 actual)
Vague memories. When you hit .195, and don’t have a defensive position (“Designated Hitter, First Baseman and Pinch Hitter”), that’s about all one can have of you. Most of his negative value comes from his 2006 with the Devil Rays, though he didn’t do too badly with Detroit in their awful year.
3. Miguel Negron, HS OF, 2000-1-18 (5.0 expected, never made it)
I don’t get many things right, but I am proud to say that when I ranked Blue Jay prospects following the 2005 season, I didn’t have Negron anywhere on my list of 37 players. There’s really no way to verify this now, but I am fairly certain Negron had a slugging average of .193 at some point to start that season.
2. Joey Joe-Joe Lawrence Junior Shabadoo, HS SS, 1996-1-16 (5.3 expected, -1.1 actual)
An upset! Who could possibly pass Joey for the worst production the Jays got out of a high draft pick?
1. Russ “Thrillhouse” Adams, college SS, 2002-1-14 (6.9 expected, -0.4 actual)
Oh, right. Adams sneaks ahead simply because he was drafted out of college, where the expectations are higher for ML success. (And, um, also because he wasn’t any good.)
On average, you expect five or so wins out of someone drafted between 10 and 20, ignoring whether they eventually make the majors. Among those who do, it’s 8.2 WAR. So Adams’ career was disappointing in a lot of ways.
To be fair to Thrillhouse, it’s not like the Jays have found great hitters in the draft otherwise. Here are their draft picks, in the first 500 picks, with surplus value so far, in reverse chronological order:
Marc Rzepczynski, 2007-5-175 (1.9 vs. 1.3)
Ricky Romero, 2005-1-6 (9.2 vs. 7.0)
Casey Janssen, 2004-4-117 (5.6 vs. 1.6)
Shaun Marcum, 2003-3-80 (13.7 vs. 2.0)
Aaron Hill, 2003-1-13 (21.4 vs. 7.2)
Dave Bush, 2002-2-55 (2.5 vs. 2.4)
Brandon League, 2001-2-59 (2.6 vs. 1.7)
When the only hitting prospect in ten years to provide more value than expected is a guy you traded away for Kelly Johnson, and allowed to get concussed by the only nine-year-old to ever play major-league baseball, maybe you haven’t done a great job drafting hitters.