Yesterday, Jon Morosi had an article about Jeff Clement, the third overall pick in the 2005 draft. There are busts, and then there are plutonium-grade busts. Clement went before Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, and Ryan Zimmerman in the top ten, not to mention the Matt Garzas and Andrew McCutchens who went outside of the top ten. He’s still just 27, so maybe he’ll build on his career .285/.367/.500 minor-league line -- but you can understand why it’s become a tradition in Seattle to visit this page and leave flowers.
It’s a fascinating draft -- eight of the first ten draftees have a positive WAR for their careers, according to Baseball Reference, and players like Ricky Romero and Cameron Maybin are just getting started. Just about every team went home happy (setting aside a little Tulo-envy) and just about every team got some value out of its pick.
There’s a chance that the 2005 draft will be one of the best ever -- a really good chance. It’s still early, but there are already 15 starters out of the first round, with several of them performing at an All-Star level. But it’s still early to make grand proclamations. Something could happen. Ryan Braun could walk away from his new contract to do a little community theater. There’s no guarantee that all of these players will continue to produce ... but it’s looking like an all-time draft.
What’s the competition? What other draft could lay claim to having a) the most talent in the top ten, and b) distributing that talent somewhat evenly? Here’s a table of the median and average WAR totals for the first ten picks of each June draft. I included the median to give an idea about how the talent was distributed. For example, if you didn’t take Alex Rodriguez or Trot Nixon in the first ten picks of the 1993 draft, you probably didn’t get a regular, so the median WAR is low, but the average is high:
Note that the numbers from about 2002 on are pretty useless, as there are a lot of players drafted who are still playing and accumulating WAR. Plus there’s always a chance that Bryan Bullington could surprise us.
The competition is clearly the 1985 draft, which featured this top ten:
1. B.J. Surhoff (34.4 WAR)
2. Will Clark (57.6)
3. Bobby Witt (13.1)
4. Barry Larkin (68.9)
5. Kurt Brown (0.0)
6. Barry Bonds (171.8)
7. Mike Campbell (-1.9)
8. Pete Incaviglia (8.4)
9. Michael Poehl (0.0)
10. Chris Gwynn (-1.4)
That’s two Hall-of-Famers, two Hall-of-Very-Very-Gooders, and two regulars. Later in the first round, Walt Weiss, Brian McRae, Joe Magrane, Gregg Jefferies, and Rafael Palmeiro went. That’s the gold standard, and there isn’t a draft that comes close. If you’re looking for a balanced draft -- a draft where there wasn’t a ton of regret because the value was distributed somewhat evenly -- 1981 featured Mike Moore, Joe Carter, Dick Schofield, Kevin McReynolds, and Ron Darling within the first ten picks, all of whom finished with career WARs between 15 and 31.
But the 1985 draft is the one that 2005 is chasing for the title of best ever. It has a fantastic shot. And if it doesn’t get there, at least it will hold the record for most 10-year contracts and hundred-millionaires.