The 6 Worst Drafting Teams in Major League Baseball
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Many MLB franchises successfully employ the annual amateur draft to restock their farm systems for a brighter future.
Some teams, however, have not quite fared as well.
Not everyone can get as lucky as the Washington Nationals, who sat at No. 1 in two years that saw two once-in-a-generation prospects come strolling around the corner. Actually, scratch that. Nobody else will get as lucky.
While Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are exceptions, the top picks of the MLB draft are much more of a crapshoot than the other major sports. These teams have frequently left the table with empty wallets.
This list is concerned with recent draft history, so don’t freak out when a team that drafted its messiah at shortstop two decades ago pops up.
Also, this is only looking at the draft itself, not international signings. So that same team also might have a superstar at second base who blossomed through his team’s farm system, but he was not drafted.
Note: Research and statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
6. San Diego Padres
Matt Bush, AKA the man San Diego took instead of Justin Verlander.
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Draftees on Active Roster: Chase Headley, Jedd Gyorko, Will Venable, Nick Hundley, Kyle Blanks, Logan Forsythe, Anthony Bass, Brad Bach (Cory Luebke on disabled list)
Best Pick Since 2000: Mat Latos (No. 333 in 2006)
Worst Pick Since 2000: Matt Bush (No.1 in 2004)
Between Latos, Luebke, Gyorko and Headley, the San Diego Padres have the most successes out of any of the teams on this list. They also have suffered some catastrophic failures.
Tim Stauffer and Khalil Greene showed promise as a future nucleus, but neither highly regarded prospect delivered on the hype.
But two of their greatest missteps came later. In 2004, San Diego kicked off the draft by taking Matt Bush as the first pick. Bush, who never made it to the majors, is serving a 51-month prison sentence for driving under the influence.
The No. 2 pick that year? Justin Verlander.
In 2009, they chose center fielder Donovan Tate at the third slot. Tate has never made it past Single-A and did not report to spring training this year due to personal issues.
This Mike Trout guy was still around, but the majority of the league passed on him as he fell to No. 25 overall.
5. Oakland Athletics
Any potential Moneyball sequel should probably leave out their recent draft record.
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Draftees on Active Roster: A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Sean Doolittle
Best Pick Since 2000: Nick Swisher (No. 16 in 2002)
Worst Pick Since 2000: Jeremy Brown (No. 35 in 2002)
The Oakland Athletics cleaned up during the late 1990s, grabbing Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito in consecutive years.
Although the team strived in the early 2000s as Billy Beane became a poster child for sabermetrics, most of that success resulted from vigorous trading.
In fact, the Athletics currently don’t possess a position player on their big league roster that they obtained through the draft. That’s a trend Michael Choice (and Addison Russell down the line) hope to buck.
Since reeling in the trio of starting pitchers during 1997-99, Beane and Co. have struggled to make such an impact through the draft. When an occasional solid choice like Trevor Cahill or Andrew Bailey comes along, they pawn them off for younger gems with more years under team control.
Those familiar with Moneyball will recall Jeremy Brown, a burly catcher who everyone but Oakland viewed as an afterthought. Beane tossed aside concerns that he didn’t look like a ballplayer and selected him with the No. 35 pick anyway.
I hate to ruin this feel-good narrative, but Brown only played five games in the majors.
Oakland is a well-run franchise that frequently manages to succeed with limited resources, but the club will need to hit on its picks like in the late '90s in order to again become a postseason mainstay.
4. Detroit Tigers
Andrew Miller never came close to meeting his ace potential.
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Draftees on Active Roster: Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, Don Kelly, Alex Avila, Andy Dirks
Best Pick Since 2000: Verlander (No. 2 in 2004)
Worst Pick Since 2000: Kyle Sleeth (No. 3 in 2003)
Hey, at least they struck gold on Verlander.
Detroit’s ace is the only thing preventing the club from topping the list as baseball’s poorest drafter. Before Verlander arrived, the Tigers rotted away in the AL Central’s dweller, and the draft offered no relief.
Their hardships trace back to 1997, when they selected Matt Anderson with the No. 1 pick. He logged 246.2 innings for Detroit, registering a 4.89 ERA and 1.52 WHIP.
While Detroit’s fortunes turned on the field after drafting Verlander and corralling Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers have failed to make their mark in the war room. In 2006, they appeared to steal Andrew Miller, an electric pitching arm who fell due to financial concerns, with the No. 6 pick.
Not only did he flame out as a major league starter, but the Los Angeles Dodgers secured Clayton Kershaw with the ensuing selection.
Detroit’s most notable draftee on the roster after Verlander is Rick Porcello, a former first-rounder from 2007’s MLB draft who is still struggling to meet the lofty expectations. Already in his first professional season, the 24-year-old sports a pedestrian 4.66 ERA and 5.00 K/9 ratio.
3. Houston Astros
Jordan Lyles has faltered early in his big-league career.
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Draftees on Active Roster: Jason Castro, J.D. Martinez, Brandon Barnes, Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, Dallas Keuchel
Best Pick Since 2000: Hunter Pence (No. 64 in 2004)
Worst Pick Since 2000: Chris Burke (No. 10 in 2001)
Hope looms on the horizon, as George Springer and Carlos Correa lead a promising core that could eventually make the Houston Astros’ current atrociousness worthwhile.
But for now, that’s not very assuring for a last-place team with few future pieces on the roster.
A decade ago, the Astros would have instead been lauded for their success identifying future stars. They snagged Craig Biggio in 1987 and landed Phil Nevin, Billy Wagner and Lance Berkman in the '90s.
They have a sizable amount of draft alumni on the squad, but most of them are merely organizational depth receiving playing time on a depleted roster.
This is the time for Houston to turn it around with several early picks headed its direction, but poor drafting got the squad into this mess.
Two draftees from the 21st century have gone on to formulate great careers. Pence served a pivotal role in Houston before the team bid him ado in a rebuilding effort, but it never got to see the other play out in an Astros uniform.
In 2004, Houston selected Ben Zobrist in the sixth round, but it traded him and Mitch Talbot to the Tampa Bay Rays for Aubrey Huff, a two-month rental for a team that failed to reach the playoffs.
2. New York Yankees
Cleveland wouldn't mind shipping Brandon Weeden back to New York.
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Draftees on Active Roster: Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner, Austin Romine, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, David Phelps, Joba Chamberlain, Adam Warren
Best Pick Since 2000: Gardner (No. 109 in 2005)
Worst Pick Since 2000: C.J. Henry (No. 17 in 2005)
Despite gaining notoriety for their lavish spending, the New York Yankees built their dynasty around four prominent homegrown talents in Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.
So when searching for reasons to explain the Bronx Bombers' lack of pennants since their dominant run in the late '90s, poor draft success should top the list.
They have found very few major league contributors through June’s selection process. Hughes and Gardner are both solid starters, but neither is getting a space in Monument Park.
The Yankees have faced some poor luck over the years. They found an exciting young pitcher in 2008 named Gerrit Cole, but he went to college instead before now simmering in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system as a 5-star prospect.
New York frequently gambles on high school athletes. It hasn't taken a college player in the first round since 2008.
In 2002, they drafted Brandon Weeden, who was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL draft 10 years later. Based off his first year as a starting quarterback, he might want to give baseball another shot.
1. Chicago Cubs
Vitters has not been what Chicago hoped for.
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Draftees on Active Roster: Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija, James Russell
Best Pick Since 2000: Samardzija (No. 149 in 2006)
Worst Pick Since 2000: Josh Vitters (No. 3 in 2007)
Those poor Chicago Cubs. Can’t they catch a break anywhere?
A lot needs to go wrong to endure a century-plus title drought. Trades don’t pan out, free-agent signings underperform and drafts constantly yield duds.
That’s life for the Cubs, who have given fans little reason for excitement since the abbreviated days of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. It’s not the scouting department’s fault that those game-changing arms unraveled with injuries, but Chicago’s drafting track record has since been unsatisfactory.
With exception to Samardzija, who looks every bit the part of an ace, the Cubs have generated little talent from the high school and college talent pool. Their most spectacular flop came during 2007, when they took third baseman Josh Vitters with the No. 3 overall pick. He hit .121/.193/.202 in 36 games last season, tallying a minus-1.2 WAR.
To play the dreaded what-if game, Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward were available for the taking.
But they did draft Andrew Cashner in 2008. While the book on him is still open, Chicago flipped him to the Padres for Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo, Samardzija and un-signed free agent Starlin Castro give them pieces to work around that could later be bolstered by recent first-rounders Javier Baez and Albert Almora.