Come June 5, the likes of Carlos Rodon, Brady Aiken, Alex Jackson and a host of others are expected to hear their names called in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. In the leadup to one of the biggest days on the baseball calendar, MiLB.com looks back at some of the recent Drafts to see what went right, what went wrong and what could have been, starting today with the 2009 Draft.
No. 1 overall pick
Stephen Strasburg, right-handed pitcher, Nationals: No one doubted this selection, and beyond that, it was widely expected. Strasburg looked like a generational talent after leading Division I pitchers with a 1.35 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 109 innings as a junior at San Diego State. That work was good enough to get him the Golden Spikes Award as everyone in the nation saw Strasburg was head-and-shoulders above his fellow collegians.
Despite all that, the Nats and Strasburg couldn't come to an agreement until nearly the last minute of the Aug. 17 deadline -- "11:58 and 43 seconds" president Stan Kasten told reporters afterward -- on the deal that would make the hard-throwing hurler a professional. The agreed-upon deal was for a record $15.1 million, besting Mark Prior's $10.5 million in 2001.
Since then, Strasburg underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 but has been one of the best pitchers in the National League ever since. From 2012 to 2014, he leads the senior circuit with a 10.32 K/9, ranks eighth with a 3.09 ERA, fourth with a 2.93 FIP and fifth with a 9.3 fWAR. Though it seems to be in vogue to question Strasburg's place in the upper echelon of modern pitching, it's hard to believe that the Nationals did wrong by taking him first.
If it was done today. . .
Mike Trout, outfielder: That being said about Strasburg, you think Washington would blink twice if they were allowed a re-do and Trout was still on the board? No, they certainly wouldn't. (Just imagine an outfield with both Trout and 2010 No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper, who will be featured at a later date.)
Like his all-around baseball acumen, the narrative of Trout's 2009 Draft is well-known. Few teams had wanted to take the outfielder from New Jersey high in the draft, thinking that players in the Northeast need more breaking-in than their southern counterparts. Scout Greg Morhardt liked enough of what he saw, though, to convince the Angels to take Trout with the 25th overall pick, the selection they recived as compensation for losing Mark Teixiera. The Yankees, who of course singed Teixeira, were reportedly ready to take Trout at 29 had he fallen there.
Five years later, Trout is baseball royalty. He won the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year and finished runner-up in MVP voting after putting up a .326/.399/.564 slash with 30 homers, 49 steals and a 10.0 fWAR while playing stellar defense for the Halos. He went beyond that with a .323/.432/.557 line, 27 homers, 33 steals and a 10.4 fWAR in 2013, again trailing only Miguel Cabrera in MVP balloting. Despite some down numbers (.294 average, 26.0 strikeout percentage), he still ranks second among all position players with a 3.5 fWAR this season because of his defensive prowess in center field.
The Nationals like what they have in Strasburg, no doubt. But the 2009 Draft will always be known as the Trout Draft.
Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman, D-backs: You could make the case that Trout being available anywhere besides 1/1 represents the biggest bargain, but for the sake of non-regurgitation, we'll go a different route here. And Goldschmidt deserves it anyways.
He led the Southland Conference with 18 homers and led all of Division I with 88 RBIs as a junior with Texas State, but there were concerns that his great production at the plate hadn't come against stiff competition. As such, he fell to the eighth round (246th overall), where he was taken by the D-backs. Unlike Strasburg, it didn't take long for Goldschmidt to sign -- June 20, to be exact.
By June 23, he was with Rookie-level Missoula, where he went off with a .334/.408/.638 line, 18 homers and 62 RBIs in 74 games that season. Two seasons later, he made his Major League debut. By 2012, he was an impressive regular. By 2013, he was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove winner and MVP runner-up.
Since 2012, Goldschmidt leads National League hitters with 245 RBIs, ranks fourth with 66 homers and is 10th with a 10.8 fWAR (6.4 of that coming last season alone). Not bad for a player passed over 245 times.
Donovan Tate, outfielder, Padres: All busts are unfortunate, but Tate's professional career might as well be straight from the mind of Lemony Snicket.
Taken third overall and given a franchise-record $6.25 million bonus by the Padres, Tate had a lot of promise in 2009. He had committed to play both baseball and football at the University of North Carolina and was expected to star in both worlds with the Tar Heels before the pros became too enticing.
Then came the issues. A stress reaction in his pubic bone kept him from making his pro debut in 2009, and later that same year, he needed surgery for a sports hernia. Following that, there was a broken jaw from an ATV accident, a shoulder issue from a play in the outfield, an intestinal problem in 2010 and knee and wrist problems. In 2011, he was suspended 50 games after a second positive test for a drug of abuse.
He finally played a full season in 2012 but struggled with a .226/.342/.278 line in 107 games between Class A Fort Wayne and Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. A 23-game stint with Class A Short Season Eugene last season was no better (.213/.330/.320). He remains on the sidelines now after undergoing surgery in January for a torn Achilles.
Now, Tate is only 23 years old and by all accounts is still an incredible athlete, so there's time for a career reclamation project. But as it stands, it's difficult to call Tate's baseball career anything less than what it's been -- a bust.
To be determined
Randal Grichuk, outfielder, Angels/Cardinals -- In some circles, Grichuk's claim to fame was as the answer to a trivia question. Who did the Angels take one pick before Mike Trout?
While Trout rose quickly through the Halos system, Grichuk, who like Trout was only 17 at the time of the '09 Draft, got stuck in the lower levels for a little longer. A thumb injury in 2010 and leg injury in 2011 kept him from playing more than 100 games in a Minor League season until 2012, the year Trout was becoming a Major League star. He was solid (.298/.335/.488, 18 homers, 71 RBIs) but not spectacular during that campaign with Class A Advanced Inland Empire. Then, his stock rose some last season with Double-A Arkansas, where he showed some nice pop with a .256/.306/.474 line with 22 homers in one of the most difficult environments for hitters in the Minors and also won a Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove award for his play in right.
The Angels traded Grichuk to the Cardinals last offseason in the deal that also sent Peter Bourjos to St. Louis and brought David Freese to Los Angeles. With that, you could say he is now officially out of Trout's shadow, and indeed he has thrived in his new organization. Grichuk had a .315/.363/.589 line with 10 homers and 32 RBIs in 41 games with Triple-A Memphis before the Cardinals announced Friday they were bringing up their No. 11 prospect for a second time this season. He is 4-for-25 with a triple, double and an RBI in 11 Major League contests this season, as of Sunday.
Will Grichuk ever be known for more than merely being the player picked right before Trout? That's unlikely at this juncture, but thanks to some nice pop and solid defense, he has turned it around after looking like he could have been on the road to Bustville.