By TOM STAD
September 19, 2008
This week in Amateur Hour, we’ll continue our review of the 2003 MLB Amateur Draft’s first round by catching up with picks 11 through 20. The first 10 picks included a handful of promising major leaguers, with a couple busts mixed in as well. There’s still plenty of time for all these players to make their mark in the majors, however. Selections 11 through 20 have enjoyed just as much success as the top 10, as well as a fair share of failure. A couple of the players I’ll look at this week have some serious potential and could be poised to develop into perennial All-Stars, while others … won’t.
Aubrey finally arrived at the major league level in 2008, but with far less fanfare than the organization would have thought when they took him with the No. 11 pick five years ago, and the Tribe now has a logjam at the first base position. Though he was highly touted coming out of Tulane, Aubrey has done little to push his way into the debate. He’s barely above the Mendoza line, hitting .214 so far in 42 big league at bats. Don’t look for too many big things from Aubrey.
Milledge and 2003 No. 1 overall pick Delmon Young have taken similar paths to their current destinations. You don’t go No. 1 in the draft without drawing national attention and just like Young, Milledge got plenty of it as a youngster. At 16, he was rated as the top prospect in the nation for his age. The current Washington Nationals outfielder even threw a one-hitter in the regional semifinals of the Little League World Series as an 11-year-old. He may have gone right after Young in the 2003 draft if not for some off-the-field problems that caused him to fall to the Mets at No. 12. After making his major league debut in 2006 as a 21-year-old - at the same exact age, to the day, that Darryl Strawberry made his debut - the parallels with Young continued. More offseason trouble in 2007 prompted the Mets to trade Milledge to Washington, and, like it did for Young, the change in scenery seems to have done some good. He’s hitting .268 with 14 home runs and 57 RBI this season to go along with a .335 OBP. If either or both of these players can keep their head on straight, the sky’s the limit.
There are utility infielders, and then there are guys like Hill who deserve a spot in the lineup regardless of where they play, as they can hit and you don’t have to think twice about their defense. The Cubs have a guy like that in Mark DeRosa. Toronto selected Hill with the No. 13 pick out of LSU, where he hit for a career .335 average. After Orlando Hudson was traded to Arizona in 2006, the Blue Jays moved Hill to second and he has played on both sides of the bag ever since. It’s been a rough 2008 for Hill, though. He was hitting a disappointing .263 in just over 200 at-bats when he suffered a concussion following a collision with David Eckstein at the end of May, and he hasn’t been back on the field since. Toronto is hoping to have him back healthy next season.
The No. 14 pick out of the University of Houston paid immediate dividends for the Reds in 2003. Cincinnati called up the right-handed reliever late that season, and the rookie responded going 2-0 in 17 appearances, with 25 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings. Once that season disappeared, however, so did Wagner’s ability. He struggled with his control in 2004, posting a miserable 4.70 ERA in 49 appearances. He has yet to post an ERA below that mark since and was traded to the Nationals in 2006.
The former Arizona Wildcat has struggled mightily in his attempts to stick in the major league lineup since he was called up in 2005. Whether it’s because of injuries or a logjam in the Chicago outfield, Anderson has played well in stretches but never gotten comfortable with the team that drafted him with the No. 15 overall pick back in 2003. He has played in 100 games with the ChiSox this season, but the acquisition of Carlos Quentin and the emergence of Alexei Ramirez have once again pushed him back down the depth chart. Perhaps a change in surroundings could kick-start his career, as it did for Young and Milledge.
Everyone’s heard Josh Hamilton’s story by now, especially if you saw this year’s Home Run Derby. If you were paying close attention that night, you also heard Peter Gammons mention this young man’s name. Everyone was raving about Allison’s 95 mile per hour heater when Florida made him the No. 16 overall pick out of Peabody (Mass.) High School, and the Marlins thought they had found their future ace. But like many young athletes who instantly become rich when they sign their first pro contract, Allison went astray. Like Hamilton, he developed a drug habit. He fell in to the deep, dark world of heroin addiction and apparently threw away his chance at a major league career. But like the Rangers outfielder, the now 23-year-old Allison is making a comeback. He made 25 starts this year for the advanced Class A Jupiter Hammerheads, and while the results - he went 9-8 with a 5.22 ERA - left something to be desired, it’s good to see him once again pursuing his childhood dream of pitching in the majors.
I’m sure that whenever this name comes up, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein feels like heading to the nearest trash can to lose his lunch. The Sox sent the 2003 No. 17 overall pick out of Baylor to the Texas Rangers last summer as part of the deal that brought Eric Gagne - and a whole bunch of runs for opponents - to Fenway Park. In his first real chance as an everyday player, Murphy was flourishing in Texas this year before a knee injury suffered in a home plate collision sidelined him, possibly for the remainder of the season. Before the injury, the 26-year old outfielder was on pace for a 25-home run, 100-RBI and 100-run season for one of the best offenses in baseball. There is no doubt that if he comes back 100 percent healthy next season, he will be a force in that lineup for years to come - or at least until the Rangers decide not to pay him.
It looks like the Indians may have swung and missed twice in the middle of this round. Snyder is now 26 years old and has yet to appear in a major league game. The Ball State product appears to have stalled in triple-A, hitting .246 with 12 home runs for the Buffalo Bisons this season after posting a .263 average with 10 longballs the year before. He’s going to have to do better than that if he wants to make it in the big leagues.
The Cal third baseman was considered one of the better hitters in the 2003 draft, with a patient approach at the plate and power to the gaps. Jackson led the Pac-10 with a .538 on-base percentage during his final season in Berkeley before the D-Backs took him with the No. 19 pick. The right-handed Jackson - now a first baseman - broke as a part-timer before management finally handed him the full-time job last season. He has been a solid performer in the middle of the Arizona lineup ever since.
No. 20:Chad Cordero, RP, Montreal Expos
The second-to-last first-round draft pick in Expos history was this portly reliever from Cal State-Fullerton. “The Chief,” as he is affectionately known, burst onto the scene with 45 saves and an All-Star appearance for the 2005 Nationals. Then came - dare I say it? - the World Baseball Classic in 2006. The WBC was blamed for ruining some players’ seasons, you can count Cordero among them. His ERA nearly doubled, and the right-hander managed a mere 29 saves on the year. He’s never really been right since and now is in danger of missing all of the 2009 season after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Nats fans are hoping that Cordero can reclaim the closer’s role he filled so well at the start of his career once he is ready to pitch again.
Next week we’ll look at picks 21 through 30 as we wrap up our review of the first round of the 2003 Amateur Draft.
Tom Stad’s Amateur Hour runs every Friday here on National Pastime.
Photo by The Associated Press
Be sure to check out our previous Amateur Hour columns: To sign or not to sign?, Summer on Cape Cod, USA Baseball, etc., Team USA; Cape stars, Stars shine on Cape, Olympics preview, Will top picks sign?, NY’s loss UCLA’s gain, Olympics wrap-up, The Alvarez saga, The 2003 draft.