Has the Rockies’ Luck Changed for Good (with the draft at least)?

Growing up in Colorado I was beyond excited the day, over the school’s speakers I might add, that it was announced the Denver Broncos had traded for John Elway (it was May, and our principal was retiring, so he thought it was worth using the PA system). What I only learned when I was much older was that it almost never happened. That year the Baltimore Colts held the #1 pick and were a horrible organization. Elway had told them he didn’t want to play in Baltimore, he would not play for coach Frank Kush, or on the field they had at the time, and that they should not even think about drafting him. Unlike so many guys before him who had tried to tell a team to not draft him, Elway had already begun his career with the New York Yankees (he was a 2nd round pick in 1981 and in 1982 in low A ball hit .318 with 4 homers as a future short-stop).  The Colts and their ownership, the Irsay family, would not listen and drafted him anyways. At that point they learned that indeed, Elway was happy never playing in the NFL and had plenty of chances in baseball (as I understand it, the Irsay family were never told he was already signed with the Yankees or that he was such a good prospect). Stuck, they took the best deal possible, trading him for Chris Hinton the Broncos #1 pick that year (4th overall), the Broncos first pick in 1984, Mark Hermann and some old copies of Sport Illustrated. History changed that day.

 

Had Baltimore not taken him the Rams (who took Erik Dickerson next, who would likely have been taken by the Colts #1 had they not drafted Elway and who strangely would acquire Dickerson years later when they were moved to Indianapolis) would have drafted Elway and become the Broncos. And the Broncos likely would have become just another bad NFL team, or worse, the Cleveland Browns.

I raise all this because of what has happened to the 2013 MLB draft board. Last year knowing that at least we had the #3 pick overall for the worst year in  Rockies history (2012) I began to follow-up the rankings early in the year. Players rose and fell, but as things got closer and closer to the time of the draft it was clear there were 3 players who were head-and-shoulders, based on their careers up to that point, ahead of the rest of the draft. They were Mark Appel, a Scott Boras client who was drafted #9 overall the year before by the Pirates but returned to Stanford to see if he could become #1 overall, Kris Bryant, a big power-hitting 3B from the University of San Diego, and Jonathan Gray, the big U of Oklahoma pitcher who had been drafted twice before and was not thought a high-pick until that year as he exploded that year becoming shut-down dominate, although right before the draft he was discovered to be using Adderall without a prescription.

Now over the years as Rockies fans we had long become used to disappointment, especially around the draft. In 2008 we were bad enough to have the #2 pick, not good enough to get consensus #1 pick Luke Hochever (who sadly has never reached his potential, finally found a role in the bullpen, and was seriously injured last year) and then on top of it, we passed on Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, Drew Stubbs (wait…that one is okay I think), Tim Lincecum (still don’t like Timmy sorry don’t want him), Max Scherzer, Tyler Colvin (wait…got that one too), or even Ian Kennedy (who won 21 games one year for Arizona). That group has already had 5 Cy Young Awards and an MVP, but we made the safe choice, going with the Stanford star, Greg Reynolds. Stanford pitchers have uneven records in the major leagues, with Jack McDowell and Mike Mussina both having great careers but just about every other Stanford pitcher bombing out. Reynolds might have been good, we will never know, as he pitched through injury (we now know) and ended up destroying his shoulder and has just recently put his papers in to officially retire from baseball. Okay that is just one bad turn with the draft, right? The Stanford part of the story we will get back to in just one second.

Well, as I was closing things down on a very fun week of Rockies baseball, I came across this story from our friends at PurpleRow

http://www.purplerow.com/2014/5/3/5677190/prospect-roundup-the-rockies-were-lucky-to-get-jon-gray-mark-appel-kris-bryant

One of the complaints about Stanford pitchers is that they do not do a good job at getting them ready for the major leagues. Which makes sense, they are trying to win the College World Series, something entirely different. Appel thrived in the low-useage system at Stanford, but it turns out that he is not doing so well in Houston. Now to be fair, he had his appendix taken out this off-season (not for fun, it had to be taken out, I guess you can get it removed for fun, but not sure how much fun it would be, and I have had 13 surgeries so I know how much fun they can be). We saw what that did to Drew Pomeranz and his velocity back in 2011. Well, Mark Appel has had a similar issue and is now out of A ball after 4 starts and a 6+ ERA and is in extended Spring Training.  Appel will be fine I am sure, at least long-term, but it means that his development cycles is going to be extended longer than I am sure a lot of Astros fans were hoping (especially after as much bad baseball as they have had to endure to get all those #1 overall picks).

And Kris Bryant? He is doing well, currently hitting in AA Tennessee in the South Atlantic League. Nice numbers: .304/.423/.982 with 6HR and a 34:17 K/BB ratio. But he is striking out 27% of his plate appearances so far this year, not what you want to see.

And our friend Jonathan Gray? In 6 starts, 2-2, 3.64 (one really really awful performance where he didn’t get out of the first), 32K to 4BB and a wHIP of 1.079. Not bad, even with that one outing in there. Even better, because Gray pitched so bad his last outing in college, the Sooners were knocked out early, and he got time to develop in 2013 int he Rockies farm system.

And the funny thing about this? Gray probably should have been chosen first overall. Houston fell in love with the finished product that is Mark Appel. Chicago and Theo Epstein, figuring they might be a few years from contention and loving the power that Bryant brought, and fearful we hear of the Adderall use, decided that chicks still dig the long-ball. And the Rockies? They finally (assuming Gray is as healthy as he appears) got lucky.

And the extra special golden thing right now?  The third baseman drafted in 2013 with the most homers in the minors….also was drafted by the Rockies, Ryan McMahon, who is hitting .283/.376/1.028 with 9HR and a 30:15 K/BB and striking out 27% of his plate appearances. Granted its in the SALLY at Low A, but….hey, I think Dan O’Dowd and company will take it. Maybe last summer will be our John Elway moment, the time that, like the Broncos, our luck finally shifted (especially with the draft) from always bad to the kind of luck that wins championships. The Broncos had years of just missed great drafts, but things changed in 1983. Has ours? Think we need a change?

If you do not have small children that frighten easily around, go ahead and read the horror story of Rockies #1 picks from days of old…and notice that starting in 2009, and hopefully including 2013, things might finally have changed…

 

Well, look at the Rockies draft history:

John Burke, 1992, selected the year before the Rockies big league team would start, they got to draft at #26 that year (why not at the top, I will never know). John, a local kid who pitched a U of Florida, was rushed to the major leagues before he was ever ready (never did that well in the minors either), and it didn’t go well, 4-6, 6.75ERA in two years and 28 games. He lives in Denver and can be happy with being the first pick ever of the Rockies. Now, if they had let us choose at the top of the draft, we might have had Derek Jeter (#6), or even Jeffrey Hammonds (#4, wait, we did get him later), Phil Nevin (#1 overall, one good year), Preston Wilson (#9…also an ex-Rockie), Jason Kendall (#23) and Charles Johnson (#28 – also an ex-Rockie – seems all those ex-Rockies had more games than their actual #1 choice did), or at #35, the great Johnny Damon. Oh well, what would we have done with Derek Jeter, really? Knowing Bob Gebard he would either have converted him to a pitcher or traded him for Joey Cora.

Jamey Wright, 1993, the Rockies pitcher drafted with the most wins….but that is in a 19 year mostly relief-pitching filled career, total Rockies wins – 36 wins for the Rockies

Doug Million, 1994, great kid, great potential, dies tragically from an asthma attack

Todd Helton, 1995, 1B/OF from Tennessee. That was the only good pick, really good pick, anywhere in the draft for the whole of the 1990s. They survived that decade on free agents and Latin America. Officially the late Bob Gebhard’s “Blind Squirrel finds nut” moment.

Jack Westbrook, 1996,    won 105 games, most ever by a Rockies drafted and signed player, won a World Series, won more games than any other pitcher in 1996 draft….traded away by Bob Gebhard for….Mike Lansing (Gebhard included two other pitchers on that deal….all that for one cycle from Mike Lansing)

Mark Mangum, 1997, traded by Bob Gebhard, but never made it out of AA.

Matt Roney, 1998 (no, I didn’t remember him either), career 1-10, suspended in 2006 for PEDS. One of the worst drafts in baseball history actually as only CC Sabathia, Marc Mulder and J.D. Drew even got close to being stars.

Jason Jennings, 1999, probably the greatest pitcher ever taken by the Rockies in the 1st round, his trade helped lay foundation for 2007 World Series run, but whose shoulder also later was destroyed

Matt Harrington, 2000, never signed any of the times he was drafted, picked the wrong agent, cost himself a lot of money but I am sure gained a lot of wisdom.

Jayson Nix, 2001, not really a #1, because that was the year we spent tons of money to get Mike Hamtpon and Co and nearly broke the team. Lesson learned, the hard way.

Jeff Francis, 2002, Rockie ace in 2007 WS team, picked #9 overall. The Rockies, fearful of another high-school player mistake passed on two guys named Matt Cain and Cole Hamels. Had the shoulder not blow-up, how many wins might he have gotten?

Ian Stewart, 2003, probably one of the saddest stories in the long history of the Rockies drafting, aside from Doug Million of course. Stewart should have become the batting champ that everyone predicted. It could have been an infield of Stewart, Tulo and Helton devastating pitching in the NL West. Never happened. The only guy from that draft they missed on was Aaron Hill, the 2nd baseman now with the DBacks, who while having made an All-Star team, had actually had some of the same hitting issues that Stewart has struggled with in his career. Something in the water that year.

Chris Nelson, 2004, once again picking in the top 10 at #9 they pick the high school short-stop, passing over Neil Walker 2 picks later (star 2nd baseman for Pirates), Jared Weaver (at #12, college pitcher, 3 top 5 CY Young finishes), and even Billy Butler (at #14, great DH for the Royals)

Troy Tulowitzki, 2005….oh right, that one is the hit for all time. Even if I thought Dan O’Dowd was the worst GM of all-time, which I don’t, that would make up for it. Even better than Todd Helton, given the position and leadership.

Chaz Roe, 2005, he was a comp pick that year for losing….Vinny Castilla. Chaz didn’t do much. Of the comp picks that year only some guy taken 10 picks later, Clay Buchholz turned out any good. So we will give that one.

Greg Reynolds, 2006, let us quickly move on.

Casey Weathers, 2007, Closer from Vandy. This was even before the great World Series run began, but he had low mileage on his arm having just been converted to a closer…seemed like a nice safe pick at the #8 pick overall. October 31, 2008, less than 15 months after being drafted….he had TJ surgery and as of March 31, 2014 is out of baseball. That is okay, all we passed on what Madison Baumgarner,(at #10 – all those hits off us and great games could have been thrown and done to the Giants), Jason Heyward (at #14) and a number of other guys who even though they are not All-Stars…are still in the league.

Christian Friedrich, 2008, picking at the back of the draft after Roctober, the Rox made a  good selection, but Christian, following the luck of all Rockies draft picks, had a stress fracture in his back. Still a chance to contribute. His draft has a lot of players with TJ surgeries and other issues.

Tyler Matzek, 2009, a steal of a pick, since he was rated at second best talent in the draft after Stephen Strausburg (who has had TJ surgery already) and might be about ready to turn his story good. Oh, there was some guy grabbed at #25 named Mike Trout, but I doubt he will live-up to that draft status. That draft also included two supplemental picks for losing…anyone….Brian Fuentes! The first supp #1 Tim Wheeler, whose career was undone by a hamate bone break and the second, Rex Brothers. All told, probably their best draft since 2005 when they got Tulo (and Tulo plus a bag of hammers made that the best draft maybe ever).

Kyle Parker, 2010, again choosing low after another late run to the playoffs, Kyle looks about ready to make a contribution to the team. That draft includes some interesting names but few All-Stars aside from Bryce Harper so far.

Tyler Anderson, 2011, again, a fairly low pick due to a good season, Tyler’s career has been slowed a bit by injuries, but he is having a good season at AA and may well be part of the rotation for many years to come. Making that draft even better is that they got Trevor Story as a supp pick for losing…Octavio Dotel, and after a rough 2013 campaign, he is having a great start to 2014 making himself once again a good front-line prospect.

David Dahl, 2012, Dahl was picked #10 overall, and after his break-out year at Grand Junction was quickly viewed as one of the top 4 talents of that draft. Last year was a lost year due to injury, but he too is off great this season and could well be manning CF in Coors for many years to come and sooner than one might think. And then, for losing….Mark Ellis….we got a supp #1 for Mark Ellis folks, the Rox drafted Eddie Butler, now the #2 prospect in the entire Rockies system and rated as a #2 starter by some or #1 by other depending on how you view that change-up.

Which tells us something….Since 2009 the Rockies luck has changed…and boy did it need to. After a run of 17 years where there were only 4 first round picks you can be proud of they way the story ended for you – Todd Helton, Jason Jennings, Jeff Francis, and Tulo, since 2009 this team has been on an uptick. And if you start scoring better with your #1 picks….well, that is how you consistently challenge for the playoffs if you don’t have Monopoly money to play with.

So, last year’s story…maybe its just part of a long-term trend of good news rather than tear and tears when it comes to draft day.

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