Finding An Utley in A Haystack
I happened to be perusing Baseball Reference earlier. Okay, I didn’t “happen” to find myself there, as I hang around BBref like teenagers hang around convenience stores… but I came across the amateur draft in the year 2000. Why is 2000 special? Well, that was the year Chase Utley was drafted 15th overall by the Philadelphia Phillies. Utley has gone on to have a fine career, has established himself as the game’s best second baseman, and he may find himself in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done.
The glaring theme with the 2000 draft was how few of the first-rounders panned out into productive Major Leaguers. 17 of the 40 (42.5%) never reached the Majors. Of the 17, only five were still active in 2009. Eight were out of professional baseball after 2007. Four went back to independent league baseball.
Of the 23 who did reach the Majors, 17 were still active in 2009. Of those 17, only 13 were still active in the Majors last year.
14 of the 23 are pitchers, only nine of them have thrown 100 or more innings at the Major League level. Five of the 14 pitchers have compiled a negative wins above replacement (WAR) total over their careers. Six of the 14 have compiled 1 WAR or more in the span of their careers.
Nine of the 23 are position players, only four of them have compiled 1,000 or more plate appearances at the Major League level. Five of the nine position players have compiled a negative WAR total over their careers.
Overall, this is what the draft class of eventual Major Leaguers looked like:
(click to enlarge)
Utley has compiled more WAR in his career than the #2, 3, and 4 players (Gonzalez, Wainwright, Baldelli) combined. The Phillies could just as easily have passed on Utley. The Mets, with the 16th pick after Utley was picked 15th by the Phillies, selected Billy Traber. The Pirates took Sean Burnett 19th. The Phillies could have soured on Utley’s size and then lackluster defense and taken Traber, or Burnett or Phil Dumatrait, or someone else.
Hardly any of these picks have turned out well and the biggest successes have emerged with a team other than the one that selected them. Adrian Gonzalez was drafted by the Florida Marlins but was sent to Texas in the Ugueth Urbina deal, then sent to San Diego in the Adam Eaton/Akinori Otsuka trade. Adam Wainwright was sent to St. Louis as part of an exchange that brought J.D. Drew to Atlanta.
It’s not as if the other teams don’t draft well; it’s just that 2000 was such a poor draft for just about everyone but Ed Wade and the Phillies. In 2001, Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Gavin Floyd, Mark Teixeira, Casey Kotchman, and David Wright were all taken in the first round. In 2002, B.J. Upton, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jeff Francis, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, James Loney, Denard Span, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain, John Mayberry, and Mark Teahen were selected in the first round.
Looking at the five or so Major Leaguers from the Class of 2000 who have gone on to have productive Major League careers, it is quite breathtaking that not only did the Phillies have one of the five, but the far and away best of the five in Chase Utley.