The Coors Effect

June 3, 2010 7:55 PM

2010 Draft Preview: Rockies first-round history

With the draft coming up on Monday, extending through Wednesday, the Coors Effect is looking ahead by... looking back.  The Rockies have participated in the draft since 1992; even though they didn't field a major league team until 1993, the club participated in the 1992 draft and fielded a rookie-ball team that year.  So, our project tonight is to take a look back at all the first-round picks and see what they've done.

1992: John Burke, RHP, University of Florida

Selecting 27th in the 1992 first round, the Rockies' first-round pick was not a good one.  Burke, who grew up in the Denver area and went to Cherry Creek High School, worked as a starter in college.  His control was not good (5.5 BB/9 in his final season at Florida), and ultimately, that plagued him during his professional career; he posted a 5.1 BB/9 for his minor league career.  He worked as a swingman for the Rockies in 1997, but injuries and continued command problems doomed him, and he was out of baseball at 28.  In retrospect, the Rockies probably should have seen the command problems that Burke exhibited even in college and taken a pass on him, or saved him for a flyer in the later rounds.

1993: Jamey Wright, RHP, Westmoore (OK) HS

What can we say about Jamey Wright?  He was regarded as a top prospect in the Rockies organization, but ultimately wound up being a journeyman in the majors (career 82-115 record, 5.03 ERA.)  Statheads today would have noticed that Wright never had big strikeout numbers in the minor leagues, and thus wouldn't have expected much from a pitcher like him in the majors.  Still, though, Wright has carved out a nice career for himself.  Including this year, he's pitched parts of the last 15 seasons in the majors, which is more than you can say for most pitchers.  Wright isn't a bust in the true sense of the word, because he's been, at times, a useful major league pitcher.  He never lived up to the promise, but at the same time, his minor league stats suggested he probably wouldn't be good enough to hang around the majors for 15 years.

1994: Doug Million, LHP, Sarasota (FL) HS

Tragically, Million's life was cut short at age 22.  Even before that, though, Million looked like he was on his way to being a bust: in four seasons in the minors, he'd only made ten starts above A-ball, and walked 36 batters in 40 innings in that short trial.

1995: Todd Helton, 1B, University of Tennessee

In the minors, Helton showed excellent plate discipline and ability to hit for average, and was a doubles machine.  Eventually, a considerable number of those doubles cleared the fence.  I'd call this a hit.

1996: Jake Westbrook, RHP, Madison County (GA) HS

Westbrook was the third high school pitcher than the Rockies drafted in four years, and he turned out pretty well, as an innings-eating, mid-rotation starter.  Fine selection with the 21st pick.  Unfortunately for the Rockies, he didn't do that in a Rockies uniform, as he was shipped off to the Expos in the 1997 offseason as part of the Mike Lansing deal.  Westbrook isn't a superstar by any stretch, but he's a useful player to have around on your team.

1997: Mark Mangum, RHP, Kingwood (TX) HS

The first clear bust in Rockies draft history, though Burke is close.  Mangum pitched for the AZL Rockies in 1997, and actually wasn't bad, striking out 77 in 65.2 innings.  Then he was sent to the Expos as part of a trade for Dave Veres, and his strikeout numbers steadily declined as he moved up the ladder.  Mangum was out of baseball at 23, never making it past AA.  While pitchers like Jamey Wright might not have lived up to their promise, at least Wright became a somewhat-useful player.  Mangum never even developed into that.

1998: Matt Roney, RHP, Edmond North (OK) HS; Choo Freeman, OF, Dallas Christian HS; Jeff Winchester, Archbishop Rummel (LA) HS

With two supplemental picks for the loss of free agents Andres Galarraga and Walt Weiss, the Rockies continued their '90s draft philosophy of taking high-ceiling high school players in the first round.  Winchester, a high-school All-American, had a career .661 OPS in the minors and never made it past AA.  Freeman did, playing parts of three seasons with the Rockies, but he never stuck.  He ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 prospects in both 1999 and 2000, but poor plate discipline ultimately stalled his development, and he was out of baseball at 27.  Roney looked like a decent prospect for a while, but the Rockies lost him in the 2002 Rule V draft.  He pitched all of 2003 in the majors, but went 1-9 with a 5.45 ERA, and only pitched four more innings in the majors after that, out of baseball at 27.  So, with a first-round pick and two supplemental picks, the Rockies got three guys who never developed into much.  As a side note, the Rockies' first-round pick was, again, compensation for the loss of Galarraga; the Rockies' original first-round pick went to the Astros as compensation for Darryl Kile.  That pick was Brad Lidge.

1999: Jason Jennings, RHP, Baylor University

The first college pitcher the Rockies drafted in the first round since 1992, Jennings moved quickly through the minors and reached the majors in late 2001.  He was Rookie of the Year in 2002, and ultimately pitched six seasons with the Rockies, winning 58 games (at the time a franchise record.)  Though Jennings never became a frontline starter, and his career collapsed after leaving the Rockies, this was a clear hit.

2000: Matt Harrington, RHP, Palmdale (CA) HS

Dan O'Dowd's first draft as general manager was, overall, a success, as the Rockies snagged Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes, and Brad Hawpe in the later rounds.  But the first selection was, to put it nicely, a disaster.  Harrington never signed with the Rockies and ultimately never pitched professionally, as he wound up getting hurt pitching independent ball and never signed a contract with any major league team.  Players the Rockies could have had here: Chase Utley, Adam Wainwright... you know, the 2000 draft was a notoriously bad one, so maybe it's a good thing that the Rockies just didn't sign Harrington rather than giving a $5.3 million signing bonus to Joe Borchard.

2001: Jayson Nix, 2B, Midland (TX) HS

The Rockies lost their first-round pick as compensation for the signing of Mike Hampton.  (That's a topic for another day...)  They did get a supplemental pick as compensation for the Harrington disaster, though, and they spent it on Nix.  Nix showed some potential in the low minors, but hit a wall in AA and stalled out for four years in the minors.  After a short, unsuccessful major league trial in 2008, the Rockies let him go to the White Sox in the 2008 offseason, where he's become a somewhat useful backup player, though nothing close to a star.  This isn't bad for the 44th overall pick in the draft.

2002: Jeff Francis, LHP, University of British Columbia

The Rockies, apparently thinking there was something to this whole "college pitcher" thing after the experience with Jennings, tabbed Francis with the 9th overall pick.  Like Jennings, Francis moved quickly through the minors, and he made his major league debut late in 2004.  Also like Jennings, he never really developed into a frontline starter, but has been a useful mid-rotation type when healthy.  Again, guys like this are more difficult to find than you think so this has to be considered a hit.

2003: Ian Stewart, 3B, La Quinta (CA) HS

It took a little longer than expected, but Stewart's turned into a solid player, and he's still just 25 so he still has some room to grow.  The best part is that there's no player drafted after him in the first round who I can truly say that I'd rather have than Stewart.  Clear hit.

2004: Chris Nelson, SS, Redan (GA) HS

Nelson looked great at first, notching a .942 OPS in his first taste of pro ball in 2004.  That debut was good enough that Baseball America went ahead and named Nelson as the #26 prospect in all of baseball.  Then all sorts of problems started cropping up, from plate discipline to injuries, and Nelson wound up repeating at two different levels of the minor leagues.  Now at AAA, he still has a shot, but at this point it's hard to see him being much more than a utility infielder.  This looks like a bust.

2005: Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Long Beach State University; Chaz Roe, RHP, Lafayette (KY) HS

Tulo's a clear hit.  As for Roe -- a supplemental pick as compensation for Vinny Castilla -- he has good stuff, but has never really put up good numbers in the minors.  His minor league numbers actually don't look that much different from players like Wright and Westbrook, though, so there's still a shot he pans out, though it's fairly slim.

2006: Greg Reynolds, RHP, Stanford University

See, the funny thing about the draft is that, as much as we like to look at the Reynolds pick and ask, "What were they thinking?!"... at the time, Reynolds was considered a legitimate number two pick.  The 2006 draft was widely considered a weak draft at the time, but the first round produced an All-Star third baseman (Evan Longoria) and a two-time Cy Young Award winner (that Lincecum guy.)  The odd thing is that Reynolds was considered a legitimate pick at #2, while Lincecum would have been considered an overdraft there.  Longoria would have been a good pick, but after picking infielders in the last three drafts (there was still hope for Nelson back in '06), the Rockies were thinking pitcher here.  Clearly, they chose the wrong one, as it looks pretty unlikely that Reynolds will even be a mid-rotation type at this point.  But then few thought at the time that Lincecum would be racking up Cy Young Awards so early in his career.

(*It's still too early to tell with the last three draft, so I'm leaving them out for now.)

One thing that's clear from this is that the Rockies have shown two distinct philosophies in the draft, changing around the time Dan O'Dowd became GM.  In the 1990s, the Rockies mostly concentrated on high-ceiling high school players in the first round, particularly high school pitchers.  I don't know if the Harrington experience spooked the Rockies out of drafting high school pitchers early, or if it was part of a more general shift in baseball philosophy (noting that high school pitchers are very risky) around the time, but after Harrington, it wasn't until 2009 that the Rockies spent their first pick on a high school pitcher.

Twice, the Rockies have drafted a college hitter with their first pick, and both of those (Helton and Tulowitzki) have been very clear hits.  The Rockies have been less successful with high school hitters -- Stewart representing the only hit, with Nelson looking like a bust, and supplemental picks Freeman, Winchester, and Nix representing varying degrees of busts.  Two of the four college pitchers (Jennings and Francis) have been successes, with Burke being a bust and Reynolds looking like one.  The high school pitchers have been a mixed bag -- Wright and Westbrook have been useful, but not stars; Roney was sort of successful in that he made the majors, while Mangum and Harrington were complete busts.

So where will the Rockies go in 2010?  Most people have the Rockies going the college pitcher route again, as they did from 2006-08.  But, considering that pitching is the strength of the Rockies organization at present, I think the Rockies ought to consider a college hitter with the #26 pick.

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