It’s arguable whether even 10 years is long enough to properly evaluate a baseball draft, but it’s good enough for these purposes. I’m going to hit the reset button on the 2001 draft and redo all of the first-round picks based on what we know now. I am excluding 2001 draftees who didn’t sign after getting picked. That group includes such talents as Andre Ethier, Ian Kinsler, Nick Markakis and Stephen Drew.
Here’s the first 10. I’ll be posting part two Thursday and finishing the first round on Friday.
1. Minnesota Twins
Actual: Joe Mauer
Redo: Joe Mauer
The belief at the time was that the Twins were being thrifty. Scouts tended to agree that Mauer would have been a legitimate No. 1 pick most years, but the 2001 draft had two outstanding, near-MLB-ready talents in Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira, the kind of guys who typically come around once every five or 10 years. Mauer, on the other hand, was a high school catcher, and high school catchers had pretty much the worst track record of any position selected high in drafts.
Of course, Mauer delivered on all of his promise and the Twins got to issue a big “I told you so.” Whether Mauer has actually been more valuable than Teixeira through 10 years is arguable — Teixeira has played in 440 more games — but there’s no doubt the Twins are sticking with their selection.
2. Chicago Cubs
Actual: Mark Prior
Redo: Dan Haren (72nd pick, Cardinals)
Prior was the pretty obvious choice for the Cubs at the time. He was the best pitcher to come out of the college ranks in at least 10 years, and it looked like he’d contend for multiple Cy Young Awards after he arrived in the majors in 2002. Of course, we all know what happened after that. Injuries struck following a terrific 2003 season, and he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, his age-25 season.
So, I’m giving Haren to the Cubs, over Teixeira. Obviously, Teixeira was the No. 2 player in this draft. However, the Cubs pulled off terrific swindles of Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee in 2003, and having Haren in the rotation would have made a bigger difference for the team during its 2007 and ’08 player off runs than Teixeira would have.
That said, if the Cubs had won the World Series in 2003, I would have left them with Prior. Without him, there would have been no NLCS appearance and no Steve Bartman.
3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Actual: Dewon Brazelton
Redo: Mark Teixeira (5th pick, Rangers)
The Rays spent big in the first couple years of their history, signing Fred McGriff, Wilson Alvarez, Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla to sizeable free agent deals, but it wasn’t resulting in much of the way of wins or attendance. Becoming tighter with their money, they passed over Teixeira to select Brazelton in the 2001 draft. It was a huge mistake. Brazelton ended up going 8-25 with a 6.38 ERA in parts of five big-league seasons.
So, I’ll give Teixeira to the Rays. However, I was tempted to look elsewhere. If the Rays had Teixeira, I doubt they would have been in position to draft Evan Longoria third overall in 2006 and David Price first in 2007. Perhaps they’re better off today because they got so little out of the third pick in the 2001 draft and the first overall pick in 1999 (Josh Hamilton).
4. Philadelphia Phillies
Actual: Gavin Floyd
Redo: Ryan Howard (140th pick, Phillies)
With the redo, the Phillies are going to have to take their fifth-round pick first. I wonder if Howard would have had to wait so long to reach the majors had he been drafted fourth overall, rather than 140th. The Phillies probably wouldn’t have given Jim Thome a six-year, $85 million contract prior to the 2003 season had they been looking at Howard as a future star at the time. However, there wasn’t much hype surrounding Howard. He had just finished his first full pro season hitting .280/.367/.460 with 19 homers in low-A ball. Those are solid enough numbers, but they didn’t suggest stardom, not when Howard was already 22 years old.
5. Texas Rangers
Actual: Mark Teixeira
Redo: David Wright (38th pick, Mets)
Not a bad consolation prize for Texas. Actually, this could have worked out extraordinarily well. Since the Rangers already had Hank Blalock at third base, they decided to move Teixeira to first upon his arrival to the majors, and that left them with no place for Adrian Gonzalez With no Teixeira, perhaps they would have kept Gonzalez instead of trading him to San Diego, giving them the best corner-infield situation in the majors for the last half-dozen years.
6. Montreal Expos
Actual: Josh Karp
Redo: Kevin Youkilis (243rd pick, Red Sox)
Five of the next seven picks in the 2001 draft were pitchers who never reached the majors. Karp stayed healthy, but simply never developed, going 20-31 with a 5.07 ERA in three seasons between Double- and Triple-A. The Expos’ redo nets them Youkilis, who lasted all of the way to the eighth round before the Red Sox snatched him up. Had Youkilis been able to entrench himself at third base, perhaps the Nationals would have gone with Troy Tulowitzki over Ryan Zimmerman in the 2005 draft.
7. Baltimore Orioles
Actual: Chris Smith
Redo: C.J. Wilson (141st pick, Rangers)
Smith looked like the reach of the top 10 anyway, and he got hurt immediately after signing. The Orioles were hoping Teixeira fell to them here or, if not him, then fellow Marylander Gavin Floyd. I thought about giving them Floyd, but even though Floyd still holds the edge on career value, Wilson is the much more dynamic pitcher now. Of course, things could have turned out much differently for Wilson and maybe they would have had he pitched for the Orioles instead of the Rangers. The Orioles may well have had him in the rotation all along, and perhaps he would have experienced additional arm problems due to all of the innings he was throwing.
8. Pittsburgh Pirates
Actual: John Van Benschoten
Redo: Dan Uggla (338th pick, Diamondbacks)
What I’d really like to do here is give Van Benschoten to the Pirates as an outfielder instead. Most teams liked him better as a hitter, but the Pirates thought he had terrific upside on the mound. We’ll never know whether they were right, since Van Benschoten tore up his shoulder in 2004 and failed to regain his stuff. Instead, the Pirates get Uggla, though I’m not sure they would have known any better than the Diamondbacks did what they had in him. Arizona lost Uggla to the Marlins in the Dec. 2005 Rule 5 draft, and since Freddy Sanchez had just come up and turned in a successful rookie season in 2005, perhaps the Pirates would have failed to protect him, too.
9. Kansas City Royals
Actual: Colt Griffin
Redo: J.J. Hardy (56th pick, Brewers)
The Royals took the draft’s hardest thrower and hoped he’d become a pitcher; as with pretty much everything else the team tried in the early part of the decade, it didn’t work out. Griffin peaked in Double-A and finished out his career in 2005, posting a 36/43 K/BB ratio in 56 innings as a reliever in the Texas League. Hardy hasn’t been spectacular — well, not until this year anyway — but he gives the Royals the steady shortstop they’ve badly needed for, oh, about 35 years now.
10. Houston Astros
Actual: Chris Burke
Redo: Mark Prior (2nd pick, Cubs)
Though most expected that he’d need to move from short to second base, Burke looked like one of the draft’s sure things coming out of Tennessee. Unfortunately, he didn’t prove to be much of a second baseman either, and he didn’t have the bat to make it as an outfielder. In his place, I’m sending Prior to Houston. Of course, Prior has done nothing since 2006, but neither have the Astros, and a healthy Prior in 2003 and 2005 could have made a big difference. In 2003, Prior’s near-Cy Young season, the Astros finished one game back of the Cubs for first place in the NL Central (of course, in this alternate history, the Cubs don’t have Prior and don’t finish 88-74 anyway). In 2005, when Prior went 11-7 with a 3.67 ERA, the Astros lost the World Series to the White Sox.