Pat Burrell and the Class of 1998

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Pat Burrell, the first overall pick in the 1998 draft, is expected to announce his retirement in the coming days. J.D. Drew, another top player from the same class, may do the same. So, here’s a look at the top players from the 1998 draft, as judged by Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR (the list only includes 1998 picks who signed):

49.8: CC Sabathia – Cle – 20th overall
46.3: Mark Buehrle – CWS – 1139th
45.9: J.D. Drew – StL – 5th
30.9: Matt Holliday – Col – 210th
24.0: Adam Dunn – Cin – 50th
20.2: Aaron Rowand – CWS – 35th
18.7: Pat Burrell – Phi – 1st
17.9: Brandon Inge – Det – 57th
16.3: Mark Mulder – Oak – 2nd
15.8: Austin Kearns – Cin – 7th
15.5: Jack Wilson – StL – 258th
15.2: Carlos Pena – Tex – 10th
14.2: Aubrey Huff – TB – 162nd
13.6: Juan Pierre – Col – 390th
13.3: Jeff Weaver – Det – 14th
13.3: Eric Byrnes – Oak – 225th
12.2: Morgan Ensberg – Hou – 272nd
12.2: B.J. Ryan – Cin – 500th
10.3: Eric Hinske – ChC – 496th
10.3: Brad Wilkerson – Mon – 33rd
9.4: Matt Thornton – Sea – 22nd
9.0: Ryan Madson – Phi – 254th
8.3: Brad Lidge – Hou – 17th
8.0: Nick Punto – Phi – 614th
7.9: Adam Everett – Bos – 12th
7.8: David Ross – LAD – 216th
7.4: Gerald Laird – Oak – 45th
7.4: Jason Michaels – Phi – 104th
7.1: Felipe Lopez – Tor – 8th
7.0: John Buck – Hou – 212th
6.5: Bill Hall – Mil – 176th
6.4: Brian Lawrence – SD – 502nd
6.2: Corey Patterson – ChC – 3rd
6.2: Kip Wells – CWS – 16th
6.1: Joe  Kennedy – TB – 252nd

Burrell comes in seventh, which seems about right given his lack of defensive value. Of the players below him, only Inge and Pena would seem to have much chance of passing him on the list, and it’s entirely possible Inge will produce negative WAR over the remainder of his career.

The Phillies, incidentally, also landed Madson, Punto and Michaels. They and the Reds were the only teams to land draft four semi-useful players in 1998, as I judge it anyway. The Reds selected Todd Coffey along with Dunn, Kearns and Ryan.

Here’s that list:

4 – Phillies, Reds
3 – Astros, Athletics, Cubs, Rockies, Tigers, White Sox
2 – Blue Jays, Braves, Cardinals, Rays, Red Sox
1 – Brewers, D’Backs, Dodgers, Expos, Giants, Indians, Mariners, Mets, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, Rangers
0 – Angels, Marlins, Orioles, Royals, Twins, Yankees

The Orioles drafted Cliff Lee and the Yankees picked Mark Prior, but neither player signed. I’d say the Royals had the worst draft of all: they had the 4th (Jeff Austin), 30th (Chris George) and 31st (Matt Burch) overall picks and got nothing from them.

Rays sign lefty Ryan Merritt to a minor league deal

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The Tampa Bay Rays have signed lefty swingman Ryan Merritt to a minor league contract. Nah, it’s not a big signing but we’ll take anything today.

Merritt, who has spent his entire career in the Indians organization, spent the entire 2018 season at Triple-A Columbus. It wasn’t a bad year for him — he posted a 3.79 ERA and a 52/2 K/BB ratio in 13 starts and two relief appearances covering 71.1 innings — but the Tribe just couldn’t find a role for him at the big league level. He has shown in the past, however, that he can hack it in the bigs, having posted a 1.71 ERA in 31.2 innings with the Indians between 2016-2017.

His thing is that he simply doesn’t strike guys out at anything approaching a typical clip for a big leaguer: 3.7 per nine innings in his small sample of major league outings and 6.3 Ks per nine innings in the minors. Which, while it may not prevent him from having success at the big league level, is likely a reason for the limited number of chances he’s been given.

The Rays are probably the best place he could go, frankly. They’ve shown themselves willing to utilize guys in unique ways and are more likely than most teams to find places to spot a lefty control specialist who has shown he can both start and come out of the pen.