By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published on June 5, 2007. - M.S.
The Mets don't get to pick until the 42nd selection in this week's annual entry draft, which, incidentally will be televised for the first time. For the next few days, I'll review the Mets' first choices through the years.
1965 - Les Rohr. Never developed. Best minor league year was 1969 in the Texas League. By then, the Mets already had a talented young pitching staff and Rohr was already out of the picture. Ray Fosse was available, but overall there weren't many good first round picks.
1966 - Steve Chilcott. Passed up Reggie Jackson. Enough said.
1967 - Jon Matlack. Excellent choice with fourth pick in draft as he turned out considerably better than the three players taken before him.
1968 - Tim Foli. Became a decent major league player, but not what you'd expect from an overall number one. Thurman Munson, Bobby Valentine and Greg Luzinski were available.
1969 - Randy Sterling. Had a cup of coffee with the Mets, but never really dominated in the Minors. Another bad year for the draft. Next choice was Alan Bannister by the Angels who was projected as a power-hitting shortstop, but wound up as a utility man. Don Gullett, chosen 10 picks later was the gem, especially with his quick rise to the big leagues.
1970 - George Ambrow. A high school ss who never signed, went to USC and was an 18th round pick by the Angels 4 years later. Obviously, his stock had fallen considerably and didn't figure to have helped even if he had signed. World Champs had low pick that year. No one chosen in the second round turned out very well, so Mets get a bye here.
1971 - Rich Puig. Awful pick considering the next selection was Jim Rice. Previous pick was Frank Tanana. The rest of that year's first round was terrible.
1972 - Rich Bengston. Another poor pick. Another bad first round overall. The likes of Chet Lemon, Jamie Quirk, and (current Mets' coach) Jerry Manuel were chosen later in the first round, but really no one to be upset about.
1973 - Lee Mazzilli. An outstanding choice with the 14th overall selection. John Stearns, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount were taken early in the first round, but there were a bunch of never-to-be's chosen between Winfield and Mazzilli, and a lot of bad choices after Maz, so even if Mazzilli didn't turn out to be a superstar, this was a great pick. And don't forget Mazzilli eventually turned into Ron Darling and Howard Johnson.
1974 - Cliff Speck. Righthanded pitcher who labored in the minors for a long, long time. Willie Wilson was chosen with the next pick, and Rick Sutcliffe a few picks later, so the Mets could have done better.
1975 - Butch Benton. He never made it, but this was another downer draft. The best of the first round choices were probably Rick Cerone, Clint Hurdle and Dale Berra.
1976 - Tom Thurberg. Who ??? Not a great first round, although future major leaguers like Bruce Hurst, Mike Scioscia, Leon Durham, and Pat Tabler were all taken later in the first round, so the Mets could have fared better.
1977 - Wally Backman. Took him awhile to develop, but it's hard to fault this selection, as there were a bunch of guys taken before him who never amounted to much.
1978 - Hubie Brooks. Very solid selection with #3 choice in draft. Was close to major league ready when chosen. Had some pretty good years with the Mets before going to Montreal in the Gary Carter deal. Had a decent career. Kirk Gibson was taken 9 picks later, but hard to fault this selection.
1979 - Tim Leary. Second overall pick looked like he was going to be a great one. Leary made the Mets in 1981, only to be injured in his first start on a cold April day at Wrigley Field, then missed all of 1982 with an injured nerve. He moved to Milwaukee in a six-player, four-team trade in 1985 and was 12-12 for the Brewers in 1986 before being traded to Los Angeles with Tim Crews for slugger Greg Brock. Leary started and lost Game Six of the 1988 LCS for the Dodgers, but he pitched well out of the bullpen in the World Series. After the season he received the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. He was traded to the Reds in mid-1989.
So, among the Mets' 15 first-round picks, there were some real good ones, some terrible ones, and some okay, but could have done better types. Not quite as bad as I would have thought. Of course, Chilcott over Jackson was the worst choice ever and Puig over Rice was a close second.
Next week - the next 15 years, starting with Darryl Strawberry in 1980.