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Taking a Closer Look At Some Past Mets' #1 Draft Choices

Barry DuchanSunday, January 27, 2008
By Barry Duchan

Now, that I've completed my review of all of the Mets' #1 amateur draft choices, I thought I'd take a closer look at a few of them. It would be nice if I could see a pattern or general philosophy, but there clearly is none. Some of this lack of pattern can be attributed to the fact that the organization, like most others has gone through many changes, not only as far as General Manager, but also Scouting Director, Regional Scouting Directors, and of course, individual scouts.

In past entries, I've already commented extensively about Rohr, Chilcott, Matlack, and Foli. For purposes of evaluating the choices, I looked at the next few picks to see if the Mets "could have done better". This assumes, probably incorrectly, unless the Mets had the Number 1 pick, that those players who followed the Mets' choices were on the radar. So, it's easy to say that Rich Puig was a poor choice when the next selection was Jim Rice. It would be hard to fathom that the Mets gave equal attention to Puig and Rice and ultimately decided Puig was going to be the better player. It's much more likely that they never saw Rice or saw him on a bad day.

But there's more to it than that. Evaluating a player is extremely difficult for many reasons. Since there are literally thousands of possible draft choices, even if a team has an unlimited scouting budget and the best scouts in the business, it would be impossible to see every player in every game. This is obvious and yet is a pretty good explanation why the draft will always be something of a crapshoot. You could see a player on his best or worst days, a player can be pitched around or even intentionally walked when your scouts are trying to evaluate him. There are just so many other factors not even including the possibility of future injury, which primarily affects pitchers.

Still, you can look at any first round draft pick and say "what were the expectations"? In 1996, the Mets used their first round pick on Jason Tyner, a college outfielder with minimal power, good speed, solid defense, a fair arm, and the ability to hit for average. Eleven years later, Tyner is a spare outfielder with his third major league team, who depending on whether his bloop hits fall in or his line drives are caught might hit .320 or .220 in any given season. Now, his career has no doubt been more successful than at last half of the Mets' other first round picks. The problem is that no major league team is going to make a commitment to playing Tyner on a regular basis, because he has zero power and his other tools are not so overwhelmingly impressive. You would always expect to find someone who can do a better overall job. Best case scenario for Tyner, I suppose, would have been developing into a Brett Butler clone. Solid major league player, but worth a first round pick? I don't think so.

Two years later, the Mets selected a raw high school outfielder named Robert Stratton. He had tremendous power, but throughout his minor league career never hit for a good enough average to rate a major league chance. The Mets actually traded Stratton away as a young player, only to reacquire him before the next season started. Several other organizations took a chance on Stratton after the Mets gave up on him. I have never seen him play, and I cannot find him on any current minor league roster, so I don't know if he's playing in an independent league, in Asia, or has retired. It would appear that uniquely among all Mets' first picks, Stratton was selected solely on the basis of his power. What was his ceiling? Dave Kingman? Adam Dunn?

Another interesting Mets' selection was Al Shirley in 1991. Al was a tools guy -speed, power, arm, but Al struck out way too much and although he'd display his tools at time, he never really learned to hit. He hung around in the minors, getting as high as AA in 1998, but for eight years, he had "potential" that was never fulfilled.

So there are 3 examples - three very different ballplayers, all of whom could be classified as disappointments. You could ask could the Mets have done better and then find someone chosen a few picks later that turned out a whole lot better, but I don't think that really provides an explanation. Fans can only guess why a certain player was taken. Only those who worked for the Mets at the time can answer the question. But obviously, anyone who was chosen first had some glowing scouting reports, and except in rare cases, I tend to doubt that whoever made the ultimate decision had actually seen the player in action.

Note: More of Barry Duchan's writings can be found on his own Metscentric blog.

About Barry Duchan: I've been following the Mets since 1962. Have to admit I was a Yankee fan as a kid, but I found it to be so much more interesting to see how a young team could build itself up rather than following a team where the season didn't really begin until October. I remember them all - Casey, Marv, ChooChoo, Don Bosch, The Stork, etc. As the years went on, I became more and more of a Mets fan, and a Yankee hater once Steinbrenner and Billy Martin entered the picture.   Read More -->

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Comments (2)

Nice article. Check the years on Stratton and Tyner. I think you flip flopped them. I double checked with Baseball Reference and the baseball cube.

The interesting thing I saw looking at two of those years is the players taken just before the Mets picked. In 1991 two player before Al Shirley...Shawn Green, in 1998 before just before Tyner, CC Sabathia. So I stared looking to some other years and WOW. 1997 the Mets choose Geoff Geotz at #6; the pick before...Vernon Wells. Ten picks later was Lance Berkman. In 1995 with the 18th pick the Mets chose Ryan Jaroncyk..the pick just before at 17...Roy Halladay. Imagine that team.


Generally speaking I think that the best approach to the amateur draft would be to look for players with broad arrays of skills, the thought being that if the player's best skill doesn't get him there he still might be a good player on general ability to make a contribution. With guys such as Jason Tyner and Robert Stratton, if the first volly doesn't get 'em over the top, then they aren't getting over the top at all.

There is more, plenty more to consider of course. And there have been players who started with one skill and developed enough complimentary skills to be plus players -- such as Ralph Kiner, say; his plate discipline was really the only thing that elevated him over a genuinely one dimentional player like Dick Stuart. So maybe smarts and determination should count as a skill too.

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