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.