History's No. 1 Draft? Top choice might be '09
Group featuring Trout, Strasburg, Goldschmidt stands tall in a decade of strong classes
A lively debate among insiders might accompany this week's Interleague meeting in Washington between Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, representing the Angels and Nationals, respectively.
Which First-Year Player Draft was superior: 2009, which featured Trout and Stephen Strasburg, Harper's teammate -- or Harper's talented group the following summer?
It's still relatively early, but the 2009 collection of draftees could go down as the greatest ever. It runs almost as deep as the Pacific Ocean.
Eleven first basemen had been tabbed in that Draft when the D-backs, in round eight with pick No. 246, reached for a big kid from Texas State University in San Marcos. Hello, Paul Goldschmidt.
Five rounds later, with pick No. 399, the Cardinals identified Matt Carpenter of Texas Christian University.
Pure gold can be found in the hills and valleys of America.
Taken by the Angels out of Millville, N.J., with the 25th overall pick -- compensation for the Yankees' free-agent signing of Mark Teixeira -- Trout has quickly emerged as the game's premier all-around player.
Strasburg, the No. 1 overall choice in '09, has shown flashes of greatness and has the tools to be an elite starter.
Thirty of the 49 first-rounders in 2009, 61 percent, have reached the Majors. Joining Strasburg in a pitching-rich group are Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin, Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor, Mike Leake, Joe Kelly, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, James Paxton, Tanner Scheppers, Jacob Turner, Drew Storen, Aaron Crow, Chad Jenkins, Kyle Gibson and Rex Brothers.
Any manager would take that group and say, "Thank you, baseball gods."
A lineup made from that Draft would be loaded with championship-caliber talent as well: Trout, Goldschmidt, Brandon Belt, Wil Myers, Carpenter, Jason Kipnis, Nolan Arenado, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, A.J. Pollock, Khris Davis, Chris Owings, DJ LeMahieu, Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes, Tony Sanchez, Scooter Gennett, Matt Davidson and Nick Franklin.
Kids being kids, the 2010 class is making noise that it intends to be just as formidable as Trout, Strasburg and Co.
Big names already have emerged -- Harper, Manny Machado, Chris Sale, Matt Harvey, Andrelton Simmons -- with depth from Jedd Gyorko, Christian Yelich, Addison Reed, Nick Castellanos, Tyler Thornburg, Drew Smyly, Mike Olt, Michael Choice, Drew Pomeranz, Derek Dietrich and Yasmani Grandal.
On their way: Taijuan Walker, Noah Syndergaard, Jameson Taillon, Aaron Sanchez, Joc Pederson, Barret Loux and Delino DeShields Jr., among others.
The waves of talent keep coming.
As he surveyed his infield during the 2012 World Series, Giants catcher Buster Posey saw Belt, a fifth-round pick, at first base, and fourth-rounder Brandon Crawford at shortstop on what was about to become a championship team.
"What it shows," Posey said in reflection, "is what an inexact science scouting is."
Identifying raw personnel is the lifeblood of every organization. But more than any other major sport, baseball is hit-or-miss. Each summer's Draft produces startling surprises and numbing disappointments. Sure things miss and late-round stabs turn into stars.
Even Posey, taken fifth overall in 2008, was passed on by four clubs that would snatch him in a heartbeat if the Draft could be redone today. Crawford, stolen as the 11th shortstop taken that June, would be a high first-rounder now.
Five of those 11 shortstops taken ahead of Crawford have made it to the Majors, none approaching his impact.
"I wanted to go higher and was expecting to go higher," said Crawford, a huge Giants fan growing up in the Bay Area. "It's satisfying to be here, in the big leagues. If I had gone earlier, somewhere else, I wouldn't have ended up with the Giants. So, it happened for a reason. This is where I was supposed to be."
Belt, chosen with pick No. 147 in 2009, likely would be a top-10 selection if it was done all over. Primarily a pitcher before experiencing shoulder issues, the angular athlete was a late bloomer as a power hitter.
"That was a pretty strong Draft," Belt said, conceding that lasting until the fifth round served as an added incentive. "I think it comes into play with a lot of people, being as competitive as we are. I wanted to show I could hit."
If offense revs your jets, 2005 was a very good Draft year, with a collective WAR of 293.6 among its first-round choices, according to Baseball-Reference.com
After Justin Upton was taken No. 1, along came Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Cliff Pennington, Jacoby Ellsbury, Yunel Escobar, Jed Lowrie, Colby Rasmus, Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, Michael Brantley, Nick Hundley, John Mayberry, Will Venable, Austin Jackson, Peter Bourjos and Matt Joyce.
That's a whole lot of thunder, accompanied by prime-time leatherwork. But the pitchers lacked depth after Clay Buchholz, Matt Garza, Travis Wood, Jeremy Hellickson and Jon Niese.
The 2006 pitching class is off the charts. The game's best, Clayton Kershaw, was the sixth pitcher and seventh player overall taken. Tim Lincecum (No. 10 overall), Max Scherzer (No. 11) and Ian Kennedy (No. 21) followed Kershaw. Joba Chamberlain and Chris Perez arrived late in the first round, followed by Chris Tillman, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Justin Masterson, Joe Smith, Zach McAllister, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Doug Fister, Mark Melancon, Kris Medlen and Mat Latos.
Evan Longoria (No. 3 overall pick) and Chris Davis (fifth round, No. 148) were the offensive forces of the 2006 Draft.
Top to bottom, the 2002 class takes its place at the head table. Consider the depth: Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Howie Kendrick, Curtis Granderson, Josh Johnson, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, James Loney, B.J. Upton, Denard Span, Jeremy Guthrie, Adam Lind, Brandon McCarthy, Joe Saunders, Chris Denorfia, Craig Breslow, Brad Ziegler, Scott Feldman, Jesse Chavez and Sam LeCure.
Draft-day hauls came each year in the decade, in addition to 2009, '06, '05 and '02.
2000: Yadier Molina, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Edwin Encarnacion, Kelly Johnson, Grady Sizemore, pitcher Chris Young, David DeJesus.
2001: David Wright, Joe Mauer, Ryan Howard, Teixeira, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, J.J. Hardy, Gavin Floyd, Ricky Nolasco, Jim Johnson, Edwin Jackson, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Prior.
2003: Matt Kemp, Adam Jones, Aaron Hill, Nick Markakis, Jonathan Papelbon, Andre Ethier, Michael Bourn, Carlos Quentin, Chad Billingsley, Delmon Young, Tim Stauffer, John Danks, Paul Maholm, David Murphy, Scott Baker, Sean Marshall.
2004: Dustin Pedroia, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, Gio Gonzalez, Yovani Gallardo, Homer Bailey, Jason Vargas, Neil Walker, Billy Butler, Hunter Pence, Ian Desmond, Ben Zobrist, Mark Trumbo, Huston Street, Stephen Drew, Glen Perkins, Kurt Suzuki, Chris Iannetta, Casey Janssen.
2007: David Price, Freddie Freeman, Giancarlo Stanton, Madison Bumgarner, Josh Donaldson, Jason Heyward, Jordan Zimmermann, Jonathan Lucroy, Matt Wieters, Mike Moustakas, Jarrod Parker, Matt Dominguez, J.P. Arencibia, Rick Porcello, Todd Frazier, Sean Doolittle, Zack Cozart, Eric Sogard, Darwin Barney, Derek Norris.
2008: Posey, Crawford, Andrew Cashner, Craig Kimbrel, Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, Brett Lawrie, Alex Avila, Brian Matusz, Yonder Alonso, Gordon Beckham, Jason Castro, Justin Smoak, Ike Davis, Lance Lynn, Wade Miley, Robbie Ross Jr., Tyler Chatwood.