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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The 1991 MLB Draft

The 1991 draft will likely be remembered as one of the most disappointing, in terms of major league production. With every draft, there are players who produced in the majors. But the star power was lacking, and most of the elite prospects never panned out. This class includes tainted hall of fame talent, and one of the biggest what if's in history. This is a look back, 20 years later, on the 1991 MLB draft.

The most outstanding college player entering the draft was college baseball's top player of the 1990 season, Mike Kelly of Arizona State. He was named the player of the year, and was a two time All-American selection in the outfield. Although he was expected to be the next star from the prestigious baseball school, following the likes of 1990 MVP Barry Bonds, hall of famer Reggie Jackson, and all-star's Rick Monday and Sal Bando, Kelly was never able to find success in the major leagues. Kelly was known for his all around offensive game at Arizona State, hitting 350 with 46 home runs in his three seasons with the Sun Devils. Prior to the 1992 season, Mike Kelly was named Baseball America's 19th best prospect for the Atlanta Braves, who selected him with the second overall pick in the draft. And while he did steal 22 bases, and smash 25 home runs in AA, he only hit 229, and from there his stock tumbled. He made it to the big leagues in 1994, and stayed on with the Braves for one more season, collecting only 5 home runs, seven stolen bases, a 220 batting average, and a 656 OPS in 233 plate appearances with the franchise, before moving on to Cincinnati. His best season came in 1998 with one of baseball's two newest franchises, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In 1999, he saw his last major league action, appearing in only two games with the Colorado Rockies. He last appeared in 2004 for the Yankees AAA team.

The San Diego Padres, with the 8th pick, made Joey Hamilton the highest selected collegiate arm to sign in the 1991 draft. Hamilton has one of the more interesting stories in the draft. Hamilton was originally drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in high school, but opted instead to attend Georgia Southern University. Hamilton earned second team All-American honors, following his 18-4 season, with a 3.07 ERA. Despite his dreadful start as a Junior, due in large part to an elbow injury that later required surgery, Hamilton found himself selected at number 8 by the Padres. Initially, Hamilton was not expected to sign. Sadly, Hamilton's father was dying of cancer, and in order to fulfill his father's dream of seeing him pitch in the major leagues, Hamilton decided to sign a contract worth more than 400,000 dollars. Hamilton struggled in the minors for a couple of seasons, but when he reached the majors, he turned it on, finishing fifth in the 1994 rookie of the year voting. Four years later, he was a solid number three starter behind Kevin Brown and Andy Ashby on a world series team, although they lost. But control issues eventually forced him out of San Diego (he walked a league high 106 batters that year). He played for Toronto, then Cincinnati to finish up his career with a respectable 74-73 record.

He lead the league in home runs, RBI, batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, and even intentional walks. He was named an all-star 12 times. He won 9 silver slugger awards. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting 8 seasons in a row. He has a World Series MVP award, and two world series rings. He hit 555 home runs, 1831 RBI, owns a 312/411/585 line, and is regarded as one of the greatest right handed hitters ever. And with the 13th overall selection of the 1991 draft, the Cleveland Indians drafted a young third baseman who would later play in the outfield, Manny Ramirez. Without a doubt, Ramirez was the most successful player in the entire draft. His numbers with two of the greatest offensive teams, the Boston Red Sox of the 2000's and the Cleveland Indians of the 1990's, rank amongst the best in all of major league history. Without him, there were still some good players drafted. Shawn Green, Brad Radke, and Jason Isrighausen to name a few. But Ramirez is in a class of his own compared to his peers. Over a six year period starting in 1999 and ending in 2004, Ramirez had one of the best stretches by a right handed hitter ever, collecting 236 homers, a 1061 OPS, and even breaking the 86 year world series drought that the Boston Red Sox franchise had experienced. Sadly, Ramirez was hit with a 50 game suspension in 2009 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with the Tampa Bay Rays early in 2011, faced a 100 game suspension and was forced to retire. Still, P.E.D.s or not, Ramirez had one of the greatest careers for a major leaguer in history.

So who was the most talented player in the draft? Manny Ramirez of course. Great average hitter, drew a lot of walks, hit a lot of home runs. No question. Well, not so fast. We all know about how Stephen Strasburg is supposed to be the best pitcher ever. But all the way back in 1991, we had a guy who was hyped up to be just that. His name is Brien Taylor, and he may have been the greatest player never to make it to the major leagues. Since what is considered the first June draft in 1965, the Yankees have had the number 1 overall selection twice. The first time, 1967, they selected the first DH in history, Ron Bloomberg. In 1991, they selected the big left handed pitcher Brien Taylor. Taylor was compared to, and was called better than the Doc Gooden that won the Cy Young award. Taylor was armed with a nasty fastball that consistently sat in the mid-90's, and occasionally approached triple digits. Not only that, his breaking and off-speed pitches were considered plus-plus pitches, meaning he had three great pitches. Not only that, but he had good control of his pitches too. Then in 1993, his brother got into a fight and was injured. Taylor decided to confront the man who fought his brother, and ended up falling on his arm awkwardly, dislocating his shoulder and tearing his labrum. By the time he got back to pitching, his fastball dropped a few MPH, his breaking pitches were not sharp, and he couldn't come close to finding the strike zone, as his walk rates from 1995 to 1998 were 12.2 per 9, 23.7 per 9, 17.3 per 9, and 9.2 per nine. He struggled to get much playing time, and in his last minor league season in 2000, he walked 9 batters in only 2.2 innings for the Indians A team. He nerve got higher than AA, and his stuff and command never recovered from what his doctor called one of the worst injuries he had ever seen. What could have been? What if he didn't get hurt? Questions will always remain about the best pitching prospect of the 20th century. If the comparisons were right, and he worked out the way he was supposed to, you could imagine how devastating the Yankees would have been. Would the 1998 Yankees have won more than the Cubs 116 wins in the 1906 season? Perhaps the Yankees would have won in 2001 and 2003, or perhaps they would not have blown the 3-0 ALCS lead in 2004. There are so many what if's, but one thing that is for sure, to put it as simply as possible, we never got to see a great talent pitch, and that is what baseball lost when Brien Taylor ruined his shoulder.

Now for some facts about this draft, and some of the players selected.

In the first round, 7 of the 26 players were named to an all-star game: Dmitri Young, Tyler Green, Shawn Estes, Manny Ramirez, Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green, and Aaron Sele. When the supplemental picks are included, two more all-stars are included in Justin Thompson and Bobby Jones.

The 8th round produced the most quality pitchers, including Jason Schmidt, Brad Radke, Derek Lowe, and Steve Trachsel.

The 11th round produced the most quality infielders, including Mark Grudzielanek, Joe Randa, and Jeff Cirillo.

Nomar Garciaparra and Aaron Boone were amongst the notables that were drafted but did not sign.

NFL MVP Steve McNair was drafted in the 35th round by the Seattle Mariners.

Todd Hollandsworth, drafted by the Dodgers in the 3rd round, was the last of five straight Los Angeles Dodgers rookies of the year, winning the award in 1996. He followd in the footsteps of Eric Karros, 92, Mike Piazza, 93, Raul Mondesi, 94, and Hideo Nomo, 95.

Finally, it's time to go through the entire draft and attempt to build the best possible team from the 1991 draft. This is what I came up with.

1. 3B Jeff Cirillo, RH, 11th round, Milwaukee Brewers
2. 2B Mark Grudzielanek, RH, 11th round, Montreal Expos
3. RF Shawn Green, LH, 1st round, Toronto Blue Jays
4. DH Manny Ramirez, RH, 1st round, Cleveland Indians
5. LF Cliff Floyd, LH, 1st round, Montreal Expos
6. 1B Mike Sweeney, RH, 10th round, Kansas City Royals
7. CF Mike Cameron, RH, 18th round, Chicago White Sox
8. C Scott Hatteberg, LH, 1st round, Boston Red Sox
9. SS Kevin Stocker, SH, 2nd round, Philadelphia Phillies

SP. Brad Radke, 8th round, Minnesota Twins
SP. Derek Lowe, 8th round, Seattle Mariners
SP. Jason Schmidt, 8th round, Atlanta Braves
SP. Paul Byrd, 4th round, Cleveland Indians
SP. Aaron Sele, 1st round, Boston Red Sox
CP. Jason Isringhausen, 44th round, New York Mets

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