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Thursday, June 6, 2013
Ten great moments in draft history

By David Schoenfield

1965: Reds draft Johnny Bench
Back in the first draft, it was still possible to dig up a relatively unknown kid from rural Oklahoma. Bench wasn't selected until the second round -- the 36th player overall -- and seven other catchers went ahead of him. Jim McLaughlin, the Reds' farm director in 1965, in Kevin Kerrane's classic book on scouting, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle":
A friend of mine with another club said, "You better send someone down to Binger, Oklahoma, to look at this kid Bench. We're not gonna draft him because the general manager's seen another he likes up in New England." ... They took that New England catcher on the first round, and the kid never got above Double A. And we took Bench on the second round. It was kind of a poker game. Nobody else knew much about him; his team hadn't played many games, and our scout was usually the only one there, so we could wait. After the draft Bill DeWitt, my boss, said, "I've never heard of him." I said, "I know you haven't, but you will. And that's why you hired me -- to hear about kids like this one."

Does McLaughlin's story check out? Sort of. There was no catcher from New England drafted in the first round, but the Orioles did take a catcher from Dartmouth in the second round -- one pick ahead of Bench. As to the claim that nobody else knew about Bench, at least one other team saw him: the Dodgers drafted a high school teammate of Bench's in the seventh round, but passed twice on selecting Bench.

1966: Reggie Jackson falls into A's lap
In one of the more famous draft blunders, the Mets' had the No. 1 pick and passed on Arizona State outfielder Jackson to select a high school catcher named Steve Chilcott, who would battle injuries and never reach the majors. "It was a position pick," said Joe McDonald, a Mets executive at the time. "We did not feel we had an adequate catching prospect in the organization."

1966: Braves draft Tom Seaver
The Braves? Yep. Atlanta selected Seaver in the now non-existent January secondary phase of the draft (for players who had previously been drafted). Seaver, pitching at USC, had been drafted the previous June by the Dodgers, but didn't sign after the Dodgers turned down his $70,000 asking price. The Braves took him with the 20th pick of the January phase, setting off a weird chain of events. The Braves signed Seaver for $40,000, but commissioner Spike Eckert ruled Seaver was ineligible to sign because USC had already played two exhibition games (Seaver didn't pitch). But the NCAA then declared Seaver ineligible, because he had signed a pro contract. So Eckert ruled that any team willing to match the Braves' offer would enter a lottery. The Mets, Phillies and Indians matched, and the Mets won the lottery.

1971: George Brett and Mike Schmidt drafted back-to-back
Pretty cool that arguably the two greatest third basemen in history were drafted the same year with consecutive picks. The catch: They went in the second round, Brett and then Schmidt. The Royals' first-round pick was a pitcher named Roy Branch, who briefly reached the majors but never won a game; the Phillies' pick was Roy Thomas, who had a marginal eight-year career as a reliever, although never pitched in the majors for the Phillies.

1976: Trammell and Morris ... and Ozzie (sort of)
In 1976, the Tigers had one of the great drafts ever, selecting Steve Kemp in the January phase and then Alan Trammell (second round), Dan Petry (fourth round), and Jack Morris (fifth round). Trammell and Morris aren't in the Hall of Fame yet, but both could get there someday. No team has ever drafted (and signed) two future Hall of Famers in the same draft. The kicker: They also drafted Ozzie Smith in the seventh round, but he didn't sign, and the Padres selected him the following year.

1987: Mariners draft Ken Griffey Jr.
The Mariners owned the first overall pick, and penurious Mariners owner George Argyros wanted the club to draft college pitcher Mike Harkey, because he would be easier to sign and presumably quicker to reach the majors. Scouting director Roger Jongewaard won out in the end. (Harkey went fourth overall, to the Cubs.)

1988: Dodgers draft Mike Piazza ... in 62nd round
Maybe the most famous late-round pick, Piazza was the Dodgers' final pick that year -- the 1,390th pick overall out of 1,395.

1990: Braves land Chipper Jones
Hard-throwing high school right-hander Todd Van Poppel was the consensus top talent in the 1990 draft -- "the best pitching prospect ever" label had been slapped on him -- but his declaration that he didn't want to sign and instead attend the University of Texas scared teams off him. So the Braves took Jones, which worked out pretty well for them.

2000: Cardinals draft Yadier Molina
The 2000 draft as one of the worst ever -- after top pick Adrian Gonzalez (by the Marlins), the rest of the top 15 were Adam Johnson, Luis Montanez, Mike Stodolka, Justin Wayne, Rocco Baldelli, Matt Harrington, Matt Wheatland, Mark Phillips, Joe Torres, Dave Krynzel, Joe Borchard, Shaun Boyd, Beau Hale and Chase Utley (OK, finally one that panned out). Keep that list in mind when you get excited about your team's first-round pick this year. The only other first-round of note that year was Adam Wainwright (by the Braves). He would eventually get traded to St. Louis, where he would team with a young catcher from Puerto Rico also drafted in 2000.

2009: Nationals draft Stephen Strasburg
The story here is how the Mariners kicked away the No. 1 overall selection. The Nationals headed into the final weekend with a record of 59-99, having gone 3-11 over their previous 14 games. The Mariners were 58-101 and had lost 14 of 15. This was tanking at its best. All the Mariners had to do was lose one game to lock up the first pick. One loss. Easy, right? Instead the Mariners sweep the A's. The Nationals lose all three. Josh Outman's throwing error sets up Yuniesky Betancourt's two-run go-ahead in triple in the fifth inning of the season finale. In other words, if Outman doesn't throw the ball away, Strasburg might be in a Mariners uniform instead of a Nationals one. (With the second pick, the Mariners selected Dustin Ackley.)