On June 6th, the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft will begin. Teams have been preparing for months in order to select the player they think could become the next All-Star for their respective teams. But no matter how much work is done, talent evaluation of young baseball players is by no means an exact science. Teams might think they have the next big thing, but often times the 'next big thing' can't adjust to wooden bats, or can't hit a curveball, or has control issues, or suffers a career altering injury. In the first of a three-part series, here is a look at the worst Major League Baseball draft picks of the 1980s. The following picks were picked to bring their teams to prominence, but for whatever reason, each of these players failed to meet the expectations that came with their high draft selection.
1980: Garry Harris, Shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays, 2nd Pick
One selection after Darryl Strawberry, the Blue Jays picked Harris, an 18 year-old speedster from San Diego, with the second pick in the draft. Harris signed quickly and played the 1980 season in Medicine Hat. The good news was that Harris hit .267 and stole 14 bases in 16 attempts. The bad news is that in 60 games, Harris made a whopping 54 errors at shortstop. Soon after, Harris was moved to second base, and in 1981 he played well in single-A for Florence, hitting 15 home runs and stealing 22 bases in 26 attempts. After being moved to a higher single-A league, Harris couldn't adjust, and over the next two years he posted lines of .235/.279/.343 and .224/.266/.348. After the 1983 season, Harris was done, out of baseball before turning 22. True, Harris had good speed, but as the old baseball adage goes, you can't steal first base.
1981: Terry Blocker, Outfielder, New York Mets, 4th Pick
Two picks before Kevin McReynolds was selected by the Padres, and five picks before Ron Darling was selected by the Rangers, the Mets picked Blocker, a speedy centerfielder from Tennessee State University, with the fourth pick in the 1981 draft. Blocker hit well in the minors, hitting over .300 at each level before making the big club in 1985. Blocker went 1 for 15, got hurt, and found himself in the minor leagues in 1986. In 1987, the Mets traded him to Atlanta, and in 1988 Blocker got a chance as Atlanta's everyday centerfielder. It didn't work out, as Blocker hit .212/.250/.283 in 199 at bats for the Braves. After a similar performance in 1989, Blocker was released in played in the Mexican league for a few years. While Blocker never became a hero on the diamond, he did become a hero off the field. In 1995, Blocker came back to Braves' camp as a replacement player. During spring training, another replacement player, David Shotkoski, was mugged and murdered in West Palm Beach, FL. Blocker was so distraught over the death of his friend that he went out and investigated the crime himself, and eventually led the police to the murderer. As for the Mets, they later traded for the two players they passed over in the draft, and both Darling and McReynolds ended up spending the majority of their careers in Flushing.
1982: Augie Schmidt, Shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays, 2nd Pick
Just two years after picking Harris, the Blue Jays went with another shortstop with the second pick of the 1982 draft. Unlike Harris, Augie looked to be close to being ready to play in the big leagues, as the University of New Orelans product was the 1982 Golden Spikes winner as college baseball's best player. Schmidt started out well, but once he got to Triple-A in 1984, Schmidt hit a wall, hitting .201/.280/.243 in 144 at bats. After the season, the Blue Jays shipped Schmidt to San Francisco, and Schmidt failed to impress Giants brass, who released him in 1986 during spring training. Schmidt signed with the Twins organization and played in his hometown at Class-A Kenosha (Wisconsin), where he hit .226/.362/.309 in 301 plate appearances. Schmidt was out of baseball after that, and in 1988 he became the head coach at Carthage College in Wisconsin, a position he still holds to this day. Even though the Blue Jays missed on Harris and Schmidt, it's hard to say that those choices hurt them in the long run. After all, they still had a shortstop named Tony Fernandez and a deep farm system, and from 1983-1993, the Blue Jays had 11 straight winning seasons, with five AL East Titles and Two World Championships during that span.
1983: Jeff Kunkel, Shortstop, Texas Rangers, 3rd Pick
The Rangers had high hopes in making Kunkel, the son of former major league umpire Bill, their first selection in the 1983 Draft. Kunkel, a product of Rider University, was quickly inserted in the lineup by manager Doug Rader in 1984. Too quickly as it turned out, as Kunkel hit .204/.218/.324 and was eventually sent down to double-A after 50 games. Afterwards, Kunkel seemed to be a perpetual 4A player, constantly shuffling between Triple-A and the major leagues. Except for a decent season in 1989 (.270/.323/.437 in 326 plate appearances), Kunkel was never able to settle in as the Rangers' everyday shortstop, losing his job to Curtis Wilkerson, Scott Fletcher, and Jeff Huson, among others. After leaving the Rangers, Kunkel singed with the Cubs in 1992, hit poorly (.138 in 29 at bats) and eventually left professional baseball in 1994. For his career, Kunkel finished with a line of .221/.259/.355.
1984: Shawn Abner, Outfielder, New York Mets, 1st Pick
In a first round that had future All-Stars Mark McGwire, Jay Bell, and Bill Swift selected in the first 10 picks, the Mets chose Abner over all others as the first pick in the draft. In 1985, Abner seemed on his way to success, as he hit .301/.341/.485 at Class-A Lynchburg. However, Abner slipped a bit in Double-A (.266/.303/.436) and was then traded to San Diego in 1987. Abner spent five years in the Padres organization and in 569 plate appearances, Abner didn't do so well for the Padres, with a line of .207/.249/.303. Abner may have had all the tools, but his plate discipline left something to be desired. In 1992, Abner seemed to be turning a corner, as he hit .279/.323/.351 as the Chicago White Sox' fourth outfielder. However, a knee injury kept him out for nearly two whole seasons, and after a short lived comeback with the Mets' organization in 1995, Abner decided to call it a career, finishing his major league career hitting .227/.269/.323 with 11 career home runs in 902 plate appearances.
1985: Kurt Brown, Catcher, Chicago White Sox, 5th Pick
In the first four picks of the 1985 draft, B.J. Surhoff, Bobby Witt, Will Clark, and Barry Larkin were selected. Not a bad start, right? With the fifth pick, the White Sox decided to take their chances on a high-school catcher by the name of Kurt Brown. The first sign of trouble for Brown took place early, as in the rookie league, Brown hit .205/.273/.313, shockingly low numbers for the fifth pick in the draft. From there, Brown didn't hit too much better, hitting no higher than .272 in a season, with little home run power to go along with it. Brown finally reached Triple-A in 1991, but after a .248/.297/.350 season, the White Sox finally let him go, and Brown was out of baseball. What makes this pick even more glaring is that the next player chosen after Brown was none other than Barry Bonds, only the most talented player of the past 30 years.
1986: Brad Brink, Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies, 7th Pick
Just one pick after Gary Sheffield, the Philles selected Brink, a pitcher from USC. Brink wasn't impressive during his minor league days, but he kept moving through the Phillies system despite having ERAs over four at nearly every stop. In 1989, Brink tore his rotator cuff after three starts, and missed almost two whole seasons before coming back in 1991. To his credit, Brink fought all the way back and made eight starts for the Phillies in 1992. However, despite an average performance (0-4, 4.14 ERA, 3.5 K/9IP), Brink got lost in the shuffle, and in 1994 the Giants claimed him off of waivers. After two seasons in the Giants and A's organizations, Brink was out of baseball by 1995.
1987: Mark Merchant, Outfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates, 2nd Pick
The Seattle Mariners actually debated over picking between Merchant and Ken Griffey Jr. with the first pick in the 1987 Draft. Obviously, the Mariners made the right choice. Merchant was thought to be the prototypical 'five-tool' player coming out of high school. Merchant showed off his speed in his pro debut, stealing 33 bases in 50 games in rookie ball. In 1988, Merchant struggled a bit, hitting .242/.367/.299, and the Pirates included him in a trade to the Seattle Mariners in 1989. Merchant repeated A-ball that year, and didn't do much better, as his .223/.318/.346 line attests. Merchant remained in the Seattle system until 1992, and seemed to lose his speed along the way, as he only stole three bases in 1992. After the Mariners, Merchant landed in the Cincinnati organization, where he hit .301/.393/.500 for the Double-A Chattanooga lookouts and earned a promotion to Triple-A. That would be as far as Merchant got, as he bounced around a few organizations before retiring in 1998. In 12 minor league seasons, Merchant finished his career with a .263/.356/.397 line, and had to watch as Griffey became one of the best players of his generation.
1988: Bill Bene, Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers, 5th Pick
With most of these selections, even though they didn't work out, you can see why teams thought that these players would succeed. With Bene, it's hard to figure what the Dodgers were thinking. Yes, Bene had a mid-90s fastball, but he also had a 5.64 ERA while pitching at Division II California State-Los Angeles. But the Dodgers must have loved Bene's arm, as they picked him over Jim Abbott, Tino Martinez, and Robin Ventura, among others. In 1989, Bene pitched 27 innings in single A ball, and walked a whopping 56 batters that year, or 18.67 batters per nine innings. Bene lowered that rate in 1990, to 15.3 BB/9 (96 walks in 56 2/3 innings). The Dodgers decided to move him to the bullpen in 1991, where he did slightly better, but not enough to impress the Dodgers, as he was waived in 1994. Bene tried to stick with the Cincinnati and Anaheim organizations, but his lack of control doomed him, and he was out of the game by 1997. In 445 professional innings, Bene walked 489 batters.
1989: Roger Salkeld, Pitcher, Seattle Mariners, 3rd Pick
The grandson of former major league catcher Bill, Roger Salkeld was a hot-shot high school pitcher when he was selected by the Mariners in the 1989 Draft, a mere four picks ahead of Frank Thomas. For a while, Salkeld made the Mariners look wise, as he rose up to Triple-A by the age of 20, and was ranked the third best prospect by Baseball America before the 1992 season. Then Salkeld hurt his shoulder and missed the entire 1992 season. After returning in 1993, Salkeld seemed to be back on the right track, and made the Mariners rotation in 1994. However, Salkeld didn't do so well, as his 2-5 record and 7.17 ERA shows. In 1995, Seattle traded Salkeld to the Reds for Tim Belcher, and Salkeld got another chance as a starter in Cincinnati's rotation. Despite an 8-5 record, Salkeld still pitched poorly, with a 5.20 ERA. Sent back to Triple-A in 1997, Salkeld pitched even worse (6.75 ERA), and bounced around for a while before finally retiring in 2000.
Well, thanks for reading. Remember, if you have any thoughts about this post, than feel free to leave a comment. Also, if you have an idea for a new post, then send those along to me either by leaving a comment or by e-mail at KtheC2001@gmail.com.