In the midst of 72 straight hours of NFL draft coverage last weekend, an interesting question popped into my head: what is the worst MLB draft class during my lifetime? Has there been a MLB draft class in the last 25 years that has completely flopped? After a few fruitless Google searches, I decided to get my hands dirty and research it myself. Following an afternoon of intense study, I concluded that the worst draft class of the last 25 years was... 2003.
A few comments before I jump in to the meat of my research.
- For the sake of time, I looked specifically at first round picks. Although I realize that MLB rosters are filled with diamonds in the rough, it’s hard to argue with the importance of drafting well in the first round. Plus, I have an 8-month-old child that was vying for my time.
- I excluded the last ten draft classes (2006-2015) in my analysis because of the number of active players involved. Careers typically peak around ages 26-28, but you never know when a Jake Arrieta will come along and start dominating later in his career.
- To make comparing draft classes from different years fair, I simply looked at the top 30 picks from the first round, excluding compensation picks for the most part.
I’d love to hear from you; shoot me your thoughts in the comment section below or send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
2003 Draft Class
In my estimation, the 2003 class is the worst of the last quarter century for two reasons:
- Too many complete busts
- Lack of top-end big league talent
Precursors to Matt Bush
Matt Bush, a frequent subject of dialogue on our podcast and the number one overall pick of the Padres in 2004, would never play a single inning in the big leagues (although he is making a comeback as a pitcher). In the first round of 2003, that happened eight times. Kyle Sleeth (Tigers), Chris Lubanski (Royals), Ryan Harvey (Cubs), Jeff Allison (Marlins), Matt Moses (Twins), Brad Sullivan (Athletics), Brian Snyder (Athletics), and Eric Duncan (Yankees) all flamed out before making the majors. That’s more than a fourth of the first round! Although busts like this occur far more frequently in baseball than football or basketball, eight is certainly higher than the norm. For comparison’s sake, the year prior had six, and the year after had four.
|Pick - Team||Player||Pos||MLB Games|
|3 - DET||Kyle Sleeth||RHP||0|
|5 - KCR||Chris Lubanski||OF||0|
|6 - CHC||Ryan Harvey||OF||0|
|16 - MIA||Jeff Allison||RHP||0|
|21 - MIN||Matt Moses||3B||0|
|25 - OAK||Brad Sullivan||RHP||0|
|26 - OAK||Brian Snyder||3B||0|
|27 - NYY||Eric Duncan||3B||0|
No Star Power
In addition to eight guys not even making it to the majors, the 2003 class also lacked top-end talent. Not a single player has amassed more than 30 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for his career. Nick Markakis has been the closest at 28, but even his moderately high total is more a product of longevity than putting together truly great seasons (9 of 11 seasons below 3). Aaron Hill (23.3) and John Danks (20.8) are next in line for career WAR. Quality big leaguers? Yes. Big league stars? Not quite. Taking a look at other drafts from 1990-2005, every first round had at least one player above the 30 WAR threshold. Granted, Markakis has a shot to get there, but the ceiling on his career mark is likely somewhere south of the lowest on the list below (Chavez 37.4).
|Year||Best Player in 1st Round||WAR|
But what about the one or two season wonders? Even if guys didn’t amass a high career WAR, maybe they lucked into a great single season here or there? Nope. Among the top 30 players picked in 2003, a grand total of four made an All-Star game (Rickie Weeks, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Hill, and Carlos Quentin). And among those four, three made a single All-Star game: Rickie Weeks in 2012 (3.0 WAR), Chad Billingsley in 2009 (1.4), and Aaron Hill in 2009 (5.8). Quentin was an All-Star twice: 2008 (5.3) and 2011 (2.5).
Beyond Markakis, Hill, Billingsly, Quentin, Danks, and Weeks, here are the other players that made MLB rosters from the 2003 first round.
|Pick - Team||Player||Pos||WAR|
|1 - TBR||Delmon Young||OF||2.5|
|4 - SDP||Tim Stauffer||RHP||3.5|
|8 - PIT||Paul Maholm||LHP||12.1|
|10 - COL||Ian Stewart||3B||2.8|
|11 - CLE||Michael Aubrey||1B||0.2|
|12 - NYM||Lastings Milledge||OF||0.4|
|14 - CIN||Ryan Wagner||RHP||-0.3|
|15 - CWS||Brian Anderson||OF||-0.2|
|17 - BOS||David Murhpy||OF||10.2|
|18 - CLE||Brad Snyder||OF||-0.1|
|19 - ARZ||Conor Jackson||1B||2.3|
|20 - MON||Chad Cordero||RHP||7.5|
|22 - SFG||David Aardsma||RHP||1.9|
|23 - LAA||Brandon Wood||SS||-3.7|
|28 - STL||Daric Barton||C||9.1|
|29 - ARZ||Carlos Quentin||OF||10.4|
|30 - KCR||Mitch Maier||C||1.4|