We’re all excited to see Terry Ryan back in the GM’s office, and with good reason. Any day now, he’ll probably start swindling other MLB teams with lopsided trades and single-handedly turn the Twins into a 90+ win team again. There’s no way that won’t happen.
But for all the focus on Ryan’s brilliant trades, you hardly ever hear people talk about how he does in the draft. I’m sure this is partly because the draft is the product of dozens of people – scouts working all over the country – rather than just the efforts of the GM. But as GM, Ryan was and is ultimately responsible for the players the Twins select. And next summer he’ll have a big job ahead of him, since the Twins have the second overall pick and up to three more in the top 50.
So let’s look back at all the players Ryan has chosen in the first and supplemental rounds. Obviously, there are many rounds to a draft, and Ryan dug up some gems in those later rounds over the years. But it’s the first round we’ll all be watching the closest next summer, so we’ll focus on that here.
1995: Mark Redman P, #13.
Not a terrible start. Redman was a competent #4 type starting pitcher. His best year came in 2003, after the Twins traded him to the Tigers and the Tigers dealt him to the Marlins. Still, I bet Ryan would like to have this one back; Roy Halladay was drafted just four picks later!
1996: Travis Lee 1B, #2.
This one was a disaster. Lee made it to the Majors, and he had several almost good seasons, but not with the Twins. In fact, the Twins never even managed to offer Lee a contract, and he bolted to the Diamondbacks.
1997: Michael Cuddyer SS/P, #9 and Matthew LeCroy C, #50.
Finally, a success! You may have heard of Cuddyer, who has spent 11 seasons with the Twins. He’s no Hall of Famer, but he’s everything you can really ask for from a high first round pick. LeCroy never became a regular player, but he was okay as a backup catcher/power-hitting DH option for a few years.
1998: Ryan Mills P, #6.
Another complete bomb. Mills made it as high as AAA, but looking at his minor league stats, I’m not sure how he even accomplished that. He was a career 17-40, 5.79 ERA, 1.73 WHIP in seven minor league seasons. 14 picks after Mills, the Indians took CC Sabathia.
1999: B.J. Garbe OF, #5.
You thought Mills was a bad pick? Garbe went even higher, and he flamed out before he even got to AAA. In eight minor league seasons, Garbe hit .235/.313/.325. He was picked four slots ahead of Barry Zito and five ahead of Ben Sheets.
Johnson was the Twins’ third straight absolute flop, and the second #2 overall pick to become a complete failure for Ryan. To Johnson’s credit, he at least made it to the Majors, racking up a nifty 10.25 ERA in 26.1 career innings. Heilman didn’t sign with the Twins. The Mets re-drafted him in 2001, and he became a not terrible relief pitcher for a while. In Ryan’s defense, this turned out to be a very weak draft. In the first round, only Chase Utley (#15) and Adam Wainwright (#29) ever turned out to be really good.
2001: Joe Mauer C, #1.
After three straight disasters, Ryan hit the jackpot with Mauer. Sure, it helped that the Twins had the top choice in the draft, and it was probably easy to pass over Mark Prior in favor of the local guy, but give credit where credit is due. Before a forgettable 2011 season marred by inexplicable injuries, Mauer was on the fast track to a Hall of Fame career.
2002: Denard Span, #20.
Another pretty good pick. Span has become a very good fielder in center with a career .361 OBP. The only thing that has stood in his way is a recent bout with concussion symptoms.
2003: Matt Moses 3B, #21.
Just to keep from getting a big head after picking Mauer and Span, Ryan chose Matt Moses in 2003. Moses lasted until 2009 in the minors, and made it as high as AAA for 48 games in 2007. But his .249/.304/.379 minor league line didn’t give anyone any reason to believe he could hit in the Majors.
The Twins had an absolute gold mine worth of picks after losing Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins to free agency. So, how’d they do? Not great, but still chance to improve. Perkins rebounded after moving to the bullpen last year, and Plouffe may still carve out a role as a utility player or an outfielder. Waldrop had a cup of coffee with the Twins last season after moderate success in the minors. Rainville never got past New Britain; he retired in 2009. Fox showed some promise in a brief MLB appearance in 2010, then the Twins waived him and he got claimed by Boston. Last year Fox went 10-4 with a 3.96 ERA for Boston’s AAA squad, which means he would have been an injury fill-in Twins if he’d still been with this organization.
2005: Matt Garza P, #25 and Henry Sanchez 1B, #39.
Garza was a great pick. He tore apart minor league hitters and broke into MLB in 2006. Since then, he has put up a 3.83 MLB ERA and struck out 7.5 batters per nine innings. He’s 27 years old and just hitting his prime, so it’s really too bad the Twins don’t still have him. I’m not going to say whose fault that is, but it isn’t Terry Ryan’s! As for Sanchez? Ugh. He couldn’t even hit at Beloit. All Star pitcher Clay Buchholz went three picks after Sanchez.
2006: Chris Parmelee 1B, #20.
Jury’s still out on this guy. He put on a show last September, but nobody knows if he can keep that up. Bert Blyleven thinks he might be the next Wally Joyner, though, so that’s something.
2007: Ben Revere OF, #28.
As with Parmelee, we need more time before we can properly assess Revere. He’s exciting, though, and he made it to the Majors, which is more than we can say for a lot of guys on this list.
The baseball draft isn’t like the NFL draft. In baseball, even a very high draft pick is likely to become a bust and never play a game for the team that picks him. So you can hardly blame Ryan for picking some guys who never made it. But wow, Johnson, Lee, and Garbe really make you cringe, don’t they?
I’d consider a first round pick to be a success if he signs with your team and becomes a regular player at the Major League level for more than one season. For a top 10 pick, the bar is a bit higher: you want that guy to be an All Star. By that measure, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2002, and 2005 were successes. 2004, 2006 and 2007 may end up being successes, but it’s too early to say for sure. 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2003, though, are busts.
The good news is that Ryan’s record improved over time. I don’t know what happened, but after about 2001 the Twins started picking decent players in the first round on a regular basis. They didn’t all become Mauers, but at least Revere, Parmelee, Garza, and Plouffe all made it to the Majors. It could be that Ryan hired better scouts, or that the ones he had became better over time. Or maybe the Twins just got lucky with those picks.
Whatever the case, let’s hope that magic is back in 2012, because this is going to be the most important draft for the Twins in a long time.