A history of the Twins’ high draft picks (it’s not pretty)


It has been a rough season for the Twins, so next week’s draft could end up being the highlight of the year. If you’re a Twins fan, you have to be looking forward to that number two overall pick right now and hoping the Twins draft a future superstar.

Looking forward is a good idea, because if you look backward the view is not nearly as easy on the eyes. The Twins have drafted some absolute failures high in the draft in past years.

The MLB draft as we know it was born in 1965. Though the Twins have had some bad seasons, they’ve only been terrible enough to earn a top five overall pick eight times. Of those eight draft picks, only one can be considered a success (albeit an expensive success). Two of the others did not even sign with Minnesota, one failed to reach the Major Leagues, and the other four made no difference at all to the team.

Here’s the history of Twins’ top five picks in chronological order. If you want some good news, you’ll have to read all the way to the end of the list.

1982, Bryan Oelkers, RHP, Wichita State University, 4th overall pick

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about Oelkers is that he was born in Spain, making him one of only four Spanish-born MLB players in history (if you trust Wikipedia). His career with the Twins lasted 10 games in 1983, during which he accumulated a Liriano-esque 8.65 ERA. The Twins dealt him to Cleveland in 1986, and he spent one season in the bullpen to end his MLB career.

1983, Tim Belcher, RHP, Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, 1st overall pick

Baseball draft picks are risky at best. Even a high pick is no guarantee to become a star. But when your team has the first pick in the draft, you would hope that the player could at least make it to the Majors with your team. Tim Belcher actually became a pretty good pitcher, but not with the Twins. Belcher clearly stated before the draft that he was willing to return to college if the Twins didn’t offer him more money than they were willing to give, but Minnesota selected him anyway. Predictably, he spurned the team’s lowball contract offer and never took the mound in the Twins’ organization.

1987, Willie Banks, RHP, St. Anthony High School (New Jersey), 3rd overall pick

Banks is easily the second most successful player on this list. At first, he looked like a potential rags-to-riches story, as he overcame a troubled and violent childhood to be selected third overall by the Twins. He reached the Majors in 1991 and contributed a few spot starts to the Twins’ championship season. And in 1993, the 24 year old Banks put together a solid season, winning 11 games with a respectable 4.04 ERA. After that year the Twins dealt him to the Cubs (for catcher Matt Walbeck), and he never regained his mojo on the mound. Banks bounced around from the Cubs to the Dodgers, Marlins, Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Red Sox until 2002. As of 2010, he was still playing baseball for the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League.

1991, Dave McCarty, 1B, Stanford, 3rd overall pick

By coincidence, the Twins owned the #3 pick both years they won the World Series. In 1991 they used it on McCarty, a first baseman with power potential. He jumped right into High A ball and reached AA soon after, posting a .304/.422/.486 line in 1991. But that never translated into MLB success, despite ample opportunity. In 167 games with the Twins over three years, McCarty hit just .226 with only three homers. His career took him to six other MLB teams before he retired in 2005 to become a Red Sox television analyst.

1996, Travis Lee, 1B, San Diego State University, 2nd overall pick

At the time of the 1996 draft, Lee was the Twins’ second-highest pick ever, and the Twins managed to botch this one in much the same way they did with the highest (Belcher). Minnesota failed to make a contract offer within 15 days of the draft, allowing Lee to become a free agent on a technicality. It was not a huge loss; Lee managed to hit 20+ homers a couple times, but never became a star. Still, it was a colossal embarrassment for the team to lose such a high draft pick.

1999, B. J. Garbe, OF, Moses Lake High School (Washington), 5th overall pick

In 1999 the Twins selected Garbe, a high school outfielder with the fifth overall pick. He never made it to MLB. With the ninth and 10th picks, Oakland and Milwaukee selected future star pitchers Barry Zito and Ben Sheets. Garbe made it as high as AA ball, where he produced a meager .193 batting average in parts of three seasons, before quitting baseball in favor of a career in casino management.

2000, Adam Johnson, LHP, CSU Fullerton, 2nd overall pick

Between Lee and Johnson, the Twins have a downright awful track record with #2 overall picks, so let’s hope that the third time is a charm. Johnson got to the Majors fairly quickly, in July of 2001, but his run of success ended there. He made nine appearances for the Twins in 2001 and 2003 and finished his career with a 10.25 ERA. The Twins released him in 2005.

2001, Joe Mauer, C, Cretin High School (Minnesota), 1st overall pick

Finally, after 19 years of high draft failures, the Twins got one right. We all know the story of how they chose Mauer over Mark Prior, and how Mauer went on to win three batting titles, four All Star appearances, and an AL MVP award. That track record makes him a successful pick no matter what happens in the last seven years of his $184 million contract.

So there’s the list. It’s pretty depressing, but if you look on the bright side, at least the Twins got the most recent pick right. And given that it has been 11 years since the last time this team had a high pick, perhaps they’ve learned some sort of lesson from the failures with Johnson, Garbe, Lee, and the rest.

I fervently hope that is so!