The Major League Baseball Draft is a fickle, fickle beast, and there’s no bigger reminder of that than Derek Jeter – in both “good” terms and “bad.”
As Jon Lane expounded upon earlier today, June 1, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Yankees selecting Jeter No. 6 overall in the 1992 MLB Draft. The Captain is going to Cooperstown, no doubt, and it’s a common chuckle to look back at the five guys taken ahead of him and wonder how that could’ve happened; sure, four of the five reached the Majors, and No. 1 overall Phil Nevin (.270-208 HR-790 RBI) had a pretty good 14-year baseball career…but none of them are DEREK FREAKIN’ JETER.
Keep that in mind come Monday, because you’ll probably hear a lot of names called that you aren’t familiar with – and many more that you never will be.
Because of the Minor League system and the incredible length of the MLB Draft (dozens of rounds compared to 16 total for the NBA, NFL, and NHL Drafts), baseball’s selection day, even in the first round, is more about finding people you think can contribute than those who will make an immediate impact. Sure, the latter happens – Joba Chamberlain was a Major Leaguer roughly 14 months after he threw his last pitch at Nebraska – but it took Jeter nearly three full calendar years to make his MLB debut.
The Astros took Nevin in 1992 because they were afraid Jeter would cost too much to sign. That caused scout Hal Newhouser to resign in protest, and even though Nevin was a very good MLB player, it will still be considered one of the biggest blunders in draft history – for the Astros (who actually have the No. 1 pick again this year) and the other four teams that passed on The Captain alike.
Here’s the thing though: as opposed to football or basketball or even hockey, you have to wait 5, 10, or even 20 years to fully evaluate the impact of an MLB Draft.
Look deeper at that 1992 draft, and you’ll see a lot of familiar names that still might make you question what some teams were thinking on 6/1/92. They’re not Jeter, but Nevin, pitcher Paul Shuey (No. 2) and outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds (No. 4) did all have decent careers, and so did Preston Wilson (No. 9, Mets), Michael Tucker (No. 10, Royals), and Charles Johnson (No. 28, Marlins).
But how did 22 teams pass on Jason Kendall, one of the most durable and consistent-hitting catchers of this generation? How did nine outfielders (not including Tucker and Wilson, who were drafted as shortstops) get taken before Johnny Damon? How is it that a guy that hit 428 home runs (Jason Giambi) and one who won 131 MLB games (Jon Lieber) were second rounders?
The answer: it happens. Maybe the teams that drafted Ken Felder and Shon Walker felt they fit the franchise’s future better than Damon, or the Royals felt it would cost too much to sign Lieber and chose Sherod Clinkscales instead. And, sometimes, as in the case of Todd Helton (No. 55 to the Padres), that player chooses another route; Helton, specifically, was drafted out of high school in 1992 but chose to go to the University of Tennessee instead, and he turned out pretty okay.
That’s the beauty of the MLB Draft, and no matter who the Yankees take on Monday, all you can do is look at him and hope. You’ll see next week in our extended draft coverage that there are huge hits (and even bigger misses) everywhere, and that’s simply a phenomenon that’s bound to occur in a draft where more than 1500 men are selected.
Chances are, the Yankees’ top pick won’t be Derek Jeter in 2032; to be fair, no one may be. But even if that guy turns out to be a Phil Nevin or a Jeffrey Hammonds in the Bronx, that’s still a great pick.
And if Mr. First Round doesn’t pan out at all, well, then maybe the Bombers will end up getting the next Raul Ibanez in the 36th round; after all, that’s what the Mariners did in 1992…one round after they got a guy who never made it out of Single-A.