Before Getting Excited About Nimmo, Remember Al Shirley (And Others)

An article by posted on August 16, 2011

As last night’s deadline to sign first-round draft choice Brandon Nimmo drew closer, my Twitter timeline was littered with fans and writers counting down the minutes.  “C’mon, Sandy, get it done,” one follower said.  “We need Nimmo,” said another.  So I got to thinking.

With all of this talk about how desperate the Mets were to sign an 18-year-old high school kid from Wyoming, I wanted to look at the Mets’ recent history of first-round picks.  I went all the way back to 1991, and my findings aren’t pretty.

In the past 20 years, the Mets have drafted 10 players who didn’t play in one single game for the team.  This list includes Al  Shirley, Chris Roberts, Robert Stratton, Jon Ward, Kirk Presley, Ryan Jaroncyk, Nathan Vineyard, Billy Traber, Geoff Goetz, Bobby Keppel and Scott Kazmir.  Of course, Kazmir was traded for Victor Zambrano and Traber went to Cleveland in the deal for Roberto Alomar.  Neither one of those moves worked out for the Mets.

That is a whopping 11 out of 24 draft picks— I’m not counting Reese Havens, Brad Holt or Matt Harvey— that never played a game for the Mets.  That is less than 50-percent.  That is atrocious.

Additionally, outfielder Jason Tyner played in 13 games and outfielder Terrence Long played three before getting traded to Oakland for Kenny Rogers.  Pitcher Philip Humber appeared in five games before being dealt to Minnesota for Johan Santana, while Eddie Kunz pitched in four games.  Preston Wilson played in eight before being shipped to the Florida Marlins for Mike Piazza, and former Florida State Seminole standout Paul Wilson, whom the Mets drafted No. 1 overall in 1994, started 26 games before being moved to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

So out of 24 selections, not counting the teams most recent picks of Harvey, Holt and Havens, 11 never played a game for the Mets, one started 26 times and another five appeared in 13 games or less.

As it breaks down, in the last 20 years, the Mets have gotten significant contributions from a first-round pick just seven times, led by third baseman David Wright, who has played in 1066 games (as of today).  Surprisingly, Lastings Milledge is second behind Wright, having played in 391 games before being traded to Washington for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.  Outfielder Jay Payton played in 368 games, and Ike Davis has played in 183 since last season, though he has missed the majority of this year with an ankle injury.  That is all for first-round position players.

On the mound, the Mets have seen Aaron Heilman pitch in 305 games, compiling a 22-33 record and a 4.24 ERA while being a lightning rod of criticism his entire time in New York.  Bobby Jones made 190 starts, none better than his  one-hit shutout in Game 4 of the Division Series against the San Francisco Giants in 2000.  Mike Pelfrey has made 138 starts, but has had a frustrating career, often following complete dominance with total disaster.

As you can see, though the Mets have had numerous regime changes and numerous people making the selections of the last 20 years, and though some of the draft picks were parlayed into players like Santana, Piazza and Alomar, the majority of Mets first rounders never panned out.

Now granted, the true measure of whether signing Nimmo to a $2.1 million contract won’t come until 2014 at the absolute earliest.  But the Mets track record with first rounders isn’t pretty.

So before everyone goes crazy about an unknown high schooler from Wyoming, remember Al Shirley and Chris Roberts and Bobby Keppel.  Because they were highly touted prospects too.

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