The Mets’ Hardscrabble History Of Drafting Outfielders
The Mets have drafted 72 outfielders in the first 5 rounds (top 100 picks) during the 48 year history of the MLB draft. Of those 72, 18 made it to the majors.
Of those 18, six of them enjoyed what can only be described as cups of coffee with a variety of teams. They were, John Gibbons (24th overall 1980), John Christensen (38th overall 1981), Terry Blocker (4th overall 1981), Stan Jefferson (20th overall 1983), Rod Gaspar (40th overall 1967), Ike Blessitt (56th overall 1967).
Seven had careers as back-ups or bench players:
Lastings Milledge: (12th overall 2003) A toolsy outfielder out of Bradenton, Florida, once ranked as the best 16 year old player in the nation by Baseball America. He was considered by many a top three pick who fell to 12th overall because of a history of sexual misconduct. Lastings was much maligned in the Met clubhouse for his enthusiasm on the field and his choice of music in the clubhouse and was eventually traded to the Nationals. His best season was 2008 with the Nationals when he hit 14 homers and had 61 RBI’s. He is currently playing with the Yahult Swallows in Japan.
Jason Tyner: (21st overall 1998) Speedy outfielder out of Texas A& M was traded to the Rays and had one good season with them when he stole 31 bases in 105 games and hit .280. With various stints with Minnesota and Cleveland in the ensuing years he mostly bounced back and fort from AAA to the majors as a back-up.
Jay Payton: (29th overall 1992) Spent several seasons after being traded by the Mets as a 4th outfielder bench player type. Had a couple of seasons as a regular and one really good season (2003) with Colorado when he hit 28 home runs with .302 average, but never really established himself anywhere.
Shawn Abner: (1st overall 1984) Labeled a “can’t miss” prospect, Shawn never played up to his potential and was eventually traded to San Diego in the Kevin McReynolds deal where he played occasionally. His best season was 1992 with the White Sox when he hit .279 in 208 at bats.
Kal Daniels: (58th overall 1982 but did not sign with the Mets in the January phase, signed with Cincinatti in the June phase). Had a couple of pretty good seasons with Cincinnati and one excellent season with the Dodgers when he hit 27 home runs and had 94 RBI with a .296 average.
Herm Winningham: (9th overall 1981) – became a useful bench player and pinch hitter over several seasons with Montreal / Cincinnati.
Randy Milligan: (3rd overall 1981) several seasons of 20 or more doubles, one 20 home run season (1990) with the Orioles. Walked a lot — had a career OBP of .391 – but otherwise unremarkable.
Only five Mets first round selections out of 72 ended up as All-Stars:
Lee Mazzilli: (14th overall 1973) His best seasons were 1979 and 1980, he got on base, stole bases (41 steals in 1989), and had decent pop with 15 and 16 home runs respectively in those two seasons. Mazzilli was an All-Star in 1979 and was the best player on the Mets for several of the dark late 70’s years otherwise I would have probably included him in the former primarily “back-up” list — he became more well known as a pinch hitter and bench player later in his career.
Darryl Strawberry: (1st overall 1980) Perennial All-Star MVP candidate. One of the greatest players of his generation. Central figure in outstanding Mets teams during the late 1980’s including the 1986 World Series winner. Greatest Right Fielder in club history.
Ken Singleton: (3rd overall 1967). Was traded in 1972 for Rusty Staub. Singleton went on to be a perennial middle of the order All-Star with Montreal and Baltimore. Ended up with 246 career homers and 1065 RBI’s over a 15 year Major League career. Singleton was part of the Baltimore Orioles 1983 World Series winner.
Jeromy Burnitz: (17th overall 1990) Solid Major League outfielder with good power and decent defense mostly with the Brewers. Had 5, 30 + homer seasons and 4 seasons of 100 or more RBI.
Todd Hundley: (39th overall 1987) drafted as an outfielder, Hundley spent most of his career as a catcher. had two All Star seasons and one MVP caliber season (1996), During the height of the steroid era his power jumped from 16 and 15 home runs in 1994 and 1995 to 40 and 30 home runs respectively in 1996 and 1997. Hundley was featured prominently in the Mitchel report as both a user of steroids and a person known for connecting other players with means and access to PED’s.
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In the 48 years since the draft was first instituted, the Mets have drafted five outfielders in the first five rounds who ended up having careers as Major League regulars. Four when you consider one was really a catcher. 48 years, 4 players. That’s one player every 12 years.
David Schoenfield of ESPN recently pointed out that the last time the Mets drafted an all star was 2002 (Scott Kazmir). Prior to that you have David Wright in 2001 and then you have to go back to Bobby Jones, who was drafted in 1991. People talk a lot about spending on free agents, but when you look at teams who’ve spent recently, the Yankees, the Angels, and the Dodgers, you realize spending big on free agents doesn’t guarantee anything in today’s game. The Mets, as a team, are not struggling solely because they haven’t spent on free agency, they’re struggling because they haven’t drafted well. Teams are becoming better at locking up young exceptional players to long term deals and free agency no longer provides the panacea of talent it once did.
If the Mets are to build a winner they have to do it through the draft, and historically Met drafts have been littered with busts and question marks, particularly in the outfield. The Mets could help themselves tremendously if they pick the right players in today’s draft. I like Hunter Renfroe for his power and defense and as a college player he could progress quickly. Austin Wilson might be a good one, Aaron Judge is another with a huge presence (6’7″) and massive power potential. I also like Billy McKinney for his outstanding bat speed. We should have a shot at at least one of these guys.
Whomever the Mets select today and tomorrow, if they are to field a competitive team in the next few years they’re going to need some decent young outfielders, and relying on free agency may not provide the quality and consistency a championship team requires. A case in point, next year’s free agent outfield pool is headlined by the likes of Hunter Pence and Shin-Soo Choo … decent players to be sure, but not exactly game-changers.
You could go the trade rout, but trades are always a risk as you have to give to get, and given the current Mets farm system, the Mets would almost certainly be giving up pitching talent — something I’d be hesitant to do when you consider pitching is what wins in the playoffs and good pitching is exceedingly hard to come by. Nope, if the Mets want to develop a championship caliber outfield I think the best bet is to focus on drafting some solid outfielders … a scary premise historically for the Mets.
About the Author: Matthew Balasis
I’ve been a Met fan since August 1969 when a fire resulted in the Red Cross placing my family on the 6th floor of a building in Willets Point. I could see Shea from our balcony and I knew something big was going on. I followed them through the dark years and the resurgence of the 80’s only (sadly) to miss the fall of 86 because I was in Boot Camp. I've been serving penance ever since in Minnesota where I'm an SLP. I've written a lot about the Mets in an effort to share with my kids (and anyone else who might listen), a sporting tradition that made much of my childhood worthwhile. Follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewBalasis
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