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MLB Draft Review: 2001 Part One

January 29, 2007 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
Much of the Chicago Cubs success in 2007 will hinge on starter Mark Prior's health.
If Mark Prior, the second overall pick in 2001, can’t stay healthy this season, there will be plenty of sweating at Wrigley.

I suddenly realized the other day that it’s been far too long since my last MLB Draft Review. And with the prospect of another season of hardball looming (with pitchers and catchers just a couple of weeks from reporting), what better a time to take a look back and see how major league teams have fared in first-year player drafts gone by.

When we last checked in, we had sucked the 2000 draft a bit dry, so it’s time to switch our attention to the 2001 draft. While there were plenty of flops, this will go down as one of the more fruitful draft years in recent memory thanks to the huge successes of three of the first five picks. Add Jeremy Bonderman and David Wright to the mix, plus several players still poised to make their mark, and you’ve got a tremendous looking first round. Let’s review.

1. Joe Mauer, catcher, Minnesota

The Skinny: Homegrown talent was plucked out of high school and penned for what now seems a bargain price of $4 million. Just 23, the 6′4′, 220-pound Mauer is an amazingly skilled athlete who’s managed to live up and perhaps even surpass the hype. Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2003, Mauer hit .332 in the minors, and after last year becoming the first AL catcher in 64 years to win a batting title, he’s a .321 hitter through two full seasons as a major leaguer. Now arbitration eligible, the Twins would like to lock him up with a multi-year deal, but it won’t be cheap.

Strengths: Flawless swing; durability; strike zone judgment; power projection.

Weaknesses: Is there one? I suppose we could complain that the stolen base skills he showed in 2005 slipped somewhat last year. After a knee injury in his rookie season, it’s unlikely he’ll ever burn up the basepaths again, but this is nitpicking at best.

Final Analysis: Many criticized the Twins’ selection of Mauer over Mark Prior, suggesting it was a signability choice given Prior’s demands and that Minnesota was taking a risk by picking a high school catcher, generally one of the least likely picks to pan out. Prior’s rapid ascent and immediate impact swung the pendulum in his favour for a couple of years, but it’s been no contest since. The Twins made the perfect pick here and will reap the rewards for years to come.

2. Mark Prior, RHP, Chicago Cubs

The Skinny: This former USC standout, one of the most dominant collegiate hurlers ever, took a mere nine minor league starts before he was ready for Wrigley. Upon arrival in the Show, Prior was instantly successful, and the following season, he was an all-star, finishing third in Cy Young voting. Then, the injuries started. For the past three seasons, Prior has been on and off the DL as he seems to have followed in the footsteps of rotation mate Kerry Wood.

Strengths: Power pitching combined with tremendous command.

Weaknesses: Occasional issues commanding his curveball; durability. Wood and Prior were supposed to form the one-two combo that would finally deliver a World Series to the Cubs. Instead, the Curse of the Billy Goat seems to have struck again.

Final Analysis: Still just 26, there’s time for Prior to turn his career around and get back to the pitcher who was so dominant in 2003. The Cubbies have obviously gotten their $4.6 million signing bonus worth out of Prior, but if he can’t return to his previous levels, this selection will go down as a disappointment for no other reason than what might have been.

3. Dewon Brazelton, RHP, Tampa Bay

The Skinny: Despite his dominating performance at Middle Tennessee St. U. (that known baseball star machine), Brazelton flopped badly after being rushed the majors. Tampa Bay gave him his chances ‘ he was their Opening Day starter in 2005 ‘ but after four years of riding the Durham-Tampa Bay express, Brazelton finally wore out his welcome with a 1-8, 7.61 performance in 2005. The Rays made what seemed a good low-risk, potentially high-reward move when they shipped him to San Diego for equally disappointing prospect Sean Burroughs. The change of scenery didn’t help Brazelton, who lasted all of nine games before his 12.00 ERA forced the Pads to outright him to Triple-A. He’ll have to try to win a job with the Royals this spring, but I don’t like his chances.

Strengths: Size. At 6′4′, 214, he’s got a workhorse pitcher build. Decent low-90s fastball.

Weaknesses: Command. Brazelton’s results at Triple-A have at varying times been passable, but he’s averaged almost a walk and a half more per nine innings during his time in the majors, and that’s been his undoing. Reticence to employ a third pitch has also cost Brazelton, and will likely limit his MLB opportunities to relieving as opposed to starting.

Final Analysis: The Rays went with the cheaper-to-sign pick here ($2.5 million), but Brazelton was never able to duplicate the promise he showed in his first professional season. He’s 26, so could still wind up as a middle reliever perhaps, but there’s probably a better chance that your ‘74 AMC Gremlin will make a comeback first.

4. Gavin Floyd, RHP, Philadelphia

The Skinny: After signing for $4.2 million out of a Baltimore high school, Floyd looked like he was worth every penny the Phils paid him when he shot up the prospects lists in his first three pro seasons. But after a horrid 2005 followed by an only marginally better 2006, Philadelphia dispatched him to the Chisox in the Freddy Garcia deal.

Strengths: Floyd has a tremendous curveball.

Weaknesses: His fastball tends to be up in the strike zone too much.

Final Analysis: Floyd just turned 24 last week, so there is time yet for him to earn his keep. So far, he seems to be taking advantage of his fresh start with the Sox. He was very impressive in the AFL and is said to be the front runner for the fifth starter job if he can duplicate that effort. Consider him a sleeper at this point.

5. Mark Teixeira, 3B, Texas

The Skinny: Drafted as a third baseman, the switch-hitting Teixeira has settled in as a Gold Glove winning all-star at first base for the Rangers. Ironically, he attended the same high school as Floyd, but Teixeira opted for college, parlaying a Baseball America College Player of the Year performance at Georgia Tech into his $2.5 million bonus from Texas. He’s been more than worth the investment, dominating in his only minor league season and developing into a feared slugger in the bigs. Teixeria’s numbers slipped last year, but it seems silly to describe a 110-RBI season as an off year.

Strengths: Murders lefties; run production; range in the field.

Weaknesses: Breaking balls. He hit just .211 off curveballs and .130 against sliders last year.

Final Analysis: This 26-year-old, considered among the finest college hitters ever, has not disappointed. While many of his homers turned into doubles last year, he smoked 24 long balls after the break compared to just nine before it. Don’t be gun shy when it comes time to bid for this slugger.

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6 Responses to “MLB Draft Review: 2001 Part One”

  1. Kyle says:

    I’m a Twins fan and have often thought about the Mauer-Prior question. Lots of Twins fans are quick to point out in retrospect that the Twins, despite early criticism, made the right choice. I’m not as convinced.

    Flags fly forever. What if the Twins had both Mark Prior and Johan Santana in their rotation back in 2003? That 1-2 punch would have made beating the Twins in the postseason a formidable task.

    Maybe, if the Twins would have drafted Prior, they’d have a third World Championship pennant hanging in the rafters of the Metrodome right now.

    As with all things, the Mauer-Prior question isn’t as simple as it appears, even now.

    The Twins are also a lot more cautious with their young pitching. Entirely speculative, but perhaps Prior doesn’t suffer the same injury woes.

  2. RotoRob says:

    Sure, it’s easy to speculate on how good the Twins’ pitching would have been with Santana and Prior heading the way, but shouldn’t we also consider how big a role Mauer has had on helping the Twins develop a fantastic pitching staff? Of course this is a tough question, but looking at things from a fantasy perspective, finding a catcher who can hit like Mauer is next to impossible. Will Prior fly past Mauer in value in years to come? It’s possible, but judging the selection five years out and you’ve got to give the edge to Minny here.

  3. [...] last left off, RotoRob had started previewing the 2001 draft, the first part of which you can find here. Over the next few parts of this series, I’ll be previewing the rest of this draft through [...]

  4. [...] today, with a look at picks 11 through 15 of the first round. You can find previous parts here: Part I and [...]

  5. [...] today, with a look at picks 16 through 20 of the first round. You can find previous parts here: Part I, II and [...]

  6. [...] part of our review of the first round of the 2001 MLB Draft. You can find previous parts here: One, Two, Three , Four and [...]

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