Every draft and every pick in the draft is a lottery ticket. Some lottery tickets seem like having to play a game called “guess a number between 1 and 3” (Alex Rodriguez). But some lottery tickets are like hitting the Powerball (Albert Pujols in the 13th round, Mike Piazza in the 62nd round…or 22 rounds past what exists today).
Some draft classes seem to be brimming with talent and others are known to be a little light before the first selection is even made. The 2005 draft was known to have some serious talent in it, but it turns out that the Pittsburgh Pirates drafting Andrew McCutchen with the 11th overall pick was the pick that may dwarf all the other great ones.
McCutchen was drafted out of tiny Fort Meade High School (current total enrollment in grades 9-12 is 397 students) in his senior year, a year in which he batted .709 with 16 home runs. TPOP has already laid out the case for why we think Andrew McCutchen is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, but that was far from absolute back in 2005.
The 2005 draft had something for everyone. If you liked college hitters and were picking early, you had three 3B in Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Gordon, and Ryan Braun. If you wanted a college shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki was available. Are college pitchers more your thing? If so, Ricky Romero and Mike Pelfrey were at your disposal. But the real cream of the crop were toolsy high school outfielders.
Justin Upton was pegged as the 1st overall pick back when he impressed as a 9th grader. After him were Cameron Maybin, Jay Bruce, Colby Rasmus, and McCutchen. The talent line on Maybin-McCutchen-Bruce was so close that they went 10th, 11th, and 12th in the draft. At the time of the draft and very early in their respective minor league careers, I acknowledged that Upton was the clear top choice among this quintet, but I took umbrage with a lot of the national media that stacked the group as Upton-Maybin-Bruce-McCutchen/Rasmus in a coin flip at the end. I had a few BA chat discussions with Jim Callis (Twitter not yet invented in 2006) about the high K rates for Maybin and Bruce, but it kept coming back to the allure of power and mythical upside.
Well as it turns out, Upton’s growth somewhat stunted and he became a good to very good player, Maybin was rushed and has had numerous injuries/suspensions that hampered his growth, Bruce had a short peak but seems to be on the downslope of his career, and Rasmus got stuck in his own head and listened to bad advice (from his dad).
The lanky McCutchen, though, who was pegged as a leadoff hitter by many scouting services, has outpaced them all and the rest of the 2005 1st rounders. Here’s a list of the accumulated Fangraphs’ WAR for each player drafted in the 1st round, as of the end of the 2015 season:
A few observations about this grouping (top 5 WAR guys highlighted). Ryan Zimmerman got off to a roaring start, as he debuted in the majors a few months after being drafted in 2005 and was an Opening Day regular in 2006. He started to accrue WAR at a rapid rate, but in recent years injuries have sapped his production. What seemed like a HOF career now seems like a Hall of Very Good career. To an extent, the same could be said of both Braun and Tulowitzki, too.
Neal Huntington must have kept a copy of the 2005 Draft Guide on his bedstand as a younger man, because under his tenure the Pirates have had five members of this draft in their system at various points (Jeff Clement, Chris Volstad, McCutchen, Aaron Thompson, and Craig Hansen).
Only 4 of these 30 players never made the Majors, which is impressive in its own right. At least 7 are going to finish their careers with WAR totals well over 30, with 4 of those 7 into the 40’s, and McCutchen that appears to be tracking towards the 70’s.
But how does this draft compare to other drafts? Let’s look at the two drafts that sandwiched this one and see how they stack up with cumulative WAR and impact players. Here’s the 2004 Draft first:
Some observations again — It’s never a good sign when your 1st overall pick fails to crack the Majors, but that’s what happens when you draft a malcontent with an alcohol problem that did time for vehicular manslaughter.
Justin Verlander appeared to be a HOF’er, but some injuries and Kate Upton have sapped his effectiveness.
Not only does the cumulative 170.7 WAR fall well short of the 2005’s class total of 330.1 (with presumably one more year of time in the Majors), but look at the highlighted top 5 guys…Neil Walker’s in 4th place with a 15.4 WAR that would place him 11th among the 2005’ers.
And let’s look at the 2006 class:
Again with some observations — This was a very top-heavy draft, in terms of stacking up the top 5 WAR producers. Kershaw, short of losing his left arm in a farm thresher, is going to the HOF, as he is still on an upward trajectory. Longoria is slowing down after a hot start. Lincecum seemed like a HOF with his early success, 2 Cy Youngs, and World Series rings, but not surprisingly his odd mechanics appeared to have done him in, at least for peak years. Max Scherzer will compile some WAR and turn in a very solid career (for another guy with sub-optimal mechanics).
This 2006 draft is rough to review as a Pirate fan with Brad Lincoln’s 0.1 career WAR staring back at you. Even if the immortal Dave Littlefield didn’t want to draft another high schooler (Kershaw), there were two solid college starters in Lincecum (also short like Lincoln) and Scherzer (repped by Boras, who petrified Littlefield).
The 2005 1st rounders are miles ahead of the two drafts bracketing them. If I were so inclined to research further (I’m not), I would hazard to say it is one of the most successful 1st rounds of all time…and still going strong in terms of WAR accumulation. Whether he remains a Pirate for life or not (probably not), it is fun to watch McCutchen travel down a path that may lead to Cooperstown. And it all started back in June 2005.