There's been another chapter in the sad saga of Matt Bush, former #1 draft pick whose career crashed in an alcohol-fueled inferno. He had been trying to re-invent himself as a pitcher, taking inspiration from the recovery of Josh Hamilton, and was probably going to start the season in the bullpen for the Rays' AAA affiliate. However, his arrest for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident, has likely thrown an unfortunate spoke in that wheel.
It did get me thinking about other players picked at #1 who never achieved their potential in the majors, or never reached there. After the jump, we'll look at the ten worst, as measured by bWAR.I exclude Bush: while he hasn't reached the majors yet, there is still a chance he might do so, albeit a slimmer one than last week. I have also excluded the picks from 2008, 2010 and 20010 - Tim Beckham, Bryce Harper and Gerrit Cole respectively - because the odds are they will reach the majors, perhaps as soon as this season. But to put the numbers below in context, of the 47 #1 picks since the current system began, 41 have reached the majors and excluding the four above, the average #1 pick has earned 18.6 WAR [with more to come due to the work of players like A-Rod, Chipper Jones, Joe Mauer and Adrian Gonzalez]. Those listed below... Not so much.
10. LHP David Clyde: 1979, Rangers. 0.4 WAR
A cautionary tale on the effects of overtaxing a young arm, Clyde made his major-league debut the same month he was drafted, becoming the youngest player in the majors that season, at the age of 18 years, two months. He won his debut in front of the first sellout in Arlington Stadium history, and he was used purely to boost attendance: the team averaged 27,000 when he started, but only 6,000 the rest of the time. From his debut, it was more or less downhill all the way. He was done by age 24, and finished with an 18-33 record and an 82 ERA+. His story was part of Seasons in Hell, Mike Shropshire's book about the mid-70's Rangers.
9. C Steven Chilcott: 1966, Mets, never reached majors
To give you some idea of expectations, Chicott was picked as a 17-year old ahead of Reggie Jackson in the draft, a decision that cost the Mets close to 50 WAR. The catcher never made it above Triple-A, and hit an anemic .248 in the minors, but was plagued by a series of injuries. The most problematic was in his sophomore season, when he hurt his shoulder diving back into second-base, which turned into "a chronic recurrent posterior semi-dislocation." He also spent a month in hospital after fouling a ball off his shin led to an infection, and had his hand broken by a foul tip. As of 1994, he was a housing contractor.
8. LHP Brien Taylor: 1991, Yankees, never reached majors
Described by Scott Boras in 2006 as "the best high school pitcher I've seen in my life," Taylor struck out 213 over 88 IP n his high-school senior year. His first stint in the minors was almost as good, but in December 1993, Taylor suffered a dislocated left shoulder and torn labrum, throwing a punch in an altercation involving his brother. Surgery followed, and he returned in 1995. However, he had lost velocity and had an ERA of 11.24 over the rest of his career, before finally calling it quits in 2000. After various jobs, including working for the USPS and a bricklayer, Taylor was arrested earlier this month for selling "a large quantity of cocaine and crack cocaine" to undercover officers.
7. OF Delmon Young: 2003, Rays, -0.2 WAR
Players picked after Young in the first round that year include: Nick Markakis, John Danks, Aaron Hill, Chad Billingsley, Rickie Weeks and Carlos Quentin. The problem with Young has been his defense. He's a career .288 hitter, with an OPS+ of exactly 100. However, the 5.2 oWAR which results is entirely wiped out by the -5.4 dWAR he has posted since his debut in 2006. UZR concurs, with Young's -46.4 the worst in the game since 2008. Yet, curiously, his Wikipedia article states, "Young is known for having a strong and accurate throwing arm." I want to edit that and add, "...but absolutely dreadful outfield range."
6. RHP Bryan Bullington: 2002, Pirates, -0.4 WAR
"1". That's not just Bullington's draft number. It's also the number of games he has won in the major leagues, finally doing so with eight shutout innings of two-hit ball for the Royals against the Yankees in August 2010. This seems to have been a signability (or "cheap") pick by Pittsburgh, choosing him ahead of...well, just about anyone. 11 players from that round have put up 10+ WAR, including Prince Fielder and Zach Greinke. He spent last season as the ace of the Hiroshima Carp rotation, going 13-11 with a 2.42 ERA: maybe a Ryan Vogelson-like renaissance might be possible? Wouldn't bet on it though.
5. OF Al Chambers: 1979, Mariners, -0.7 WAR
Chambers was expected to be something like Dave Parker, but proved to be more of a AAAA player. He hit over .300 at Triple-A, posting a line there of .303/.399/.499 in almost 400 games there, but was unable to translate that to any major-league success. However, you could argue he never really got a fair shot, mustering only 141 PAs over parts of three seasons with Seattle, though hitting .208 doesn't exactly force your manager to write your name in. After 1985 - where he hit .308 in the minors and got four at-bats with Seattle - tried to make it with both the Astros and Cubs, but never made it back to the majors.
4. 3B Padres, -0.7 WAR
Unlike most of the rest, Roberts did at least manage a significant amount of time in the majors, with a career that ran for more than a decade, from 1972-1982. He debuted the same month he was chosen by San Diego, and actually had a great sophomore season, hitting .286 with 21 homers. However, the following year was epic in its awfulness: he hit .167 in 113 games, a batting average undercut over that many appearances, by only two hitters in the integration era (one of whom was Adam Dunn' last year, who batted .159). Over the next eight seasons, he averaged about 110 PAs per year, and accumulated a total of -0.1 WAR.
3. OF Shawn Abner. 1984, Mets, -1.3 WAR
Unlike some of the other players we've seen, Abner wasn't rushed to the majors. Indeed, he never played a game for the Mets, being traded to the Padres as part of an eight-player deal that included four named "Kevin". He eventually reached the majors with San Diego as a September call-up in 1987. The Mets supposedly preferred a young slugger called Mark McGwire, but couldn't reach an agreement with him, so went with Abner instead. His brother, Ben, was picked by the Expos in the fifth round, the same year; he never made it above Double-A, hitting .213 there, making for a sibling pair of busts.
2. RHP Matt Anderson. 1997, Tigers, -1.4 WAR
Nio-one will really be crying for Anderson who, in addition to his $2.5 million signing bonus, earned over $6 million in his major-league career, which covered seven seasons and 257 appearances as a reliever. However, it's safe to assume that a sub-replacement level arm isn't what Detroit thought they were getting when they selected him. They may have been in awe of his raw power Anderson didn't lack heat, and is one of only a handful of pitcher to have been clocked throwing at 103 mph. But he hurt his arm, the same night he was involved in an octopus-throwing contest. As they say... Squid happens...
1. C Danny Goodwin. 1971, White Sox + 1975, Angels, -1.4 WAR
Yep, you read that correctly. Goodwin was the overall #1 pick in the draft not once, but twice. And still sucked He was initially chosen by Chicago in 1971, while still at high school, but opted to attend Southern University and A&M instead. Four years later, the Angels selected him with the first pick in a round that also included Clint Hurdle and Yogi Berra's son, Dale. He made his major-league debut in September and the 1-for-10 that resulted was less the glowing start expected from a #1 pick, than an accurate forecast of what was to come. Though drafted as a catcher, he never caught a single major-league game due to a shoulder injury, and was unable to convert to any other position.
There is a positive ending to this story. While Goodwin may not have provided much value to the teams that drafted him, he became a long-serving member of the Atlanta Braves' front-office, serving as their director of community relations for over a decade and promoting programs for underprivileged children. The value of his work there isn't something which shows up in bWAR.