You may have noticed the near-complete absence of 2016 draft coverage here on the SnakePit, rather different from the situation at this point last season. Then, we had mock drafts, in-depth profiles of potential choices - the whole nine yards. Of course, there's a big difference: in 2015, the Diamondbacks had the very first pick, so had their choice of all the toys in the store. This season? Well, we would have had the 13th pick, based on our performance last season - but that went to the Dodgers as compensation for our signing Zack Greinke. So Arizona won't be picking until #39, that being the result of the D-backs "winning" one of the competitive balance picks, awarded to teams in small markets and/or revenue pools.
So, excitement among fans can charitably be described as "restrained". There's no reason to look at mock drafts, since anywhere outside the top 10, these tend to be hopelessly inaccurate. There's little point trying to figure out who we might select, when there are 38 possible ways that could be flat-out wrong. And it thus seems a waste of time to analyze any particular prospect in depth, when the odds are thus slim we'll end up with any of them. We will still be having our traditional open threads on all three days, and will have analysis of the players actually chosen by the team - but we're every bit as excited about the prospect of pick #39 as you'd expect...
Still, thought it might be amusing to take a look at the history of that spot in the draft, and see what kind of players we might expect to find there. For a while, I got tremendously excited, when I saw that Barry Bonds was the 39th player chosen in the 1982 draft - until I saw that was by the Giants, as a 17-year-old out of high-school. Of course, he didn't sign, going on to the 6th overall pick in the 1985 draft, for the Pirates. That was three spots behind future D-back Bobby Witt, a largely-forgotten part of our 2001 World Series roster (he relieved Randy Johnson in the blowout Game 6), and immediately after Kurt Brown, a catcher who never made the majors.
So, Bonds is actually the nadir of 39th picks: a complete waste, who provided no value to the team selecting him at all. The bad news is, this is surprisingly common. From 1965-2011 (we'll exclude the most recent drafts as still being works in progress), of the 47 players chosen in this spot, here's how they breakdown in terms of overall value for their entire careers.
- Never reached the majors or unsigned: 30 (64%)
- Below replacement value: 5 (11%)
- Zero to three bWAR: 4 (9%)
- Three to six bWAR: 3 (6%)
- Six to ten bWAR: 2 (4%)
- Above ten bWAR: 3 (6%)
Ouch. So, history tells us there is about a three-in-four chance that our highest pick in tomorrow's draft, will never play in the majors for the Diamondbacks, or will be below replacement level. Good reason, why we're not exactly enthusiastic about the event. That is, admittedly, somewhat skewed by the early years of the draft. There was a particularly barren decade from 1968-77, when of the ten selections at #39, eight didn't make the majors, and the other two combined to be worth -0.7 bWAR. But there have been recent busts too: 2011's pick there for the Phillies, Larry Greene, is already dust in the wind, having retired last year at age 22, Or maybe not. He isn't apparently playing this year though.
But, let's look on the positive side. Here are the five most productive and signed players out of the 39th spot in the draft.
#5. 1981, LHP Neal Heaton - 8.6 bWAR
Chosen by the Indians, Heaton had a solid, if workmanlike 12-year career in the majors, mainly with Cleveland, but also appearing for six other teams from 1982-1993. He started over 200 games, and had a career ERA+ of 91, but was never worth even two bWAR in a year, despite four seasons with double-digit wins. Was an All-Star for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1990, after starting the season 9-1 with a 2.87 ERA.
#4. 1978, OF Mel Hall - 8.7 bWAR
Hall's major-league career started promisingly, and he finished third in the 1983 Rookie of the Year voting with the Cubs, batting .283 with 17 home-runs. But the following June, he was part of the trade that brought Rick Sutcliffe to Chicago, where he won the Cy Young award, and sent Joe Carter to Cleveland. His best year for the Indians was 1986, when he hit .296 with 18 home-runs. He had five seasons there, then four with the Yankees, before unexpectedly popping up for a curtain call at age 35 with the Giants in 1996. But there was a very different side to Hall, and in 2009, he was sentenced to 45 years in jail for raping a 12-year-old. Yeah. Let's not pick him, m'kay?
#3. 1987, C Todd Hundley - 10.8 bWAR
At his peak, from 1995-97 with the Mets, Hundley was one of the best catchers in the game, being a two-time All-Star and worth more than 11 wins over those three seasons. He had forty-one home-runs in 1996. Mike Piazza never had 41 homers. Ivan Rodriguez never had 41 homers. In fact, Javy Lopez and Johnny Bench are the only catchers ever with more in a year than Todd. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear this was legitimate, with the Mitchell Report detailing a network which saw Hundley allegedly help connect a number of other players to PED dealer and former clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. Yeah. Let's not pick him either, m'kay?
#2. 2008, LHP Lance Lynn - 11.2 bWAR
The most recent "worthwhile" #39 is still active, though is currently on the DL and will miss the entire 2016 season, having undergone Tommy John surgery last November. If Lynn hadn't narrowly blown his rookie qualification in 2011, he might have been Rookie of the Year in 2012 - he went 18-7, in a season where Wade Miley's 16-11 record only narrowly lost out to some guy called Bryce Harper. Unlike Wade, Lynn has continued to be solid, putting up an ERA+ of 131 over the two seasons before hitting the operating table, but as ever, it's by no means guaranteed that he'll be the same pitcher when he comes back to the mound.
#1. 1967, OF Don Baylor - 28.3 bWAR
19 years in the majors. American League MVP in 1979. Got votes four other times. All-Star. Three-time Silver Slugger. One of two players to reach the World Series in three consecutive years, with three different teams. Fourth all-time for HBPs. And after his playing days were over, NL Manager of the Year. Not bad. That said, Baylor's position at the top of the list is more due to longevity than peak value: he never had a four-WAR season, even while batting .296 with 36 HR and 139 RBI, on his way to that MVP crown. That's mostly because bWAR has him as a defensive butcher, with -23.1 dWAR; there's good reason he was mostly a DH in the second half of his career.
So, there is a crumb or two of hope - especially if you broaden the focus a little, and look more generally at picks in the late thirties. In the past, #36 has given us both Randy Johnson and Johnny Bench; #37 Frank Viola and Adam Jones; and #38 David Wright and Gio Gonzalez. Pretty much any of those would be entirely acceptable for the D-backs tomorrow. All we can do, is keep our fingers crossed and hope that scouting director Deric Ladnier has done his homework, allowing the team to beat the odds and find a meaningful contributor with Arizona's lowest first pick since 2000.