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Your Random D-Back: 2005 MLB draftees

After a disastrous 2004 season, the Diamondbacks got the first pick in the 2005 season. After a disastrous 2021 season, the Diamondbacks got the second pick in the 2022 season. Looking back 18 years, does history give us reason for optimism?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Chicago Cubs
Hey! It is Micah Owings!

Justin Upton was a good pick, but D-Backs could have done better.

The 2005 MLB draft took place on June 7 of that year. The Diamondbacks were coming off a record-setting loss season in 2004 and got to “enjoy” the questionable honour of making the first pick. With that pick they chose and signed Justin Upton, for $6,100,000.

Despite the criticism and discussion of him on the web and also on this website, Justin Upton proved to be a fine pick. The 35-year old (it is his birthday today, on August 25, happy birthday, Justin!) is probably close to retirement and has provided sub-par offence the last 4 years, but 4 All Star selections and a 30+ bWAR is production you can only hope for from your first round pick.

Looking back, it was hard for the Diamondbacks to make the wrong first pick in that 2005 draft: all but two (chosen by Tampa Bay and Mariners) of the first 12 picks enjoyed multiple and very productive seasons.

But the Diamondbacks could have done better in that first round: Ryan Braun amassed 47.1 bWAR and proved to be the best overall pick in that draft (talking about spitting in our face...!). Andrew McCutchen (no. 11), Troy Tulowitzki (no. 7), Ryan Zimmerman (no. 4) and Alex Gordon (no. 2) also accumulated more bWAR than Justin Upton, just like Brett Gardner who was taken in the third round of that year.

The Boston Red Sox, however, were the ones that really struck gold in the 2005 MLB draft: they had their first pick at no. 23 and took Jacoby Ellsbury. In the complementary picks the Red Sox added Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie. Combined, the three players achieved a 63.8 career bWAR thus far.

Just 4 players reached the major leagues.

Justin Upton made sure that the 2005 draft is a success bWAR-wise (although a big part of his career was spent somewhere else), but almost all major league contribution from that draft comes from him.

Micah Owings was selected in the third round of the 2005 MLB draft, a compensation pick from the Seattle Mariners for Richie Sexton. Owings already got an honourable mention in the articles on the 2006 Tennessee Smokies. Owings was a quick riser in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system, would hit the 2007 Top 100 prospect ranking of Baseball America and make his major league debut on April 6, 2007, going 5 innings, allowing just one hit, in a win over the Washington Nationals. After a serviceable 2007 he couldn’t keep up the good work in the following seasons. After seeing minimal time in the majors on the 2010 Reds, he returned for a brief stint in Arizona again in 2011, but would make his final appearances in the MLB for the Padres in 2012. After that he had to settle for minor league deals on multiple teams of which the 2013 season for the Nationals is noteworthy as he played exclusively as a hitter for the Syracuse Chiefs in Triple A with a .785 OPS in 57 games. After the 2017 season he calls his 3.2 bWAR career quits and spends time as a coach with the Mariners’ and Reds’ organisations. After that he finishes his studies in an online program of the University of Alabama and gets a job in sales of energy solutions.

Greg Smith is a 6th round draft pick who becomes part of the Dan Haren trade in December 2007 and soon afterwards makes his major league debut. He enjoys a fine 2008 season in the Oakland A’s rotation and in the off-season becomes part of a trade again. He joins Carlos Gonzalez, for the second time, to Denver in a Matt Holiday trade. Sickness and injuries keep him on the disabled list in 2009 and when he returns in 2010 he is hit hard and soon demoted. The lefty is released before the 2011 season and starts a journey of minor league contracts on multiple MLB teams, but never makes it back to the majors. In 2016 he wraps up his 1.8 bWAR career after an unsuccessful time in the Chinese baseball league.

14th round pick Rusty Ryal was a slow riser in the Diamondbacks minor league system and hits the major leagues in August 2009 at 26 years of age. His 68 major league plate appearances that season are a huge success with a 140 OPS+. He obviously cannot keep that pace up in the 2010 season, during which he is a regular, and after struggling to a .656 OPS he is released so he can sign with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese NPB. His adventure overseas is no success and soon he is back in Arizona. Minor league stints here, in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia do not bring him back to the MLB and in 2014 he ends his career with a 0.2 bWAR. Now he apparently is a professional copywriter and a couple of years ago had his own podcast.

The rest.

Of the other 25 that signed (the Diamondbacks made 52 picks of which 56% signed), 8 made it to AAA, 3 to AA and all others never got out of Class A or Rookie ball (or did not even get an at bat). The goal of this article is not to interpret those statistics but it sure makes for a nice follow-up article to see how those distributions vary against other years. However that may be, it is surely disappointing to see the Diamondbacks get so little value out of those draft picks, especially out of their highest draft picks.

Matt Tora had enjoyed a terrific year at the University of Massachusetts before the D-Backs took him with the 31st pick, a compensation pick for losing Robbie Sexton, and signed him for $1,025,000. Tora was a pitcher that limited walks, but had a hard time getting batters out. The Diamondbacks nor Tampa Bay believed he was MLB material. He had a successful stint in Taiwan but after that 2013 season disappears from baseball.

Second round pick Matt Green from the University of Louisiana made it to AAA, which was already a success considering the struggles he had had at all levels during his minor league time in the Diamondbacks organisation. After the 2008 season he was released.

Third round pick Jason Neighborgall notched double digit ERAs before being released in 2007, having not surpassed Class A.

Both Neighborgall and Green had signed for $500,000.

Lefty Mark Romanczuk was the 4th round pick for the Diamondbacks and signed for $300,000. A two-way player he was deployed as a pitcher in 2005 but in 2006 returned to Stanford to finish his degree. He parted ways with the Diamondbacks after the 2007 in which he seems to have pitched okay. He pitched for a couple of years in the independent leagues before giving up on baseball. Nowadays he is a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs.

Finally, 5th round pick Chris Rahl, who signed for $200,000, was pretty much an AA player throughout his career although he got a fair share of shots at AAA ball. He finishes his baseball career after 2014 and Wikipedia states he has taken up a job in sales after that.

Of all others we give an honourable mention to Jason Urquidez, who was a local pick from Arizona State. He was taken in the 17th round and pitched 7 years in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system before being released after the 2011 season, after tossing the ball in 3 consecutive seasons in Reno. His career was far from over after that, pitching 4 more years in the independent leagues for the Lancaster Barnstormers. In 2016 and 2017 he was successfull as a closer for the Tijuana Toros in Mexico, which earned him a stint in the NPB for the Yakult Swallows. That proved to be no success and he returned to Mexico, where he would throw his final pitches for Tijuana in 2019, because after that year COVID left him without a job.