Phil Nevin (left), the first player taken in the 1992 draft, had a decent major league career, but Nevin’s selection by the Houston Astros underscores just how much outside influences can impact a team’s draft strategy. In finalizing their decision to select Nevin, the Astros ignored the plea of scout Hal Newhouser, who lobbied for a Michigan high school shortstop named Derek Jeter (right). Newhouser said he could be signed for $750,000, which then-Astros owner John McMullen said was $50,000 too much. The Astros went down their draft list until they got to Nevin, fifth on the list, and he accepted $700,000. At least Nevin is one of eight players the Astros have drafted in the first 47 years of the draft who played in 500 big league games. Others weren't so successful.
We present MLB's worst draft busts …
— Tracy Ringolsby
Shawn Abner, Mets, No. 1 overall, 1984
A Mets scout first saw Abner as a high school sophomore in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and declared him a "can’t miss" prospect. Two years later, the Mets gambled that Abner would live up to the billing. He never got to the big leagues with the Mets; he was traded after three years in the minors as part of an eight-player deal with San Diego that saw Kevin Mitchell go to the Padres and Kevin McReynolds to the Mets. Abner wound up spending parts of six seasons in the big leagues with the Padres, Angels and White Sox as a backup outfielder. The "can’t miss" compiled a .278 average with 66 home runs in 629 games in a nine-year minor league career with 840 at-bats, a .227 average and 11 home runs in the big leagues.
Bryan Bullington, Pirates, No. 1 overall, 2002
The first player out of the Mid-American Conference to be selected No. 1 overall in any sport, Bullington had potential. But what the Pirates liked best is that the Ball State pitcher was willing to sign for less than other candidates, including: B.J. Upton, Scott Kazmir, Prince Fielder and Cole Hamels. What he couldn’t do was stay healthy. He appeared in six games with three starts for the Pirates, and 26 major league games overall, going 1-9 with a 5.62 ERA before signing with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp for the 2011 season. From 2008-10, he bounced form the Pirates to Cleveland to Toronto to Kansas City. He was 13-11 for the Carp in 2011, and went 2-5 in his first 10 starts in 2012.
Josh Booty, Marlins, 5th overall, 1994
Booty was among the greatest high school athletes in Louisiana history. As a quarterback at Evangel Christian Academy, he passed for 11,700 yards and 126 touchdowns, and was listed, along with John Elway and Joe Namath, on Dick Butkus’ all-time high school all-star team. In baseball, he was a four-time All-Star shortstop who, in his senior year, hit 12 home runs in 70 at-bats, had 25 stolen bases and was intentionally walked 25 times. The Marlins gave him a then-record $1.6 million bonus, but after five years, including 13 games with the major league club from 1996-98, Booty opted to quit baseball and play football at LSU. He started for two years, and then declared for the NFL Draft, going to Seattle in the sixth round of 2001. He has found success in the business world in endeavors related to the medical industry, and he is active in charitable work.
Kirk Dressendorfer, A's, 36th overall, 1990
Dressendorfer has become the poster boy for one of the worst drafts in history. Oakland had five of the first 42 selections and took five pitchers, none of whom distinguished himself and three of whom never even threw a big league pitch. The most successful was Todd Van Poppel, taken 14th overall. Don Peters, 26th overall; Dave Zancanaro, No. 31; and Curtis Shaw, No. 42 overall, never got to the big leagues. Dressendorfer did, in 1991, his second pro season, and was 3-3 with a 5.45 ERA. But that was his only season in the majors. One of the best pitchers in University of Texas history, Dressendorfer was abused by an unreasonable workload in college, and the arm problems continued in pro ball. In eight pro seasons, he never pitched as many as 66 innings in a season. He did strike out 226 in 232 1/3 minor league innings, but he was only 5-21 with a 4.80 ERA.
Bill Bene, Dodgers, 5th overall, 1988
Bene’s failures really shouldn’t have been a surprise. The Dodgers were enthralled with his power arm and were willing to overlook command problems, which were just as evident when he was pitching at Cal State Los Angeles as they were in his minor league struggles. Bene spent seven years in the minors, where he was 18-34 with a 5.45 ERA, walking 543 batters in 515 2/3 innings. Surprised? Don’t be. In 147 1/3 collegiate innings, he walked 133 batters. And things are still a challenge for Bene, who in spring 2012 reached a plea agreement with federal officials on charges of copyright infringement and tax fraud in relation to his karaoke business.
Greg Reynolds, Rockies, No. 2 overall, 2006
Reynolds’ situation has been blown out of proportion. Critics focus on his 5-8 record, 7.47 big-league ERA and the fact that he appeared in only 27 big league games, just 16 as a starter. They point out the pitchers taken shortly after Reynolds in that first round: Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer. There are even second thoughts among Rockies officials because their final decision came down to Reynolds or Evan Longoria, and they opted for the pitcher because the team’s No. 1 picks the three previous years were infielders Ian Stewart, Chris Nelson and Troy Tulowitzki. What gets forgotten is that Reynolds was off to a quick start in pro ball, and was 4-1 with a 1.42 ERA at Double-A Tulsa in 2007, his first full pro season, when he suffered a shoulder injury. He returned to pitch but never regained his power assortment of pitches.
Tito Nanni, Mariners, No. 6 overall, 1978
In only the Mariners’ second year of existence, club officials claim they had been given word that Kirk Gibson would sign with them if he was the first-round draft pick, but a financially strapped ownership group that included entertainer Danny Kaye vetoed the move for financial reasons. That led the Mariners to select Nanni, who never got to the big leagues. He spent seven years in the minors, where he hit .253 and, despite his athletic build, managed only 66 home runs in 2,775 at-bats. The kicker? Mel Didier, the Mariners scouting director at the time, was let go because of allegations that he broke major league rules pertaining to how a $100,000 signing bonus was paid out.
Steve Chilcott, Mets, No. 1 overall, 1966
The situation of Chilcott, a high school catcher out of Antelope Valley, Calif., has been twisted over time because, immediately after he was selected by the Mets, the A's used the second pick in the draft to get Reggie Jackson. Revisionist history created a racial issue with the Mets, but in truth, Chilcott was considered a plumb choice at the time of the draft because of his abilities as a catcher, a premium position. Chilcott, however, suffered an arm injury that sidetracked his career, and he never made it to the big leagues. In 331 games spread over seven minor league seasons, Chilcott hit only .248.
Brien Taylor, Yankees, No. 1 overall, 1991
Taylor was on the fast track, going 13-7 with a 3.48 ERA at Double-A Albany in 1993, his second season of competition. That offseason, however, he suffered a shoulder injury during a barroom brawl, and he never regained his ability to dominate hitters. In the next four years, he was 3-15 with an 10.84 ERA in the Yankees system, working only 108 2/3 innings. He was out of the game by the end of the 2000 season, but he found himself back in the headlines in March 2012 when he was arrested and charged with cocaine trafficking.
Matt Bush, Padres, No. 1 overall, 2004
Scouting director Bill Gayton was set to select either Stephen Drew or Jered Weaver, but three days before the draft, owner John Moores vetoed both because of contract demands. He recommend Bush, a local high schooler whom an associate had recommended. Bush never got above the low-A level in four years with the Padres, hitting .219 in 213 games, and was suspended multiple times for off-field antics. Picked up by Tampa Bay after converting to a pitcher, he was charged in spring 2012 with a DUI and hit-and-run in Port Charlotte, Fla. — his latest legal battle stemming from alcohol abuse.