Twins' 2012 draft slogan: Not another Adam Johnson

  • Article by: DENNIS BRACKIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 3, 2012 - 8:07 AM

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 amateur baseball draft was a huge bust, pitching in only nine major league games.

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Adam Johnson in spring training in 2004 -- he didn't make the team that year and in fact never appeared in the major leagues again.

Photo: Richard Tsong -Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Twins General Manager Terry Ryan knew everything he needed to about the 2000 amateur draft by the reaction of team officials after Adrian Gonzalez went first overall, and the Twins had their choice of everyone else with the second pick.

"There just didn't seem to be a guy that they were coming out of their shoes on at No. 2," Ryan said.

The mood was prophetic. The Twins selected college pitcher Adam Johnson of Cal State Fullerton, whose big league career consisted of nine appearances and a 10.25 ERA.

On Monday the Twins again will have the No. 2 overall pick. The challenge facing them is similar. The 2000 draft "is maybe the most comparable draft to this one," according to Mike Radcliff, Twins vice president of player personnel and the scouting director in 2000. It was considered one of the weakest in recent history.

Although this year's draft reputedly lacks elite talent, too, Twins officials are confident there will be better options available than those in 2000.

"There's at least three or four guys we think are better options [than Johnson was in 2000]," Radcliff said.

College pitchers Mark Appel (Stanford) and Kyle Zimmer (San Francisco) and Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton are at the top of the list. Houston has the first pick, and most believe the Astros will select Appel.

The good news for the Twins is that the No. 2 pick has frequently proven to be a better player than first overall selection. The classic example was in 1966, the second year of the draft, when Oakland selected college outfielder Reggie Jackson one spot after the Mets picked high school catcher Steven Chicott. Jackson went on to a Hall of Fame career; Chicott never played a game in the majors.

No. 2 overall picks from 2002 through 2004 produced, in order, B.J. Upton, Rickie Weeks and Justin Verlander. The No. 1 picks were Bryan Bullington (1-9 career record), ex-Twins outfielder Delmon Young and Matt Bush, whose legal problems make him a long shot to play in the majors.

Then again, history is littered with No. 2 busts. It is that sort of unpredictability that makes the draft such a challenge. Even No. 1 and 2 picks are generally three to five years away from their major league debuts, and there are no guarantees that high school hitters will be able to hit major league breaking balls, or that college pitchers will master the off-speed assortment required for big league success.

"Many are called, few are chosen," Ryan said. "This isn't an easy game to play. You watch [major leaguers], and they're good not only in physical ability, but confidence, resiliency, not losing your way off the field -- everything we talk to young players about. This is a process. It's a grind."

Ryan vehemently disagrees with a suggestion that the draft is a crapshoot, saying success goes to those who do their homework. He quickly added that the Twins absolutely can't afford to fail with this time the way they did with Johnson.

"You're looking for All-Star caliber in the first round, you're looking for perennial All-Stars if you're in the top five," he said.

A lesson learned

The 2000 draft offers a case study of the pitfalls inherent in the draft. Johnson has had the shortest major league career of any No. 2 overall pick since 1987, when the Pirates selected outfielder Mark Merchant, who failed to reach the majors.

Radcliff, who in 2000 had the final say on the top draft pick, said the Twins had Gonzalez -- now an All-Star first baseman with the Red Sox -- rated the top prospect "begrudgingly," because he didn't rate with the top prospects of a year later, when the draft produced Joe Mauer, Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira. Radcliff said that after Gonzalez was taken by the Marlins, "there was no consensus [over who should go next]. Not by us, or by anyone else."

The Twins had extensively scouted high school righthander Matt Harrington, thought to have the highest ceiling among pitchers in the draft. But Harrington, according to reports at the time, wanted a $4 million signing bonus, and the Twins balked, going instead with Johnson, who signed for $2.5 million.

Perhaps the lone solace for the Twins was that Johnson's nine major league games were nine more than Harrington's.

Johnson seemed a safer pick, since he had success as a college pitcher with a fastball in the low 90s. But Johnson never "figured out a touch," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Being able to take something off, add or subtract. Everything with him was max effort."

Radcliff said, in retrospect, that Johnson lacked the makeup required to master the art of pitching. Deron Johnson, the current Twins scouting director, was West Coast supervisor at the time and blames himself for the recommendations that led to the pick.

The ones who get away

One player the Twins could have picked in 2000 -- Chase Utley, who went No. 15 overall to Philadelphia -- still eats at Johnson.

"I whiffed on Chase Utley," Johnson said. "I didn't have him in position to take him [No. 2 overall]. He was a scrawny second baseman who wasn't really a good fielder. It was a miss."

The Twins have had to scrutinize similarly flawed prospects closely this time, because national experts agree that this is a draft that offers no guarantee of a future ace, such as Stephen Strasburg in 2009, or a perennial position All-Star, such as Bryce Harper in 2010.

In fact, the consensus is that at least the top seven picks of a year ago would have been taken first overall had they been eligible for this year's draft.

"I hate to tell you, but I'm not sure this draft is going to look much different from that [the 2000 draft] 10 years down the road. ... It's just not very good," Radcliff said.

But no draft fails to produce its share of surprises. Yes, the 2000 draft was weak, with only three first-round selections -- Gonzalez, Utley and Adam Wainwright -- becoming star-caliber players.

Still, the following three rounds produced Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan (second round), Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore (third) and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and Phillies lefty Cliff Lee (fourth).

"There are people in this [2012] draft who can be All-Star caliber players for years," Ryan said.

The challenge, of course, is looking at that scrawny, average-fielding second baseman and correctly projecting him to be an All-Star.

  • 2012 MLB DRAFT MONDAY THROUGH WEDNESDAY

    WHAT TO DO AT NO. 2

    Whom the Twins might take:

    Mark Appel, Stanford pitcher: Houston might take him first overall.

    Kyle Zimmer, U of San Francisco pitcher: A 20-year-old righthander.

    Byron Buxton, Georgia HS outfielder: Top prep player on the board.

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