With the first pick Monday in baseball’s amateur draft, the Twins will select a player who will require patience and might not justify it.
Whichever player they select, and for whatever reason they select him, the Twins and their fans need to be prepared for failure.
This is not the NBA draft. The top pick will not become a star within a year or two. And even in the NBA draft, there are abject failures taken at the top.
The Twins might pick a new version of Mark Appel or Tim Beckham, or a new version of Carlos Correa or Bryce Harper. What to remember today and in the years of development required to usher a top pick to the big leagues is this:
Making a bad pick, even at No. 1, is not fatal. It’s merely inconvenient.
The Astros had the first pick in the draft in 2012, 2013 and 2014. They have gotten big-league quality from just one of those picks, Correa, yet they have the best record in baseball.
The Twins frequently have made top-10 picks who have failed miserably and have followed with runs of big-league success.
The Twins chose Bryan Oelkers with the fourth pick in the 1982 draft, Tim Belcher with the first pick in 1983, Jay Bell with the eighth pick in 1984, Derek Parks with the 10th pick in 1986 and Willie Banks with the third pick 1987. None became impact players for the Twins, who nevertheless won the World Series in 1987 and ’91.
The Twins took two players projected to be star first basemen in the mid-90s — David McCarty with the third pick in 1991 and Travis Lee with the second pick in ’96. McCarty was a bust. Lee used a loophole to become a free agent and never played for the Twins.
Those failures might have contributed to the Twins’ eight consecutive losing seasons, from 1993 to 2000. Those failures also paved the way for less-heralded but far better draft picks.
Their fifth-round pick in 1995, Doug Mientkiewicz, wound up joining the wave of young players who turned around the franchise, and he was succeeded by a third-round pick in 1999 named Justin Morneau, who became an American League MVP.
From 1976 through 2011, the Twins chose 14 players with top-10 picks. Only two became impact players for them — Joe Mauer (drafted in 2001) and Michael Cuddyer (1997).
Despite that terrible .143 batting average, the Twins won big in ’87 by developing exceptional position players and an ace in Frank Viola and trading for Bert Blyleven. They won again in ’91 with the same key position players, trading Viola for Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera, the surprising rise of fourth-round draft pick Scott Erickson and the signing of Jack Morris.
From 1994 to 2000, the Twins selected Todd Walker, Ryan Mills, B.J. Garbe and Adam Johnson with top-10 picks. Those failures didn’t keep them from putting together a decade of excellence in the 2000s, because of the success of lower-drafted players and key trades.
The lesson here is that succeeding with high draft picks is the simplest way to win, but it’s not the only route.
If the Twins miss on the 2017 first overall pick, which is quite possible, they will have to make up for the mistake with a lower draft pick, or a trade, or a free-agent signing.
And even if they take a player today who is eventually successful, the wait for him to become a big-league star might be excruciating.
This is the essence of the baseball draft and Major League Baseball itself, the only major team sport without a clock:
You need to be prepared to wait, which is good preparation for needing to wait even more.