Looking back on the Dodgers’ 2002 MLB Rule IV draft

Probably the first thing that’ll jump out at you about the 2002 MLB Rule IV draft was its first overall pick: Bryan Bullington.  Bullington didn’t deserve to go first and the poor guy was even admitted to be a “no. 3 starter” at best by the very GM who selected him.

The 2002 draft was a draft of highs, lows and underachievement.  Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder were drafted back-to-back by the Royals and the Brewers (fifth and sixth overall), but there were a few big duds in there too.  Then you’ve got your Cole Hamels’, Jeremy Hermidas, your Joe Blantons.  What was remarkable was how good round 2 turned out to be: Joey Votto, Micah Owings, Kevin Jepsen, Jon Lester, Jon Broxton, Brian McCann, Fred Lewis and Chris Snyder.

The third and fourth rounds had some decent selections as well (Elijah Dukes and Curtis Granderson went in the third; Josh Johnson and Kevin Correia went in the fourth), but there was a surprising amount of ++ talent left in that second round.

The Dodgers were, interestingly enough, one of the teams to capitalize on the later rounds in this draft, the 2003 draft and the 2004 draft.  It’s one of the reasons why the team is so successful today. So here’s a little analysis.

Dodgers’ 2002 draft

1st (19) 1B James Loney, Elkins HS, Missouri City, Tx

Loney was considered a great pick at the time and even sabr-scouting legend John Sickels sang his praises in 2003 when Loney was just in A-ball. He’s been a very productive major leaguer, compared to his contemporaries. Loney has, indeed, been an above-average, but hasn’t shown much of the power potential he showed in high school.  Instead, in 2009, he had a sub-.400 slugging percentage and was held to 13 home runs, 12 of them away from Dodger Stadium.  That could have been due to fatigue–he’s taken off only five games in the past two seasons–but it’s still something you don’t like to see.  Loney’s started the 2010 season with a high batting average, but still hasn’t put up a solid Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average).  His ISOs the last five years, from most recent: .115 (2010) .118, .145, .207, .275.  Those last two years were in 375 and 100 plate appearance sample sizes respectively.

1st (31) P Greg Miller, Esperanza HS, Yorba Linda, Calif.

Miller was an attrition tragedy.  If there’s one criticism of Logan White and the Dodgers’ scouting during these years, it was the inability to foresee arm injuries. Miller was amazing as soon as he started.  He pitched 142.1 innings in 2003 at A+ and AA and put up some amazing numbers: 2.21 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 7.5 hits/9.  That ERA is slightly skewed because of defense (10 unearned runs), but he was still very good.  He was given a big nod by Baseball America, who placed him No. 8 on their pre-2004 Top 100 Prospects list.  Then he had Tommy John surgery.  He missed all of 2004 and returned as a reliever in 2005.  He pitched well until 2007, when everything just fell apart for him and he retired from baseball after the 2009 season.

Such a shame.

2nd (51) P Zachary Hammes, Iowa City HS, Iowa City, Ia.

Zach Hammes was, strangely enough, a poor man’s Greg Miller at the start.  Zach started out decently in rookie ball in 2002, but when he was promoted to A ball the next year, his hits per nine skyrocketed to 10.6.  He remained in A the next year, this time in Columbus, and saw his hits per nine go up to 11.7.  He was never able to average less than a hit per inning after that and never broke past AA, except for eight innings in AAA Las Vegas in 2006.  He was out of baseball after the 2008 season.

2nd (60) P Jonathan Broxton, Burke County HS, Waynesboro, Ga.

Broxton must’ve had something written all over him that drew the Dodgers’ scouts to him, ’cause it sure wasn’t “diet and exercise.” Big Bad Jon was one of the successful young pitchers from Logan White’s director of amateur scouting years (White is now the assistant GM, amateur and international scouting and has been since 2007).  Broxton did the traditional route to the majors: started in rookie, climbed up to A, A+, AA and AAA in successive years until he was brought to the majors at age 23.  The only difference is that he switched mid-season from starter to reliever because of injuries–he started only eight games in A South Georgia and was switched to reliever full-time in the middle of the 2005 season in AA. Despite some odd troubles here and there, he’s been a dominant force as a reliever.

3rd (91) C Michael Nixon, Sunnyslope HS, Phoenix, Ariz.

I unfortunately don’t have a scouting report, but Nixon was OK, but never better than good in the minors: .267/.326/.354 career slash.  He didn’t develop past AAA ball and retired in 2005.

4th (121) 2B Delwyn Young, Santa Barbara CC, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Pee-wee!  Young wasn’t a great prospect, but he hurtled his way into the majors with a good batting average and a decent slugging percentage. He was moved off of second almost immediately and placed in the outfield, but when it was apparent he wasn’t gonna crack the line-up, he was shipped to the Pirates in the Manny Ramirez trade in 2008.  There, he’s been a decent fourth outfielder.

LATER PICKS

I don’t think we need to get into the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, so let’s just skip around to the huge bargains.

11 (331) P James McDonald, Poly HS, Long Beach, Calif.

McDonald has had his struggles in the past year or so, but he’s been a worth-while 11th round pick. He’ll likely enter the rotation this year or next.  His ceiling is a No. 3 starter, same as the 2002 No. 1 overall pick Bryan Bullington.

15 (451) P Eric Stults, Bethel College, South Bend, Ind.

If the Dodgers FO weren’t strapped for cash because of the bitter divorce between their current co-owners, Stults would be in the starting rotation right now.  Stults was very good for the Dodgers in 2008 and 2009 as a spot-starter.  He was sold off to Japan just before the 2010 season for a few hundred thousand dollars, sadly, and the Dodgers’ best ever spot starter will likely never return. :-/

17 (551) 3B Russell Martin, Chipola JC, Marianna, Fla.

Wow, what a bargain this was.  Martin, as you probably know, is now the starting catcher of the Dodgers.  He was brought up in 2006 and has excelled at the position.  He’s also a very humble player, an all-around great guy and loves his mama and papa.  A severe power drop in his 2009 season stirred up some concern, but Martin put up a very good on-base percentage (.353 with a .250 batting average).

Analysis: You may be asking right now why I’m writing about a draft that’s, at this point, pretty well understood.  Well that’s the funny thing.  None of these players were traded.  In fact, I don’t think any player drafted by the Dodgers that year was traded.  And its because that was the beginning of the rebuild; management understood the franchise was going nowhere until it invested in the draft.

And boy, did they invest smartly.  From this draft, they got their current first baseman, their current catcher, their current best reliever, one decent starting pitcher and one good spot-starter/reliever.  If you look at any other team that year, some teams had a very good draft, but none had one that filled the major league roster quite as well (or quite as quickly)

Then factor in that this wasn’t even that amazing of a draft and you begin to see why this was such a great draft for the Dodgers.  There’s some decent talent in there, but there’s a pretty big drop after Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder and Cole Hamels.  The Dodgers picked up their starting catcher in the 15th round; a starting pitcher in the 11th.  A lot of value in there.

2003 is up next.

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Filed under Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB, MLB history, prospects

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