The Boston Red Sox selected a high school pitcher in the first round of the 2016 Rule 4 Draft that most did not think would be available at their 12th overall pick. While he may be difficult to sign, the bigger question may be what should fans expect from this young southpaw? To help determine realistic expectations for Jason Groome, Brandon Magee looks to former first round high school draftees and how they fared.
On Thursday, June 9, Major League Baseball began their annual three day rite of spring, the Rule 4 Draft. With the 12th pick of the draft, the Boston Red Sox selected a name expected to be taken much earlier in the draft, Barnegat (NJ) High School’s Jason Groome, a left-handed pitcher. What does the future hold for this young southpaw?
In the first half of our overview of high school pitchers drafted in the first round, we looked at the drafts of 2002 through 2006. Twenty-five of the thirty-eight pitchers drafted spent some amount of time in the major leagues with Clayton Kershaw as the clear standout of the bunch. Today, we continue our review as we look at 2007 through 2011.
The overstuffed first round of 2007 – which had a total of 64 selection thanks to a supplemental round that lasted longer than the first-round proper – saw 13 high school pitchers picked. Six of the pitchers selected have not yet made the major leagues.
Madison Bumgarner raced to the majors, with a 17-5 record in the minor leagues in 2008 and 2009 before earning his first trip to the San Francisco Giants in September of 2009, one month after his 20th birthday. After starting the 2010 season with a 7-1 record in 14 starts for the AAA Reno Aces, he was called up to the Giants for good. Madison went 7-6 in 2010 for San Francisco and has followed that up with five consecutive double-digit-win seasons and three All-Star Game selections. This season, Bumgarner is 7-2 with a 1.88 ERA.
Rick Porcello played a single season in the minor leagues, going 8-6 with a 2.66 ERA with High-A Lakeland in 2008. The next season, he went 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA for the Detroit Tigers at the age of 20. Porcello won double-digit games in each of his six seasons with the Tigers before moving to the Boston Red Sox last season, where he went 9-15 with a career-worst 4.92 ERA. Rick has began this season in better form, going 7-2 with a 3.81 ERA thus far.
Jarrod Parker would make his major-league debut with a late September start for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, after missing all of 2010 due to Tommy John surgery. Parker was traded to the Oakland Athletics in December of 2011, and Parker would bust out with the A’s, going 25-16 over 61 starts in 2012 and 2013. Parker has missed the past three major-league seasons with injury, undergoing a second Tommy John procedure in 2014 and then fracturing his elbow in 2015 during a rehab assignment.
Neil Ramirez slowly eased his way up through the Texas Rangers’ system, but was sent to the Chicago Cubs in 2013 as the player to be named later in the Matt Garza trade. Ramirez made his major-league debut with the Cubs in 2014 with 50 relief appearances, putting up a 1.44 ERA and a 1.053 WHIP. Neil only pitched in 26 games total in 2015 after leaving an early season contest with shoulder woes and has been on a waiver-wire journey this season. After eight games with Chicago, he was placed on waivers and picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers. Earlier this week, he was waived by the Brew Crew and picked up by the Minnesota Twins. In 11 games this season, he has put up a 6.10 ERA.
Blake Beavan was another Texas Ranger draftee who switched organizations before making his major-league debut, being sent to the Seattle Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal in 2010. Beavan joined the Mariners in 2011 at the age of 22, going 5-6 in his first 15 big league starts. The next season, he would pick up 26 starts for Seattle, but his journey would start heading in the wrong direction after that. Ineffectiveness saw him back in AAA Tacoma for most of 2013 and 2014, he picked up only four games for the AAA Reno Aces last season before the Arizona Diamondbacks set him loose, and he is currently pitching for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League.
Phillippe Aumont started with Seattle before being sent to the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 Cliff Lee deal. Aumont would make his debut out of the bullpen with the Phillies in 2012. In four seasons for the Phillies, Phillipe put up a 6.80 ERA and a 1.992 WHIP in 46 games. The perpetually wild Aumont – who averaged nearly six walks per nine innings in his career – voluntarily retired from baseball last week after being shellacked in ten games in AAA Charlotte.
Chris Withrow slowly eased his way through the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, debuting in the big leagues with 26 games out of the bullpen in 2013. Withrow missed all of 2015 after Tommy John and back surgery. He is currently in the Atlanta Braves bullpen mix.
Josh Smoker never made it out of A-Ball in his six seasons with the Washington Nationals organization, but after being out of baseball in 2013 and spending 2014 with the independent Rockford Aviators, Smoker signed on with the New York Mets where he is currently holding a bullpen spot in AAA Las Vegas.
Tim Alderson made it to AAA with both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles, but could not make the leap to the majors. Alderson is currently out of baseball after spending last season in AA Harrisburg.
Michael Main and Jon Bachanov each made brief appearances in Double-A, but were out of baseball when they were 23. Brandon Hamilton spent three seasons in the Detroit Tigers’ system, but a 7.09 ERA in his only full season with the A-Level West Michigan Whitecaps was his final line. Nathan Vineyard didn’t even make it out of his teenage years before he was out, going 0-5 with a 7.39 ERA in 11 professional appearances in 2007 and 2008.
Unlike the overloaded 2007 draft, only six prep pitchers were selected in the first round of 2008. And only one, Brett DeVall, failed to pick up his cup of coffee. However, one other, Gerrit Cole, delayed his professional career for three seasons, spurning the advances of the New York Yankees for the southern California sunshine and UCLA.
DeVall, the 40th overall pick, spent three seasons in the Atlanta Braves organization. He was out of baseball after going 7-9 with a 4.39 ERA in 19 starts for the A-Level Rome Braves in 2010.
Jake Odorizzi meandered his way up the Milwaukee Brewers’ and Kansas City Royals’ systems, making his major-league debut with the Royals in 2012 when he started two games at the end of September. Jake was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in December of 2012 in the James Shields trade. After spending most of 2013 with AAA Durham, Odorizzi has become a mainstay in the Rays’ rotation. In 13 starts this season, Jake is 3-3 with a 3.47 ERA.
Jordan Lyles made it to the bigs at the age of 20 with the Houston Astros in 2011, and has been a mainstay of mediocrity ever since. In 109 appearances – 102 of them starts – for the Astros and Colorado Rockies, Lyles has a career MLB record of 24-40 with a 5.22 ERA and a 1.458 WHIP. Mike Montgomery spent seven-plus seasons in the minors with Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Seattle before finally breaking through with 16 starts for the Mariners in 2015. This season, Seattle has moved him to the bullpen where he has put up a 2.27 ERA and a 1.037 WHIP in 23 appearances. Ethan Martin made it to the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2013, pitching 15 rather ugly games. He picked up two more appearances with the Phils in 2014. He was released at the end of spring training this season by the Atlanta Braves.
The 2009 Rule 4 festivities saw eight prep pitchers drafted in the first round. But, like the year before, one of them decided to eschew professional life for a few years of college. In this case, it was Matt Purke who was drafted 14th by the Texas Rangers but decided to go to Texas Christian University. The Horned Frog was drafted in the third round two years later by the Washington Nationals and made his major-league debut this year with the Chicago White Sox.
Five of the remainder have made the big leagues, led by Shelby Miller. Miller made his debut as a 21-year-old with the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen in 2012 before joining the Cardinals’ rotation in 2013. Miller picked up 15 wins in that season and followed it up with ten more in 2014, before being traded to the Atlanta Braves for the 2015 season. Miller had a bizarre one-season stint with Atlanta, putting up a career-best 3.02 ERA but receiving no run support, leading to a 5-17 record. Miller was again on the move in the offseason, moving to the Arizona desert. The righty has not adapted to the change, putting up a 7.09 ERA for the Diamondbacks, who recently placed him in High-A Visalia to work out the kinks.
However, it was Jacob Turner who was the first to make it to the majors, debuting with three starts for the Detroit Tigers in 2011. Turner picked up ten more starts in 2012 with the Tigers and the Miami Marlins, 20 starts for the Marlins in 2013, and had 28 appearances for Miami and the Chicago Cubs in 2014. Turner has struggled in his time in the majors, going 11-25 with a 4.97 ERA. Turner pitched in only two games in 2015 as elbow discomfort kept him off the field. Turner is now with the White Sox, pitching in AAA Charlotte.
After being traded by the San Francisco Giants, Zack Wheeler zipped his way into the New York Mets’ rotation in 2013, going 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts after a three and a half year minor-league apprenticeship. Wheeler went 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA, but has not pitched since due to Tommy John surgery. The exciting career of Tyler Matzek started with 20 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2014, but hit a road bump with a seemingly minor hamstring injury in April of 2015. After giving up four runs in two innings in his next start, Matzek has been on a roller coaster ride in the Rockies minor-league system, currently throwing out of the bullpen in High-A Modesto.
Tyler Skaggs made 13 starts in 2012 and 2013 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but after being traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Skaggs was given a full-time role in the Angels rotation. Skaggs left a no-hitter on July 31, 2014 in the fifth inning after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament and missed all of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Skaggs pitched three games in AAA Salt Lake in April of this year, but was put back on the shelf.
The 2010 draft saw 13 high school pitchers selected. However, two selections decided to rebuff the advances of the teams that drafted them. Dylan Covey was the 14th selection by the Milwaukee Brewers but did not sign, instead going to the University of San Diego where he was subsequently selected by the Oakland A’s in the fourth round in 2013. He is currently moving slowly up the Athletics’ system.
Karsten Whitson may be the cautionary tale for all prep pitchers who are hesitant on signing a minor-league deal. Whitson was selected ninth by the San Diego Padres, but instead decided to go to the University of Florida. He was drafted again by the Washington Nationals in the 37th round in 2013 and again did not come to terms. As a senior, he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 11th round of the 2014 draft. Whitson pitched an entire seven innings for the Lowell Spinners that season, which was the entirety of his professional career.
The other 11 draftees did sign, and the early results have been quite promising. Eight have already made their major-league debuts and there have yet to be any washouts.
Taijuan Walker was the first to reach the majors, debuting with three starts for the Seattle Mariners in 2013. After eight more appearances with the Mariners in 2014, Walker joined the rotation full time last season, going 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA. Although his record is a woeful 3-6 through 13 starts this season, Walker has lowered his ERA to 3.69 and his WHIP to 1.146.
Aaron Sanchez made his debut in the Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen during the 2014 season at the age of 21, putting up a ridiculous 1.09 ERA and a 0.697 WHIP in 24 appearances. Last season Sanchez managed a 3.22 ERA and a 1.278 WHIP in 41 appearances, which included 11 starts, with the Jays. Sanchez earned a place in the rotation for the 2016 season, putting up a 6-1 record over his first 13 starts this year.
Noah Syndergaard put in a five-season apprenticeship in the New York Mets’ minor-league system before debuting in the Big Apple. Last season, Thor went 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA in his first 24 MLB starts. He has started even better this season, with a 2.00 ERA through 13 appearances while striking out over 11 batters every nine innings.
Mike Foltynewicz made his debut with the Houston Astros in 2014, recording 16 games out of the pen. Foltynewicz was traded to the Atlanta Braves in January of 2015, and made his starting debut last season, seeing 15 starts. After spending this April in AAA Gwinnett, Mike re-joined the Braves rotation and has picked up six starts with a 3.51 ERA this season. Zach Lee made his big league debut last July with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a one-off appearance. Lee is continuing his apprenticeship in AAA Oklahoma City this season. After missing the 2014 and 2015 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, Jameson Taillon has picked up his first two major-league starts this month, including an eight-inning masterpiece against the New York Mets on Tuesday.
Cam Bedrosian made his major-league debut with the Los Angeles Angels in 2014, picking up 17 appearances out of the Angels bullpen. Last season he rode the shuttle between Utah and California, but this season he has solidified his place with the Angels, putting up a 1.61 ERA in 26 relief stints. Luke Jackson has been part of the express from Round Rock to Arlington the past two seasons, picking up his first twelve major-league appearances with the Texas Rangers.
Only Peter Tago, Tyler Jenkins, and Jesse Biddle have yet to make their MLB debuts. Jenkins is likely the closest to his cup of coffee, having put up a 6-3 record and a 2.91 ERA for the AAA Gwinnett Braves this year. Peter Tago has put in 22 games of mediocre relief with the Birmingham Barons, the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox this season. Jesse Biddle has no chance of debuting this year, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in the offseason. An offseason which also saw him change teams twice, being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates before being picked off of waivers by the Atlanta Braves.
The 2011 draft was another overloaded first round, with a supplemental round equal to the first round. Sixteen of the sixty picks were prep school pitchers. One, Tyler Beede, decided that the Toronto Blue Jays were not right for him and instead went to Vanderbilt University. Three years later, he was drafted seven spots higher by the San Francisco Giants. He is currently pitching well in the Eastern League.
Although we are still in the early stages with this draft, eight of the remaining fifteen have already made their major-league debuts. The first was Dylan Bundy, who picked up two relief appearances with the Baltimore Orioles in September, 2012. However, Bundy would undergo Tommy John surgery in 2013, missing the entire season and most of 2014 as well. Bundy’s struggles did not end there, as injuries contributed to him only pitching in eight games last season. However, he was able to make the Orioles’ bullpen out of spring training this season, throwing 26 innings in 17 appearances.
Jose Fernandez picked up 28 starts as a 20-year-old with the Miami Marlins in 2013. His 2014 was cut short due to an injured elbow which required Tommy John surgery. He has come back with ease, as he went 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA in eleven starts for the Marlins in 2015 and has already picked up nine wins in 13 starts this season.
Joe Ross, Archie Bradley, and Henry Owens all made their MLB debuts in 2015, and have also picked up additional starts this season. Ross has picked up 28 appearances the last two seasons for the Washington Nationals, going 10-9 with a 3.34 ERA and a 1.133 WHIP. Bradley has struggled in his 14 starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, going 4-6 with a 5.73 ERA. Owens pitched decently in his 11 starts for the Boston Red Sox in 2015, going 4-4 with a 4.57 ERA. However, his three starts for Boston this season were less impressive as he gave up 13 hits and walked 13 batters in a mere 12 1/3 innings. While Ross appears up for good and Bradley is currently with Arizona, Owens has continued to struggle with his command in AAA Pawtucket since his starts earlier this season.
This year has seen the major-league debut of three more 2011 prep draftees. Michael Fulmer, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers last season in the Yoenis Cespedes deal, has started off white-hot in his first nine starts for the Tigers. Fulmer has picked up seven wins and has a 2.52 ERA for Detroit since debuting on April 29. More impressively, Fulmer has not allowed a run in any of his last four starts and has a scoreless inning streak of 28 1/3 innings. Robert Stephenson made two April starts for a Cincinnati Reds staff decimated by injury. Blake Snell also made his debut with an April start against the New York Yankees. Both have been pitching well in AAA since, waiting for their next chance to impress.
The other seven are at various stages in their development. Joseph Musgrove is the closest to The Show, having been promoted by the Houston Astros to AAA Fresno last month. Kyle Crick is in his third season in AA Richmond, Taylor Guerrieri is taking his second bite of the biscuit at AA Montgomery, and Michael Kelly got the call to AA San Antonio last month. Kevin Comer has made a slow climb through the Houston Astros’ system, currently in his second season with High-A Lancaster.
Kevin Matthews couldn’t make it back from a shoulder injury that shelved him during the entire 2013 season. He was released from the Rangers organization last season after being charged with DWI. Hudson Boyd was released by the Minnesota Twins organization after the 2015 season, a season where he was suspended 50 games due to a drug of abuse and did not pitch in a single game. Boyd never got beyond A-Ball Cedar Rapids.
The perpetually optimistic have dreams of Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Jose Fernandez dancing in their craniums. The perpetually pessimistic are having nightmares of Hudson Boyd, Jeff Allison, Jay Rainville, and Nathan Vineyard pitching in independent leagues. But, what is a realistic scenario?
For the majority of prep pitchers selected in the first round, reaching the major leagues is an accomplishment that can be checked off their list of life’s accomplishments. However, for many of them, their dream of picking up Cy Young Awards will turn into the reality of becoming a back-end mediocrity. For some, they may have to adjust to becoming part of the bullpen. Others need to get used to being shuttled back between AAA and the majors. Far too many will end up under the knife, repairing elbows and shoulders. And, yes, the reality is that many will never get out of the minors.
For Jason Groome, he should continue to pursue his dream of becoming the next Clayton Kershaw. So should Riley Pint, Braxton Garrett, and Matt Manning. Even Ian Anderson should continue his sweet dream of becoming the best pitcher in baseball, even if he realizes that nothing is easy. But, for fans, perhaps we should aim lower. After all, a John Danks or a Phil Hughes-type career would be a very good return on investment for the drafting team.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.