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, Barnegat (NJ) High School’s Jason Groome, a left-handed pitcher. What does the future hold for this young southpaw?
The Quick Overview
Jason Groome is a young, talented, left-handed starting pitching prospect. Groome was the number one ranked prospect by Baseball America, Keith Law of ESPN.com, and MLB Pipeline. Jason has a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s, a “hammer” curve that is thrown mid-to-upper 70s that has been called “devastating”, and a changeup that he utilized on occasion. Although his senior season was interrupted by a 30-day suspension – due to a technical violation after pitching at IMG Academy in Florida his junior season – Groome struck out 90 batters in just 39 2/3 innings. Jason allowed only five earned runs and 15 hits in his final high school season.
Why did this top prospect fall, becoming the fifth high school pitcher taken in the draft? Speculation centers on maturity, his draft bonus demands, and his advisor, 34-year-old Jeff Randazzo, a former fourth round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1999. Whatever the reason, the Boston Red Sox have the chance to benefit from a player not normally available at pick #12.
Comparing the Future to the Past
While every individual player is unique in their character and their innate abilities, we can look at the past to see how similarly drafted individuals have performed in their careers. In this case, we are going to look at high school pitchers drafted in the first round between 2002 and 2011, a ten-year window where the majority of the pitchers analyzed will have hit their peak level in the baseball system. Admittedly, since the 2012 draft instituted a bonus pool that was not applicable in prior drafts, it is likely that some pitchers who fell due to bonus demands in our period of comparison would have been drafted higher under the current system. Alas, no comparison can be completely perfect.
In the 2002 draft, eight high school players were drafted in the first 41 picks that composed the first round/first round supplemental. The first four prep pitchers taken were drafted consecutively, from #3 to #6 and had varied success. Chris Gruler spent four seasons in the Cincinnati Reds organization, never making it above A-Ball in a career that was marred by multiple shoulder surgeries. Fifth pick Clint Everts had a minor-league career that lasted 12 years, but despite hitting AAA with the Expos/Nationals’ and Blue Jays’ organizations, Everts never made the leap to the majors.
#4 pick Adam Loewen has had one of the more interesting careers in MLB history. Loewen made the leap to the Baltimore Orioles at the age of 22, going 5-5 in 22 games in 2006. Loewen would pick up 13 more major league games over the next two seasons. He was picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009, where he transitioned to the outfield and first base, and would re-emerged in the big leagues in 2011, where he played in 14 games for the Jays. However, by 2014, he was back on the mound, and he would be called up by the Philadelphia Phillies last season for 20 games out of the ‘pen. He is currently with the Reno Aces, the AAA Affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
There was much greater success starting with the sixth pick. Zack Greinke raced through the minor leagues, reaching the Kansas City Royals at the age of 20 in 2004. With the exception of 2006, where he spent most of the season in AA Wichita, Greinke has been in the majors since his debut, going 150-96 with a 3.37 ERA in 13 seasons. Left-Handers Cole Hamels (17th – Philadelphia) and Scott Kazmir (15th – New York Mets) have also had considerable major-league success.
Greg Miller, the 31st pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was also bit by the shoulder injury bug, never rising above AAA.
The Rule 4 Draft of 2003 saw six prep school pitching prospects taken in the first round, with three getting a taste of the major leagues. The best of the three MLB pitchers was drafted 9th by the Texas Rangers.
John Danks spent four seasons in the Rangers system before making his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2007, after an offseason trade. Danks put up ERAs of 3.32, 3.77, and 3.72 while winning double-digit games from 2008-2010, but has since fallen off to a merely reliable back-end starter. Over his 10-year career, Danks has a 79-104 record with a 4.38 ERA.
Chad Billingsley made it to the majors in 2006, his third season, going 7-4 in 18 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Over the following six seasons, Billingsley won double-digit games each year with an ERA high of 4.21 in 2011. Unfortunately, the run was cut short in 2013 due to injuries, which limited him to only 13 games total (and only two in MLB) in the past three seasons. Billingsley has made it back to the show this season, going 2-3 in seven starts for the Philadelphia Phillies.
35th pick Luis Atilano picked up 16 starts for the Washington Nationals in 2010, going 6-7 with a 5.15 ERA as a 25-year-old. Injuries derailed his career, however, pitching in only four more games over two seasons in affiliated ball. Atilano has been active in each of the last four offseasons in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
The other three pitchers never finished their apprenticeships. Jeff Allison is a cautionary tale of youth and drug addiction. Adam Miller’s story is one of fast rising prospect derailed by injury, in this case, a middle finger that had multiple surgeries. Craig Whitaker never made the impact one might expect from a first round pick, able to rise up to AAA but with no real control, averaging 6.3 BB/9 in his nine-year professional career.
In terms of making the majors, 2004 was a very good year as six of the seven high school pitchers drafted in the first round made it to The Show.
The only exception was 39th pick Jay Rainville, who missed 2006 with an injury and was not able to rise above AA New Britain after his return.
Twenty-third pick Phil Hughes has by far had the best career of those making the big leagues, debuting with 13 starts in 2007 as a 21-year-old with the New York Yankees. Hughes was an integral part of the Yankees bullpen in their World Championship 2009 season, going 8-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 51 games. The next year, Hughes went 18-8 in 29 starts for the Bronx Bombers. He has had mixed results since, scoring double-digit victories in 2012 for the Yankees and in 2014 and 2015 with the Minnesota Twins; but he also lost 14 for New York in 2013 and has already picked up seven losses this season with the Twins. Overall, Hughes has gone 84-76 in his ten major league seasons.
Not far behind Hughes is Homer Bailey, drafted seventh by the Cincinnati Reds. Bailey also debuted in the big leagues in 2007 at 21, going 4-2 in his first nine starts for the Reds. Bailey shuttled between Cincinnati and the minors the next four seasons, finally getting a full season of starts for the Reds in 2012, garnering a 13-10 record with a 3.68 ERA. He followed that up with a 3.49 ERA in 2013 in 32 starts and a 3.71 ERA in 2014 in 23 starts before forearm tightness and eventual tendon surgery ended his 2014 season. His 2015 return was brief, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in May. Bailey had two starts in the minors in late April before being shut down due to elbow inflammation. Bailey has gone 59-51 with a 4.19 ERA in 168 starts for the Reds.
The other four picks have all made The Show, but none were particularly successful. Scott Elbert picked up 127 bullpen appearances for the Los Angeles Dodgers over six seasons, but was released by San Diego in 2015 after putting up a 6.52 ERA with their AAA affiliate in El Paso. Mark Rogers started nine games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 and 2012, but injuries forced him into the Independent Atlantic League in 2014 and 2015. Kyle Waldrop missed all of 2008 with shoulder woes but eventually made it to the Minnesota Twins bullpen, where he pitched in 24 games in 2011 and 2012. But, consistent elbow problems saw Waldrop drop out of baseball after five games with AAA Indianapolis in 2013. Eric Hurley notched five starts for the Texas Rangers in 2008, but missed all of 2009 after shoulder surgery, missed much of 2010 after breaking his wrist, and had a comebacker cause a concussion and skull fracture in 2011. He attempted once more to make it to the majors in 2012, but called it a career at 26 after both the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Minnesota Twins released him from their AAA affiliates.
At first glance, 2005 seems like another successful draft of high school pitchers. After all, 70% of the ten draftees pitched in the major leagues. However, when the best pitcher of the bunch is Chris Volstad, perhaps further scrutiny is warranted.
Volstad burst on the scene with the Florida Marlins in 2008, going 6-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 15 appearances (14 starts). It was all downhill from there. Over the next four seasons, Chris’s best ERA was a 4.58 in 2010, when he went 12-9 with Florida. The 2009, 2011, and 2012 seasons – his last extended stay in The Show – all saw double-digit losses. Waldrop is currently pitching in AAA Charlotte for the Chicago White Sox organization, where he has a 4.52 ERA in 13 appearances.
Chaz Roe was forced to go to Laredo of the independent American Association in 2012, before being picked up by Arizona in 2013 where he finally registered his first 21 major league appearances out of the bullpen. Roe has also picked up appearances out of the New York Yankees ‘pen in 2014 and the Baltimore Orioles ‘pen last season, where he put up a 4.14 ERA in 36 relief stints. Roe is currently with the Orioles AAA affiliate in Norfolk.
Michael Bowden had a successful debut for the Red Sox as a 21-year-old in 2008, picking up a victory on August 30, his only game for Boston that season. However, Bowden could never quite break into a permanent position with the Red Sox, seeing intermittent time in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. A trade in April of 2012 saw him move to the Chicago Cubs where he did little better. The itinerant right-hander pitched in Japan in 2014 and is currently pitching in Korea.
Aaron Thompson picked up 41 relief appearances for the Minnesota Twins last season, after pitching in only 11 games in the majors previously. His 5.01 ERA over 32 1/3 innings for the Twins last season did not put him on anyone’s radar and he is now pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters in the independent Atlantic League. Trevor Bell appeared in 54 games over four seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and the Cincinnati Reds between 2009 and 2014, putting up a 5.57 ERA in the Majors.
Ryan Tucker made it to the Marlins as a 21-year-old in 2008, putting up an 8.27 ERA over 37 innings of work. He would make it back to the majors four seasons later with the Texas Rangers, giving up five runs in five innings of work. He was out of baseball the next season. Sean West missed all of 2007 due to injuries, but would start 20 times for Florida in 2009, going 8-6 with a 4.79 ERA. He would start two games for the Marlins the next season and was out of baseball after a 5.59 ERA for the AAA New Orleans Zephyrs in 2011.
At least these players made it to The Show. Beau Jones had a pair of seasons at AAA, but was out of baseball at 25 years old. Tyler Herron had a two-game stay in AAA in 2014, but has been in the independent leagues the past two seasons. Mark Pawelek washed out of baseball in 2010, never getting out of A-Ball.
The 2006 draft may consist of both the best and the worst results an organization could expect from drafting a high school pitcher in the first round. On the bad end of the scale, only four of the seven prep draftees made it to the majors. On the other end, Clayton Kershaw.
There isn’t much doubt about the greatness of Kershaw. Jumping straight from AA to the Los Angeles Dodgers as a 20 year old in 2008, Kershaw went 5-5 with a 4.26 ERA in his first 22 major league appearances. Since then, he has never had an ERA above 2.91 in his seven full major league seasons, garnering five All-Star appearances, winning three National League Cy Youngs (and finishing 2nd once and 3rd last season) and picking up the 2014 National League Most Valuable Player Award. This season, he is merely 9-1 with a 1.52 ERA and a 0.646 WHIP. It would be hard to argue against him being the best pitcher in Major League Baseball.
Jeremy Jeffress first made it to the majors with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 at the age of 22, pitching ten games out of the ‘pen. But he didn’t “catch on” in the majors until his second stint with the Brewers in 2014, after spending time with the various teams in the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays organizations. In his last three seasons with the Brewers, Jeffress has come out of the pen 132 times with an ERA under 2.50. This season, he has been tasked with the closer job in Milwaukee and has picked up 18 saves.
Kyle Drabek made his MLB debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010 with three starts, and has played in the majors every season since then. However, since his 2011 and 2012 seasons – where he started 27 games for the Blue Jays – his appearances have been scattered. Three games for Toronto in 2013, two more games with the Blue Jays in 2014, three games with the Chicago White Sox last season and one appearance with the Arizona Diamondbacks this year. Over seven seasons, he has only 43 appearances, putting up a 5.26 ERA.
Cory Rasmus missed his first full season of professional ball with injury, but eventually made it to the majors with the Los Angeles Angels and the Atlanta Braves in 2013. He has pitched intermittently with the Angels the past three seasons, putting up a 4.05 ERA over 79 major league appearances in his four seasons in the majors.
Caleb Clay made it to AAA with three different organizations and pitched a partial season in Korea, but is currently out of baseball after going 8-7 with AAA Reno last season. Kasey Kiker pitched in AA Frisco for the Texas Rangers in 2009 and 2010, but was out of baseball in 2012 after an unsuccessful stint in Rockford of the independent Frontier League. Steve Evarts missed all of 2009 and 2010 with injuries, and was out of baseball at the age of 24 after 18 games with El Paso of the independent American Association.
In our next piece, we will look at the High School Pitchers drafted in the first round from 2007-2011.
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.