The late 1990s were a dark time for the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans. Which is to say, rather than watch the game, most of us just got blackout drunk and checked the box scores the next morning.
One of the good things that putrid baseball gets you is some sweet draft positioning. After blowing it in 1997 and selected J.D. Drew (boo) second overall, only to not sign him, the Phillies fouled the bed so badly in the 1997 season that they earned the first overall draft pick in the 1998 amateur draft.
Some years there is a consensus first overall pick. 1998 was one of those years. And that pick was Pat Burrell.
Burrell, the 1998 Golden Spikes Award winner at the University of Miami, would go on to have a productive Major League career, winning a World Series with the Phillies in 2008, and the Giants in 2010, but there will always be talk that he failed to live up to his potential as a first overall pick. But did he?
There are all of the first overall amateur draft picks since the introduction of the June draft in 1965, ranked by order of rWAR. Bask in it. Can we really conclude anything?
There's obviously a "top tier" here -- Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, and Ken Griffey, Jr. -- three Hall of Fame talents with a pile of MVP awards between them.
Also: B.J. Surhoff had himself a pretty nice career, huh?
Burrell occupies a no-man's land between the productive regulars on the list and the washouts/disappointments. And if you think about it, Burrell's career was injury-shortened/plagued, and just a little disappointing. But he was no Steven Chilcott, Antelope Valley High School Class of 1966. Also incidentally, the alma mater of Frank Zappa and Don Vilet, aka Captain Beefheart. The more you know...
Maybe the important question to ask is whether the Phillies could have done better selecting someone else from that draft class. Who's been the best player from the 1998 draft? Here's the first round, ranked by rWAR.
So there's what whole matter of CC Sabathia, then there's J.D. Drew. Sabathia was an unusual prospect due to his size, and there's no way they were drafting Drew again. Other notables in later rounds include Adam Dunn (2nd round, 50th - 24.0 rWAR); Matt Holliday (7th round, 210th - 30.9 rWAR); and the second highest rWAR total (46.3) from the 1998 draft comes from none other than Mark Buehrle, selected in the 38th round, 1139th overall.
The amateur draft is not a crapshoot per se, but with Buehrle more than doubling Burrell's rWAR total (and counting), it's obvious that draft remains somewhat unpredictable. Burrell was the clear "consensus" pick. And while Burrell didn't become the same caliber of player as Alex Rodriguez or Chipper Jones, he also wasn't Shawn Abner. He was still a productive contributor on two World Championship teams.
For your consideration: If you were Ken Griffey, Jr., would you trade your career for Pat Burrell's? Personal accolades, hardware, and a ticket to the Hall of Fame, or two World Series rings?
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