When Andrew Brackman may his professional debut last week, things didn’t go quite exactly as planned. The lanky righthander lasted just 2.1 innings and gave up six earned runs on seven hits and two walks. The three strike outs were the only encouraging thing about his start, the first he’s made since Tommy John surgery.
Of course, as is custom in Yankee Universe these days, a few fans flipped out at this turn of events. Some went so far as to call Andrew Brackman a bust based on the seven outs he recorded in late September in Hawaii. Other writers questioned, yet again, Brian Cashman’s suspect (to them) choice of Brackman. Did the Yankees waste their first-round pick, these pessimistic commentators wondered?
The answer is a rather qualified “of course not.” It is entirely unreasonable to assume that a young, unpolished pitcher making his first start in 18 months would have his best stuff. It’s also entirely unreasonable to write off Brackman based on one start.
But — and this is a but too far away for it to be valid — if Brackman doesn’t pan out, no one should be surprised. When the Yankees drafted Andrew Brackman in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft, Brackman became the 30th pick of the draft. History is littered with failed 30th picks. In fact, of the 44 30th picks in history, just one of them is a Hall of Famer, and few others had long Major League careers.
As Baseball Reference’s handy draft database shows us, 30th picks are largely forgettable. Anyone remember Chance Caple, Matt Burch or Eric Hurley? Nick Bierbrodt certainly did wow anyone in his short Major League career.
Of the 30th picks, then, clearly the most successful was Mike Schmidt. He was the sixth pick in the second round of the 1971 draft, just the seventh amateur draft in history. Of the other 30th picks, Chris Sabo, Travis Fryman, Brian Jordan and David Wells had long and somewhat fruitful careers. In recent years, only Noah Lowry and Jack Cust have become regulars out of the 30th pick, and Cust didn’t earn a starting job until he landed on his fifth team in 2007, a full decade after he was originally drafted.
So what, then, are the lessons we can take away from the not-so-stellar pedigree of the 30th draft pick? Well, for one, we shouldn’t place undue expectations on Mr. Brackman. He may have been a first round pick, but beyond the top spots of the draft, in baseball, that’s a largely meaningless distinction. Some 62-round selections have Hall of Fame careers; some number one picks fizzle out. Being a first-round pick doesn’t guarantee any modicum of success.
It also means that we can’t accuse the Yankees of wasting a first-round pick. The team opted for the best talent they thought was available at the 30-pick level. If that talent doesn’t pan out, Brackman won’t be alone among the ranks of fellow draftees. In fact, if he succeeds, he’ll join a rather elite group of 30-pick players who had productive careers.
Finally, this hype is also a warning about the power of the Internet. Prior to a few years ago, most baseball fans would be hard-pressed to name their favorite teams’ draft picks. Today, with Minor League stats readily available and draft previews landing nearly a year ahead of time, fans know more about the draft picks than ever before. But still the can’t-miss guys miss, and the obscure players strike it big. You just never know which player selected late in the draft will be a big star. Courting disappointment and proclaiming draft picks “wasted” is meaningless.