Reimagining the 1987 draft (Part 4)

What might the 1987 draft have looked like with the benefit of hindsight. This series has attempted to provide one possible answer. Part 1 provides an overview and methodology, as well as picks 1 through 8. Part 2 covers picks 9 through 16. Part 3 covers picks 17 through 25. The current installment examines the final eight picks of the first round.

25. California Angels

Actual pick: John Orton, C, Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo, Calif.), 0.5 WAR
Revised pick: Dave Burba, RHP, Ohio State U. (Columbus, Ohio), 13.6 WAR (Actual: 2nd round, Seattle Mariners)

This was a terrific year to draft a catcher. Several taken (Craig Biggio, Jeromy Burnitz, Brad Ausmus, Dan Wilson, Todd Hundley, Darrin Fletcher) went onto have distinguished careers. Others, such as Orton, did not.

Despite playing in favorable offensive environments throughout his minor-league career, Orton hit just .228 in more than 500 games. In 1989, at age 23, he hit .233/.314/.413 at Midland, which is about as friendly to hitters as a place can be (in a league that hit .268/.339/.384 that year, the entire Midland team hit .295/.364/.444).

Not surprisingly, Orton’s offensive struggles followed him to Anaheim, where he hit .200/.265/.274 in a season’s worth of games from 1989 to 1993. The highlight of his career came on April 14, 1993, in a 12-2 shellacking of the Brewers. Orton, batting ninth, went 3-for-5 with a homer, double and stolen base.

Burba, meanwhile, was taken with the first pick in the second round in real life. Although he never developed into a front-line starter, he soaked up innings and provided value for his teams.

Burba was one of nine pitchers in MLB to win at least 10 games every year from 1995 to 2001. Wins do not provide a good barometer of a pitcher’s ability, but they do represent his accomplishments. Considering that four or five of the others (depending on one’s view of Andy Pettitte’s chances) to do what Burba did will end up in the Hall of Fame, that’s not so bad.

Would Burba have made a difference for the Angels? Probably not. From 1990, when Burba made his big-league debut, through 2000, his last really good year, the Angels typically finished below .500. Their best showings came in ’95, ’97 and ’98. They finished one game back of Seattle in 1995, but Burba worked primarily in relief that season and California, led by veteran Lee Smith and overpowering rookie Troy Percival, had a strong bullpen.

Burba might have helped in 1998, when the Angels finished three back of front-running Texas. The Angels started some terrible pitchers that year. Replace Jason Dickson and Allen Watson with Burba, and things get interesting:

                  IP  ERA ERA+  WAR
Dickson/Watson 214.1 6.05  79  -0.1
Burba          203.2 4.11 116   3.3

Call that a maybe.

26. Boston Red Sox

Actual pick: Reggie Harris, RHP, Waynesboro HS (Waynesboro, Va.), -0.5 WAR
Revised pick: Todd Hundley, C, Fremd HS (Palatine, Ill.), 12.3 WAR (Actual: 2nd round, New York Mets)

Here’s a case where a team might be better off with the inferior pick. Harris did nothing (he was the Josh Rupe of his day), but if the Red Sox end up with Hundley, there’s a decent chance they never “trade” Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek.

Hundley hit .273/.394/.549 in 1997, which is the year Boston acquired Varitek. With an All-Star catcher already in the fold, picking up Varitek may not have been high on the list of priorities. Considering the role that Varitek played on the 2004 championship team, and given that Hundley was out of baseball by then, that could have posed a problem.

Sure, Hundley would have represented an upgrade over Mike Macfarlane and Bill Haselman in 1995, but considering the entire Boston offense fell asleep against the Indians’ pitching staff in the ALDS, it’s doubtful he would altered the outcome of that series. And Hundley’s best years (’96 and ’97) came when the Red Sox were busy finishing seven and 20 games out of first place.

Harris may not have provided value to the Red Sox, but at least he didn’t serve as a roadblock for Varitek.

27. Baltimore Orioles

Actual pick: Pete Harnisch, RHP, Fordham U. (New York, N.Y.), 15.5 WAR
Revised pick: Derek Bell, OF, King HS (Tampa, Fla.), 11.6 WAR (Actual: 2nd round, Toronto Blue Jays)

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

The Astros take Harnisch at No. 22 in our alternate universe, and so he is discussed at length in Part 3. From Baltimore’s standpoint, the absence of Harnisch prevents the Orioles from trading him, Steve Finley (who is taken by the White Sox at No. 5 in our reality), and Curt Schilling to Houston for Glenn Davis. The absence of Finley already took care of that, so the only additional benefit from not drafting Harnisch is… well, the acquisition of Bell in his place, which is a minor net loss.

Bell is the third straight real-life second-round pick taken in our revised draft. In fact, the second round was pretty strong in ’87. Here are the top 5 picks by WAR:

  1. Albert Belle, 37.4
  2. Burba, 13.6
  3. Hundley, 12.3
  4. Bell, 11.6
  5. Pete Schourek, 5.2

Bell is perhaps best known for his apparent indifference on the field. As a rookie, he frustrated Toronto manager Cito Gaston to the point where the Blue Jays traded the highly regarded prospect for journeyman outfielder Darrin Jackson.

Then there was Bell’s infamous “Operation Shutdown”, in which the man who hit .173/.287/.288 in 2001 expressed dissatisfaction at having to compete for a job in spring training the following year. Of course, he didn’t compete and that was the last anyone saw of Bell.

It’s a credit to Bell’s talent level that he managed to enjoy a few productive years (notably ’94, ’95 and ’98) despite such incidents. Bell wouldn’t have helped the Orioles much, though. Sure, he would have represented a huge upgrade over Mike Devereaux (.203/.256/.332, 48 OPS+) in 1994, but the work stoppage that caused cancellation of the postseason would have rendered that moot. The Orioles finished 15 games out of first place the following year, and in ’98, they were up to their ears in OF/DH types.

All things considered, the substitution of Bell for Harnisch causes no more than the smallest of ripples in the Orioles’ history.

28. Montreal Expos

Actual pick: Tyrone Kingwood, OF, Imperial Valley JC (Imperial, Calif.), N/A
Revised pick: Mike Stanton, LHP, Alvin CC (Alvin, Texas), 11.5 WAR (Actual: 6th round, Atlanta Braves)

Kingwood advanced as far as Triple-A, although he never moved past A-ball while in the Expos organization. Lack of power, plate discipline and base-stealing efficiency proved to be too much to overcome. In his first full professional season, the 22-year-old Kingwood hit .286/.315/.327 at West Palm Beach of the Florida State League. He followed that with a .256/.281/.343 showing at the same level. After kicking around in the Orioles, Mariners and Tigers systems, Kingwood retired in 1992 at age 26.

Stanton, not to be confused with the current Marlins outfielder of the same name or the right-hander who pitched for four teams in the early-’80s, enjoyed a long and successful big-league career performing in a variety of relief roles. He won 63 games, saved 84 and won championships in three consecutive seasons (1998-2000 Yankees), going 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA and one save in 20 World Series appearances. Stanton made the 2001 American League All-Star team and is second all-time to Jesse Orosco in games pitched (1,178).

Although Kingwood never reached the big leagues, Stanton’s presence on the Expos would not have changed that franchise’s fate in any meaningful way. His best seasons came in 1991, 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2002. Although the Expos finished above .500 in two of those seasons (1996, 2002), Stanton’s performance wasn’t enough better than that of, say, Omar Daal to net them the two additional wins necessary to overtake the Dodgers for the NL wild card in ’96. Meanwhile, the ’02 squad finished 12 games out of a playoff spot.

29. Texas Rangers

Actual pick: Mark Petkovsek, RHP, U. of Texas (Austin, Texas), 0.3 WAR
Revised pick: Bill Spiers, SS, Clemson U. (Clemson, S.C.), 10.7 WAR (Actual: 1st round, Milwaukee Brewers)

The second Longhorn taken in the ’87 draft (San Diego picked Kevin Garner at no. 10), Petkovsek was a college teammate of former All-Star left-hander Greg Swindell. Although Petkovsek (think Jorge Sosa) didn’t enjoy Swindell’s level of success, he did have his moments, winning 11 games for St. Louis in 1996 and 10 for the Angels in 1999. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Petkovsek’s career in Arlington comprised 86 innings of 7.53 ERA (62 ERA+).

We discussed Spiers in Part 2. The main thing to know about him for our present purposes is that his one monster year (.320/.438/.481, 145 OPS+ in 1997) coincided with the one season in a four-year stretch from 1996 to 1999 where the Rangers didn’t win the AL West. They finished in third place, 13 games back of the Mariners. For as much of an improvement as Spiers would have been over the likes of Benji Gil and Dean Palmer, his performance wouldn’t have altered the Rangers’ position in the standings that year.

Spiers might have helped in ’98, when Texas had Royce Clayton, Kevin Elster, Fernando Tatis, and Todd Zeile manning the left side of the infield. Would he have been enough to help the Rangers overcome a 114-win Yankees team in the ALDS that year? Not even close.

30. Detroit Tigers

Actual pick: Travis Fryman, SS, Gonzalez Tate HS (Pensacola, Fla.), 32.5 WAR
Revised pick: Gil Heredia, RHP, U. of Arizona (Tucson, Ariz.), 9.0 WAR (Actual: 9th round, San Francisco Giants)

Only four picks in our revised draft end up worse than the actual pick. This is one of them:

Team No Actual   Revised  difWAR
Hou  22 Biggio   Harnisch  -50.7
Det  30 Fryman   Heredia   -23.5
KC    9 Appier   Cirillo   -16.7
Bal  27 Harnisch Bell      - 3.9

We’ve discussed Fryman in Part 2 (Padres take him at No. 10 in our alternate universe). The Tigers sported a winning record twice (1991, 1993) in Fryman’s 13 big-league seasons and only once finished higher than third place in their division. For as good a player as he was, his absence wouldn’t have had a profound impact on Detroit’s fortunes.

Heredia was a marginal talent, comparable to someone like Elmer Dessens. Previously drafted in ’84 (Pirates) and ’85 (Orioles), Heredia took a long time to establish himself at the big-league level.

Heredia enjoyed a couple decent seasons toward the end of his career, pitching for Oakland. Stick him in Willie Blair’s spot on the ’99 roster and the Tigers break 70 wins. Stick him in Dave Mlicki’s spot the following year and there’s a decent chance they reach .500.

31. California Angels

Actual pick: David Holdridge, RHP, Ocean View HS (Huntington Beach, Calif.), 0.0 WAR
Revised pick: Steve Sparks, RHP, Sam Houston State U. (Huntsville, Texas), 8.5 WAR (Actual: 5th round, Milwaukee Brewers)

Career highlights for Holdridge: {exp:list_maker}67-80, 4.51 ERA in 12 minor-league seasons
Traded by the Angels to the Phillies straight up for Lance Parrish in 1988
Taken by the Angels from the Phillies in the 1991 Rule 5 draft
Won 12 games at Palm Springs in 1992
Made 7 relief appearances for the Mariners in 1998
Struck out Hall of Famer Cal Ripken the only time the two faced each other
{/exp:list_maker}As for Sparks, although the knuckleballer’s big-league career was hardly distinguished, it did have a few high points. In fact, one of them came in 1998, when he pitched for the Angels, who had signed him as a free agent. He went 9-4 with a 4.34 ERA (110 ERA+) for Anaheim that year.

Sparks slipped the following season and eventually found himself in Detroit, where he enjoyed success in 2000 and 2001. Sparks led the AL with eight shutouts in ’01. The Angels weren’t close to contending in either of those years, so his absence meant nothing. While they won the World Series the next season, Sparks endured the worst stretch of his career (8-16, 5.52 ERA, 77 ERA+). Again, he would have made no difference.

Finally, no discussion of Sparks would be complete without mentioning the phone book incident. Short version: He once dislocated his left (non-throwing) shoulder trying to rip a phone book in half after seeing a motivational speaker do the same.

This isn’t relevant to anything, but it makes for a good story. And when discussing the relative merits of guys like Holdridge and Sparks, one needs good stories.

32. Boston Red Sox

Actual pick: Bob Zupcic, OF, Oral Roberts U. (Tulsa, Okla.), -0.8 WAR
Revised pick: Mike Remlinger, LHP, Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H.), 8.4 WAR (Actual: 1st round, San Francisco Giants)

Zupcic, who was sort of a weaker-hitting Mitch Maier, logged more than 300 plate appearances in both 1992 and 1993. Not surprisingly, the Red Sox won 73 and 80 games in those years, respectively. After playing 36 more big-league games in 1994, Zupcic returned to the minors, where he finished his career with Bangor of the independent Northeast League in 1997.

We’ve discussed Remlinger in Part 2. His best seasons came from 1999 to 2002. The Red Sox finished in second place in the AL East each of those years, reaching the postseason as the wild card in ’99.

After defeating Cleveland in the ALDS that year, Boston lost to the Yankees, 4-1, in the ALCS. Remlinger went 10-1 with a 2.37 ERA (190 ERA+) during the regular season but struggled in October (6.10 ERA in 9 appearances) for the Braves; in fact, he served up a walk-off homer to Chad Curtis in Game 3 of the World Series against those Yankees. If Remlinger couldn’t take care of them as a member of the Braves, there’s no reason to believe he could have done it with the Red Sox.

As with many of the picks toward the end of the first round in 1987, the revised version wouldn’t have made an appreciable difference over the actual version. This is as much a commentary on the depth of available talent in a given draft as anything else.

Did Remlinger have a better career than Zupcic? Certainly. Does it matter? Almost certainly not.

References & Resources

Here is the entire revised draft:

No. Tm  Actual           Revised        Where taken
1.  Sea Ken Griffey Jr.  Griffey         1st round, Sea
2.  Pit Mark Merchant    Mike Mussina   11th round, Bal (DNS)
3.  Min Willie Banks     Craig Biggio    1st round, Hou
4.  ChN Mike Harkey      Kevin Appier    1st round, KC
5.  ChA Jack McDowell    Steve Finley   13th round, Bal
6.  Atl Derek Lilliquist Reggie Sanders  7th round, Cin
7.  Bal Chris Myers      Ray Lankford    3rd round, StL
8.  LA  Dan Opperman     Albert Belle    2nd round, Cle
9.  KC  Appier           Jeff Cirillo   37th round, ChN (DNS)
10. SD  Kevin Garner     Travis Fryman   1st round, Det
11. Oak Lee Tinsley      McDowell        1st round, ChA
12. Mtl Delino DeShields Jeff Conine    58th round, KC
13. Mil Bill Spiers      Scott Erickson 34th round, Hou (DNS)
14. StL Cris Carpenter   Bret Boone     28th round, Min (DNS)
15. Bal Brad DuVall      DeShields       1st round, Mtl
16. SF  Mike Remlinger   Mike Timlin     5th round, Tor
17. Tor Alex Sanchez     Darryl Kile    30th round, Hou
18. Cin Jack Armstrong   Jeromy Burnitz 24th round, Mil (DNS)
19. Tex Brian Bohanon    Brad Ausmus    48th round, NYA
20. Det Bill Henderson   Robb Nen       32nd round, Tex
21. Det Steve Pegues     Dave Hollins    6th round, SD
22. Hou Biggio           Pete Harnisch   1st round, Bal
23. Tex Bill Haselman    Scott Brosius  20th round, Oak
24. NYN Chris Donnels    Dan Wilson     26th round, NYN (DNS)
25. Cal John Orton       Dave Burba      2nd round, Sea
26. Bos Reggie Harris    Todd Hundley    2nd round, NYN
27. Bal Harnisch         Derek Bell      2nd round, Tor
28. Mtl Tyrone Kingwood  Mike Stanton    6th round, Atl
29. Tex Mark Petkovsek   Spiers          1st round, Mil
30. Det Fryman           Gil Heredia     9th round, SF
31. Cal David Holdridge  Steve Sparks    5th round, Mil
32. Bos Bob Zupcic       Remlinger       1st round, SF

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