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January, 2009

A Brief History of the BDBL Farm Draft

Year: 1999
#1 pick: Rick Ankiel (California)
Best pick: Kris Benson (24th pick of the 4th round by Ft. Lauderdale)
Worst pick: Jason Grilli (#3 overall pick by Antioch)
# college players selected: 1 (Mark Mulder)
# high school players selected: 0
# Japanese players selected: 1 (Alfonso Soriano)

In the beginning, way back in January of 1999, we began with a five-man farm roster.  The farm draft was held immediately after the regular draft, and any player not selected (either on the disk or not) was eligible to be selected.  Still, many owners had problems filling their five-man rosters, including six teams who passed and one team (the Plattsburgh Champs) who jokingly filled their final two farm slots with Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.

Back then, the only sources of information we had to research our farm clubs was Baseball America (both the print and -- if you were willing to fork over the $60 fee -- on-line editions), off-hand comments from Peter Gammons' weekly column, the minor league section of Baseball Weekly and John Sickels' monthly column for  There were also a few magazines and books dedicated to the minor leagues, but these weren't published until February at the earliest, and were therefore useless to us.

The #1 pick of the draft, selected by the California Storm, seemed like a no-brainer.  Rick Ankiel was the undisputed #1 prospect in baseball; a left-handed flamethrower who dominated the High-A level (126 IP, 91 H, 8 HR, 38 BB, 181 K) as an 18-year-old just out of high school.  He would trade hands numerous times over the next four years before famously imploding and then resurrecting his career as a power-hitting outfielder.

In addition to Ankiel, several of the players selected in the first round have become legendary for their failure to fulfill the lofty expectations many experts envisioned for them, including Ruben Mateo (#2 overall), Jason Grilli, Alex Escobar, Ryan Anderson, Corey Patterson, Matt Riley, Eric Munson, Chad Hermanson, Ben Petrick and Sean Burroughs.

Of course, there were also a few success stories mixed into that first round group, including Lance Berkman, Nick Johnson (when healthy), Brad Penny and Pat Burrell.  Oddly, there were more successes in Round Two than in Round One: Carlos Lee, A.J. Burnett, Alfonso Soriano, Rafael Furcal, Ted Lilly, C.C Sabathia, Mark Mulder (the first college player ever selected in the BDBL), Freddy Garcia and Octavio Dotel.

By far, the most successful farm draft was held by Ft. Lauderdale Marlins GM Bryan Sakolsky, who selected Pablo Ozuna, Lee, Jacques Jones, Benson and Seth Etherton with his five picks.  Of those five, Lee, Jones and Benson each became stars within the next two seasons.

Year: 2000
#1 pick: Luis Rivas (New Milford)
Best pick: Ben Sheets (23rd pick of the 3rd round by Los Altos)
Worst pick: Luis Rivas
# college: 4
# high school: 0
# Japan: 1

Back in the early days of the BDBL, unlimited farm free agent pick-ups were allowed throughout the year.  Theoretically, this meant that the farm draft pool was watered down, as most of the best players had already been selected during the previous season.  During the final two chapters of 1999, for example, top-100 prospects Chin-Feng Chen, Eric Gagne, Josh Hamilton, Terrance Long, Joe Nathan, Jason LaRue, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mays, Tim Hudson, Hee Seop Choi and Kip Wells, plus top college prospect Mark Teixeira, were all signed as free agents.  Yet, there was still plenty of talent to go around in the 2000 draft.

During the 1999 season, the league voted to expand the farm roster to ten players.  This was a hotly-contested vote at the time, and one owner even resigned over it.  He simply couldn't imagine how he could ever fill so many farm slots, and believed it would take far too much time to research the lower levels of the minor leagues for worthy players.

After losing 114 games the previous season, Billy Romaniello earned the #1 pick of the draft -- a pick he used to inexplicably select Luis Rivas.  The 19-year-old infielder had hit just .254/.309/.378 in Double-A the year before, so I'm not sure what Billy saw in him.  But I'm sure his pick was a relief to all of the teams picking after him.

That winter, Chicago had traded their first round pick (#2 overall) in exchange for Ryan Dempster.  So it was the Madison Fighting Mimes who selected recent Cuban defector Danys Baez.  Andy Pratt, a non-descript pitcher who'd posted a 2.89 ERA in 92+ innings in Single-A the year before, then went #3 overall to the Kentucky Fox.  And Barry Zito -- a first-round pick from the 1999 MLB draft -- then went #4 overall to the Phoenix Predators.

The first college pick of the draft came in the 7th overall pick, when the Salem Cowtippers selected (using Madison's traded pick) slugger Xavier Nady, whom most considered to be the top college prospect at the time.  There were four college players selected in the draft, and none of them (Nady, Ben Diggins, Tyrell Godwin and Patrick Boyd) ever amounted to much in the BDBL.  Of the four, only Nady ever actually played in a BDBL game!

There were several teams whose drafts consisted completely of players that never played a single inning in the BDBL, but one team stands out in particular as having a completely nonsensical draft.  The Boise Bastards, led by Kansas City Royals fan Chris Kamler, made six picks in the draft -- all KC Royals prospects, and none of whom were listed among KC's top 10 prospects by Baseball America!  Needless to say, none of them ever made much a BDBL impact.

The best draft belonged to the Los Altos Undertakers.  After stumbling his first pick (Brad Baisley), Jeff Paulson selected Brett Myers, Ben Sheets and Carlos Pena with his next three picks.  Not bad!

The league's first (true) Japanese pick was made when the Madison Fighting Mimes selected Katsuhiro Sasaki in the second round.  Sasaki had just been signed by the Mariners that winter, and went on to enjoy several good (albeit disappointing, compared to his MLB numbers) seasons over the next four seasons.  He wrapped up his BDBL career with a 3.74 ERA in 219+ innings, with 190 hits allowed, 78 walks, 222 K's and 73 saves -- all at only $4.5 million in salary combined.

Year: 2001
#1 pick: Adam Johnson (Salem Cowtippers)
Best pick: Albert Pujols (18th overall in the 1st round by Kentucky)
Worst pick: Adam Johnson
# college: 2
# high school: 2
# Japan: 1

The 2001 BDBL farm draft has become legendary due to the overwhelming amount of talent that was available in that year's pool.  The first round alone included six players who would become future Cy Young/MVP candidates: Ichiro Suzuki, Roy Oswalt, Mark Prior, Justin Morneau, Albert Pujols and Jake Peavy.  Carl Crawford (2nd round), Hank Blalock (3rd), Adam Wainwright (3rd), Carlos Zambrano (3rd), Chase Utley (3rd) and John Lackey (4th) also came out of this draft.

As I'm sure everyone is well aware of by now, the first three picks in this draft were all traded.  I acquired the first two picks, with the intention of signing recently-signed Japanese sensation Ichiro Suzuki with the #1 overall pick.  But in a decision I regret every waking moment, I traded the #2 pick, and then used the #1 pick to select Adam Johnson.  Marlboro ended up with Ichiro, and Tom DiStefano -- who'd traded his #1 pick for Chipper Jones -- chose Roy Oswalt with the third overall pick.  The rest is history.

By far, the greatest draft pick in BDBL history was Bobby Sylvester's selection of Albert Pujols with the 18th overall pick of the draft.  At the time, Pujols was a 20-year-old third baseman who'd jumped from Low-A to Triple-A (just three games) during the 2000 season.  He hit .324/.389/.565 in Low-A, and .284/.341/.481 at High-A, but there didn't seem to be much indication that he was on the verge of becoming the greatest hitter in league history.  That spring, in fact, Baseball America ranked Pujols as only the 42nd best prospect in baseball!

Needless to say, Bobby was the biggest winner of this draft, as he walked away not only with Pujols, but with Lackey as well.  And the biggest loser?  Anyone who passed on Pujols in favor of useless turds like Johnson, Joe Torres, Brad Baker, Christian Parra, Clint Wiebl, Brad Cresse, Donnie Bridges, Mike MacDougal, Andy VanHekkan and Mike Stodolka.

In particular, both myself and Tom had TWO opportunities in the first round to draft Pujols ahead of Bobby.  We can forgive Tom, since one of his two picks was Oswalt.  But there is simply no forgiving myself for selecting Adam Johnson and Brad Cresse.

And then, there is Johnny Bo.  Poor Johnny Bo.  I hate to pick on him, but...with the sixth overall pick of the draft, John selected...wait for it...TOE NASH.  As awful as I feel about drafting Johnson and Cresse, at least I didn't draft Toe Nash!

Year: 2002
#1 pick: Kaz Ishii
Best pick: Hideki Matsui (17th pick of the 5th round by Bear Country)
Worst pick: Gary Burnham (5th overall pick by Arizona)
# college: 2
# high school: 1
# Japan: 5

On the heels of Kaz Sasaki and Ichiro Suzuki's successful migrations to the US, Kaz Ishii seemed like a safe bet to generate an instant return on investment.  But with the #1 overall pick in the draft, Tom DiStefano wasn't thrilled with the idea of owning Ishii.  So he made a pre-draft deal with the New York Knights to send Ishii (plus Jason Christiansen) to the Knights in exchange for prospects Kelly Johnson and Chin-Feng Chen.  Needless to say, Tom made out well on that deal.

After the failures of Nady, Diggins, Godwin and Boyd in 2000, and Josh Karp in 2001, teams appeared to sour on the concept of drafting college players in 2002.  Instead, they tried to jump on the Japanese bandwagon.  Matt Clemm hit paydirt with his 5th round selection of Hideki Matsui (who was still a year away from free agency at the time), and Southern Cal's second-round selection of So Taguchi generated a decent fourth outfielder.  But the teams that drafted Ishii, Satoru Komiyama (4th round) and Ryo Kumagai (2nd) all swung and missed.

Only two college players were selected in the '02 draft, both by Salem: Cape League MVP Tim Hummel (2nd round) and Canadian sensation Jeff Francis (4th round.)  And for the first time in league history, a high school player was selected in the draft with Stamford's 5th round pick of Mike Jones.

The best picks in this draft were all selected after the first round.  In addition to Matsui and Francis, Jose Reyes (3rd round), Erik Bedard (4th), David Wright (3rd), Gavin Floyd (2nd) and Grady Sizemore (3rd) were all selected after the first round.

Both Salem (Sizemore and Francis) and Kansas (Wright and Floyd) enjoyed successful farm drafts.  And Manchester, who took a flier on a raw 17-year-old Miguel Cabrera with the #3 pick overall, walked away with a franchise player.  The team with the worst draft is a toss-up between New Milford and Cleveland.  New Milford ended up with Mike Gosling, Brian Tallet and Craig Anderson despite having the 8th pick of every round in the draft, while Cleveland selected a league-record eight players, but only one of them (the near-useless Omar Infante) ever played an inning in the BDBL.

Year: 2003
#1 pick: Jose Contreras
Best pick: Justin Verlander (22nd pick of the 8th round by Salem)
Worst pick: Joe Valentine (2nd overall pick by New Milford)
# college: 23
# high school: 9
# Japan: 2

In 2003, our farm rosters expanded once again; this time to fifteen.  As a result of this, combined with better access to amateur scouting information through web sites like TeamOneBaseball and Baseball America, the league drafting philosophy clearly shifted toward amateur talent.  The number of college and high school players drafted in 2003 was nearly triple the number of amateur players selected in the previous four years combined.

Of the 32 amateur players selected in this draft, only Scott Baker, Carlos Quentin, Justin Verlander and Justin Upton ever amounted to anything in the major leagues.  (Note: Jeff Clement, drafted as a college freshman, still has a shot at becoming something.)  Jeff Paulson's selected of Upton with the final pick of the first round generated a ton of laughter and commentary at the time, but after six years of waiting, he is finally paying some dividends.  Paulson selected nine players in the '03 draft: four out of high school and three out of college.  This forever cemented his reputation as a BDBL farm club pedophile.  Amazingly, aside from Upton, none of Paulson's other picks ever amounted to much.

Paul Marazita of the Zoots also focused heavily on the amateur pool, selecting six college players with his eight picks.  Of those eight players, none of them ever played a single inning in the BDBL.  I also focused heavily on amateur talent, selecting four college players, one high schooler and one Japanese (actually, Korean) player out of my nine picks.  Included in that group were Clement, Phil Humber, Manny Parra (who was a recently-signed junior college draft-and-follow) and Justin Verlander.

Bucking the trend was DiStefano, who stuck to the professional pool with great success, as he walked away with Jhonny Peralta, Edwin Encarnacion, Daniel Cabrera and John Maine.  Bobby Sylvester also enjoyed a successful draft, selecting James Loney, Francisco Liriano and Edwin Jackson.  Unfortunately for Bobby, he either traded (Loney) or released (Liriano and Jackson) all three players before the end of the year.

But the Manchester Irish Rebels enjoyed the most successful draft of all, as Jim Doyle tested out yet another new strategy.  Rather than do all the research himself, Doyle simply trusted the MLB scouts to do the work for him, and selected the first player available from the 2002 MLB draft.  The strategy proved brilliant, as the Irish Rebels ended up with Jeremy Hermida (2nd round), Joe Saunders (3rd), Cole Hamels (4th) and Matt Cain (5th.)

The most hilarious draft went to Romaniello of the Blazers.  First, taking his new partner Anthony Peburn's advice, he selected reliever Joe Valentine with the #2 overall pick of the draft.  Then, in Round #5, he selected...wait for it...TOE NASH.

The least successful draft belonged to Phil Geisel of the Litchfield Lightning, who couldn't be bothered to research for the draft, so he asked me to fill in for him.  Hey, I did the best I could.  Geisel ended up with Seung Song, Kelly Shoppach, Rontrez Johnson, Kenny Baugh, Dominic Rich, Rob Quinlan, Brad Thomas and Jamie D'Antona.  Geisel's only instruction for me was to pick players who would make an impact sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, those guys didn't make much of an impact ever.

Year: 2004
#1 pick: Maels Rodriguez (Southern Cal)
Best pick: Felix Hernandez (19th overall pick of the 1st round by Allentown)
Worst pick: Maels Rodriguez
# college: 5
# high school: 2
# Japan: 3

For the third year in a row, the #1 pick of the farm draft was either a recently-signed Japanese pitcher or a recently-defected Cuban immigrant.  Maels Rodriguez was hyped to be a younger, better version of Jose Contreras, but that turned out to be nothing but Communist propaganda.

By 2004, most of the league paid pretty close attention to amateur talent throughout the year.  And with farm free agent pick-ups still allowed in every chapter, the amateur class of 2004 had already been picked over pretty thoroughly by the time the draft was held.  As a result, only seven amateurs were signed in 2004: Nick Adenhart (3rd round), Phil Humber (5th), Danny Putnam (4th), Eddy Martinez-Esteve (5th), Greg Golson (5th) and Ryan Braun (2nd.)  Stamford walked away with a gem in Braun, although we all know how that story ended.

Despite having the 19th pick in the draft, DiStefano once again walked away with another franchise pitcher when he took a flier on 17-year-old Felix Hernandez.  Today, it's difficult to imagine that a 17-year-old who allowed 52 hits in 69 innings, with 91 strikeouts while pitching in A-ball would ever slip to the 19th pick of the first round, yet that's exactly what happened.

Like most years, many of the best picks in the draft came in the later rounds, including Josh Willingham (3rd round), Ryan Howard (4th) and Brian McCann (4th).  Tony Chamra's selection of McCann was his third selection of a catcher in a row, and all three (McCann, Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit) turned out to be useful backstops.  His #1 pick that year, however, was Chad Billingsley, which means Villanova enjoyed the best draft of any team in 2004.

Jim Doyle also enjoyed another successful draft using his patented formula for the second year in a row, walking away with Nick Markakis (2nd round), Deric Barton (3rd) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (4th.)

There are several contenders for the worst team draft.  I selected Brent Clevlen, Lou Palmisano, Aaron Baldiris, Putnam, Martinez-Esteve, Jeremy Cleveland, Steven Doetsch, Kameron Loe and Kendry Morales.  I don't know what I was thinking, either.  Cleveland selected nine players; only one of which (Josh Fields) has played an inning in the BDBL.  And if it weren't for the Hernandez selection, Allentown's draft would have been a disaster as well.  But it was probably Gillette who won the award for worst draft: Chadd Blasko (selected with the #2 overall pick), Steven Shell, Dennis Sarfate, Greg Aquino, Luis Soto and Wladimir Balentien.  Ugh.

Year: 2005
#1 pick: Brandon McCarthy (Sylmar)
Best pick: Troy Tulowitzki (10th round by Cleveland)
Worst pick: Mitch Einertson (#3 overall pick by Silicon Valley)
# college: 8
# high school: 3
# Japan: 8

After six years of relentless lobbying, Jeff Paulson finally pushed through legislation that limited farm free agent pick-ups to only one chapter per year, beginning in the 2004 season.  The hope was that this would allow for a deeper farm draft pool the following January.  After one year, however, the experiment didn't look very promising, as the 2005 draft pool looked extremely shallow.

There were some bargains to be had, however, including Shaun Marcum (2nd round), Jonathan Papelbon (3rd), Francisco Liriano (#10 overall), Dustin Pedroia (2nd), Jon Lester (3rd), Troy Tulowitzki (10th), Chien-Ming Wang (2nd), Cameron Maybin (#20 overall) and Kenji Johjima (2nd).

2005 marked the first year of Steve Osborne's strategy of cornering the market on Japanese players.  He began by selecting two players (Tadahito Iguchi and Norihiro Nakamura) who were actively negotiating with US teams, and then surprised (and disgusted) many people by selecting Daisuke Matsuzaka with his 3rd round pick.  At the time, Matsuzaka was firmly entrenched in Japan, and was not expected to come to the US any time soon.  But rumors had been floating that his team would post him at the end of the season, and several BDBL GM's were hoping to snag Matsuzaka with a late-draft flier.  Only Salem's second-round selection of Johjima prevented Osborne from cornering the market.  In total, eight Japanese players were selected in the '05 draft, which was only a prelude to the Japanese invasion of 2007.

Marlboro GM Ken Kaminski enjoyed a league's most successful draft -- if not in quality, then in quantity.  Phil Hughes, Anibal Sanchez, Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard and Eric Hurley all emerged from that draft as valuable bait for Sharky's trading fetish.  In terms of quality, it's tough to top Matt Clemm's haul of Liriano and Pedroia with his first two picks.

The least successful draft probably belongs to Sylmar GM John Duel.  Despite having the first pick of every round, Duel didn't end up with anyone who would help his team, either through their own contributions or through trade.  McCarthy was a spectacular bomb, and #2 pick Richie Gardner and #3 pick Jason Hammel haven't fared much better.

Year: 2006
#1 pick: Matt Kemp
Best pick: Matt Wieters (3rd pick of 3rd round by Los Altos)
Worst pick: Shane Robinson (#2 overall by Cleveland)
# college: 6
# high school: 4
# Japan: 1

Up until this point, the #1 overall draft pick had become something of a BDBL curse, as all but Contreras had failed to live up to expectations.  Hopefully, the curse ended in 2006.

This was a relatively weak draft class, populated mostly by wild stabs at players in the lowest levels of the minor leagues.  Because of that, there are few outstanding players/prospects who came from this draft: Matt Wieters (3rd round), Dan Uggla (2nd), Fernando Martinez (#4 overall), Austin Jackson (3rd), Max Ramirez (6th), Chris Iannetta (#10 overall), Yunel Escobar (3rd), Colby Rasmus (1st), Kevin Slowey (1st), Clay Buchholz (1st), Matt LaPorta (2nd) and Chase Headley (4th.)

Three (Chris Marrero, LaPorta and Headley) of the four players drafted by Salem reached top-50 prospect status, which gives the Cowtippers the most successful draft based on quantity.  On pure quality, it is difficult to fathom how Matt Wieters reached the third round without being drafted.  The fact that he was still two years away from the draft probably had something to do with it.

It's tough to pick a loser for this draft, since so little time has passed, but aside from Slowey, none of the other six players selected by New Hope look to have much of a chance to make a BDBL impact.

Year: 2007
#1 pick: Kei Igawa (Great Lakes)
Best pick: Josh Hamilton (4th round by Nashville)
Worst pick: Tony Sipp (#7 overall by Cleveland)
# college: 6
# high school: 3
# Japan: 6
# Cuba: 2

As each year passed, more and more GM's began to pay attention to their farm clubs, and competition to secure the best players at the draft intensified to the point where owners were willing to take drastic measures to get the upper hand.  Those drastic measures included selecting players from Cuba (Yadel Marti and Yuliesky Gourriel) who had yet to defect.  The "Cuban" count above reflects those two players, but does not count the two Cuban players selected in this draft (Juan Miranda and Yoslan Herrera) who had already defected, but had yet to play in the US.

Also among those drastic measures was a mad rush to select teenagers from the international market who had yet to play a single inning of professional baseball above the instructional leagues.  It's difficult for me to identify all of these players, but by my count I see five of these players in this draft.

If you tally it all up, no fewer than 22 of the 113 players selected in this farm draft (nearly 20%) had no professional experience whatsoever.  This would become the norm in the drafts to follow.  This was also the first draft that featured a run on Japanese players who were still years away from coming to the US -- another pattern that would repeat over the years to come.

The clear winner of this draft was Steve Osborne, who walked away with Joakim Soria (1st round) and Josh Hamilton (4th).  Both became instant impact players.  The Blazers also scored an instant bargain in 5th-round pick Hideki Okajima.  No other clear winners or losers stand out at this point.

Year: 2008
#1 pick: Hiroki Kuroda
Best pick: Chris Davis (11th overall by San Antonio)
Worst pick: Peter Kozma (5th overall by Manchester)
# college: 12
# high school: 7
# Japan: 11

In addition to the 30 amateurs listed above, there were four more teenage international signings in this draft, plus Cuban defector Alexei Ramirez.  So, in total, at least 35 out of the 110 players signed in this draft (nearly one-third) had no professional experience whatsoever.  This was the draft where the league really went nuts for Japanese players.  Not only were players signed who were openly negotiating (or had already signed) with big league teams, but players who were years away from free agency (such as first-round pick Yu Darvish) were selected in this draft.  And, for the first time in league history, a Japanese college player (Yuki Saito) was even selected -- in the second round!

Again, it's too early to proclaim winners and losers from this draft, though San Antonio's haul of Chris Davis, Max Ramirez and Mat Gamel sure looks good at this point.


As I type, we have just wrapped up the 2009 farm draft.  Out of the 98 players selected, they break out as follows (to the best of my ability to identify them):

Independent leaguers: 1
College juniors:
College sophomores: 3
High school seniors: 8
High school juniors: 1
High school sophomores: 2
Japan/Korea: 2
Cuba: 1
International teenage signings: 3

So that's at least 27 out of 98 (28%) with no professional experience whatsoever (and I'm sure I'm missing quite a few international signings that have yet to play pro ball, as I don't recognize most of the names just drafted.)

Currently, the top 50 prospects (as ranked by are all members of a BDBL roster.  Most likely, so are the 100 next-best prospects.  All of the top Japanese players (according to those listed in Baseball Forecaster) are gone.  So is the top Cuban refugee, who has yet to sign with a US team.  Among the players listed in Baseball America's top 100 draft prospects for the 2009 MLB draft, the top 14 on that list are taken.  So are #16-#20, and eight others among the top 40.

On BA's list of top college freshmen, #1-#3 are already members of a BDBL roster.  So are #11 and #12.  And the top high school junior position player is also taken, which means the MLB draft class of 2010 is already pretty much locked up.  And in 2011 -- which is still two years away -- the top two high school players are already gone.

If it seems as though there are no untapped prospect wells left to tap, it's only because it's true.  After ten years of playing in this league, there are no secrets left, and no web sites or other sources of information that are exclusive to any of us.  And with only one two opportunities per year to acquire these players, the days of competitive imbalance are over.  Today, if you would like to own one of the top ten farm free agents available, you'd better own one of the ten worst records in the league or you'll be out of luck.  Welcome to a new era in competitive fantasy baseball.