Scouting is not an exact science and being selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft doesn’t guarantee a long big-league career.
The fates of the 18 Sacramento-area players selected in the first round before Elk Grove’s Derek Hill was taken at No. 23 by the Detroit Tigers on Thursday have ranged widely, from potential Hall of Famers to those who never played in a major-league park.
Derrek Lee (El Camino High), the San Diego Padres’ first pick in 1993, played 15 years and was a two-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Glove winner, a Silver Slugger winner and the National League batting champion with the Chicago Cubs in 2005. He won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and should get his name on the Hall of Fame ballot when he becomes eligible in 2017. Lee’s $600,000 signing bonus was a bargain.
On the other end of the spectrum is Casey Weathers (Laguna Creek, Sacramento City), who had a successful senior season at Vanderbilt when he led the team in saves and tied for the lead in wins. He was named a first-team All- American and was a finalist for National Stopper of the Year, and the scouting report on him was that he had “two power offerings and durability.”
The Colorado Rockies selected Weathers with the eighth pick in 2007, but by 2009 he had Tommy John surgery to repair his pitching elbow. He battled control issues with the Rockies’ farm system in 2010 and 2011 and struggled in the Arizona Fall League in 2011. He was traded to the Cubs and played in Double A in 2012. He was signed and released by the Giants in 2013. On May 26, he signed with the Tampa Bay Rays but hasn’t played this season.
Despite still hanging on, Weathers has to be considered a bust and and a waste of a $1.8 million signing bonus, the largest for a Sacramento-area player.
Unfortunately, stories like Weathers’ outnumber stories like Lee’s.
In March 1969, Andy Finlay (Burbank), the No. 12 pick in 1967 by Atlanta, fell asleep while driving across the country to the Braves’ spring training site in West Palm Beach, Fla. He crashed through a chain-link fence, collided with a concrete abutment and was seriously injured.
He was just 40 miles from camp.
“I remember the accident very well,” Atlanta scout Bill Wight said in 1999. “I remember telling Andy I didn’t think it was a good idea to drive all that way and have a car at spring training. Too many things can happen.
“After the accident, he was never the same. He suffered dizzy spells and always saw a halo around the ball. Tool-wise, no one could beat him. He was an impact player. He had great instincts. He was polished and confident. He knew he could play. We eventually had to give up on him. It was a shame what happened.”
Injuries have derailed other area players’ careers.
In 1971, Taylor Duncan (Grant) was the No. 10 pick by Atlanta. But he broke an ankle sliding into second base during his first minor-league season, limiting his speed and range, and he never reached his potential.
“I really believe Duncan could have been as good as Joe Morgan,” said Wight, who also signed area players Dusty Baker (Del Campo), Rowland Office (McClatchy) and Jeff Blauser (Placer, Sacramento City.) “He had great range and was a big offensive player.”
Tim Wheeler (El Camino, Sacramento State) was Colorado’s first pick in 2009 and is now in his second Triple-A season. Wheeler broke his hamate bone in his right wrist in 2012, and the sweet stroke that produced 33 homers in Double A in 2011 hasn’t returned.
Others just struggled with the game.
In 1972, three area players were drafted in the first round: Mike Ondina (Cordova), No. 12, Chicago White Sox; Joel Bishop (McClatchy), No. 16, Boston; and Jerry Manuel (Cordova), No. 20, Detroit. Of the three, only Manuel made the majors, but he hit just .150 in 127 at-bats over five seasons and found more success as a manager.
Mark McDermott is a freelance writer specializing in Sacramento-area baseball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.