With all the success the Los Angeles Dodgers have seen in the MLB Draft, it is easy to forget the biggest draft busts the team has endured in the first round.
As we inch closer and closer to the 2020 MLB Draft, one has to sit back and admire the recent draft history of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team’s current roster features a slew of home-grown talent, including five first-round picks.
But as with any organization wading its way through the gamble that is the MLB Draft, the Dodgers have also had their fair share of duds. That’s really the nature of the MLB Draft, where you pick based on projections and hope that the player develops into a major league asset. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.
What the Dodgers have done well recently is to mitigate those false starts and find guys that have not only reached their fullest potential but to also fill areas of need on the major league roster.
But what of those picks that didn’t work out? Of the 67 selections that the Dodgers have made in their history, 31 have not or have yet to play in the big leagues (three are recent picks, still in the system). Another 12 have crested to the majors, but have played at replacement level or lower (according to bWAR).
So with the first round of the MLB Draft being tonight, we thought it would be fun to look at some of the biggest first-round busts in Dodgers’ history.
Bobby Valentine – 1968 MLB Draft, 5th Overall
Back before he ever donned a fake mustache in the dugout as a manager, Bobby Valentine was one of the most hyped prospects in the Dodgers organization. Drafted by the team with the fifth overall pick in 1968, Valentine came to the Dodgers as a football and baseball star in both high schools and at the University of Southern California. He made an immediate impact in the minor leagues as well, winning the Pioneer League MVP by hitting .281/.402/.460 with 62 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.
Valentine would make his MLB debut in 1969 but wouldn’t see a steady roster spot in Los Angeles until 1971. In three years with the big league club, he would hit .263/.306/.324 with a wRC+ of 73 and a .273 wOBA. The Dodgers would trade him to the Angels, along with Dusty Baker, Bill Singer, and others, bringing back Ken McMullen and Andy Messersmith. Valentine would last 10 seasons with five teams, hitting a combined .260/.315/.326 with a career bWAR of just 2.0. Of course, he made a much bigger headway as a manager.
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Chris Gwynn – 1985 MLB Draft, 10th Overall
When your older brother is a Hall of Famer and considered to be one of the best pure hitters in MLB history, there is a lot of pressure to succeed. Like Tony, Chris Gwynn was drafted out of San Diego State University and appeared to have the same potential to stardom. However, despite a 10-year career at the big league level, Chris was never close to Tony’s level.
After making a quick climb through the minors, Gwynn found MLB pitching much more difficult to handle and ultimately settled into a role as a reserve outfielder. In seven years with the Dodgers over two stints, Gwynn hit .251/.293/.374 with 14 home runs and 76 RBI. He would also make stops in both Kansas City and San Diego, but ended his career with a -1.4 bWAR, the second-lowest of any Dodgers first-round pick to play at the major league level.
Bubba Crosby – 1998 MLB Draft, 23rd Overall
Bubba Crosby is one of those classic prospect conundrums. He excelled in the minors, including the upper levels where he sported a .795 career OPS. However, like a lot of hitters, he couldn’t make the adjustment to major league pitching and his progress stopped there.
Over the course of four MLB seasons, Crosby received only 269 plate appearances (250 at-bats) and used them to hit .216/.255/.300 with four home runs and 20 RBI. His -1.6 bWAR is the only one that trumps Gwynn’s low. The Dodgers apparently saw the writing on the wall, only giving him nine games and 12 at-bats before flipping in with Scott Proctor in exchange for Robyn Ventura at the 2003 trade deadline. Of course, Ventura only gave the Dodgers a batting line of .234/.334/.387 and a 0.2 bWAR in the final two seasons of his career, so maybe they shouldn’t count their blessings there either.
Darren Dreifort – 1993 MLB Draft, 2nd Overall
The Los Angeles Dodgers have never held the number one overall pick in the draft and have only picked in the top-5 three times in the team’s history. The highest of those picks was the second overall pick in the 1993 MLB Draft, which they used on Darren Dreifort.
Perhaps it isn’t truly fair to label Dreifort a draft bust. After all, he did play at the MLB level and accrued 7.8 bWAR over the course of a nine-year career. However, he was in a star-studded draft class, immediately following Alex Rodriguez off of the draft board and preceding Torii Hunter, Derrek Lee, Chris Carpenter, Billy Wagner, Jason Varitek (unsigned), and Trot Nixon in the first round and Scott Rolen in the second round. That kind of class creates a ton of expectations.
For his part, Dreifort had his moments. He twice won 12 or more games (1999 and 2000), but his overall track record was nothing to praise. He finished his career with a 48-60 record, a 4.36 ERA, a 4.09 FIP, and an 8.6 K/9. The Dodgers inexplicably gave him a 5-year, $55 million deal following the 2000 season, and were rewarded with 89 appearances (26 starts) over the deal.
Do you think the Dodgers will find a potential star in the 2020 MLB Draft or do they have a potential for another bust?