COMMENTARY | The New York Mets organization and its fans have witnessed a lot of heartbreak over the years.
But, perhaps, most of that massive letdown has been due to poor drafting. Of the 62 players drafted in the first round, 21 (or 33.8%) of them never made it to the major leagues. In terms of quality, only four of the Mets' first-round picks owned a career bWAR over 20.0 (Dwight Gooden, David Wright, Darryl Strawberry, and Jon Matlack).
While there have been many, many bad picks executed by the Mets since 1965, below are arguably the five worst:
Despite originally being tabbed as a "top three" pick, Lastings Milledge slipped to the Mets and their 12th overall selection in the 2003 draft. The Mets handed the then-18-year-old outfielder a $2.2 million signing bonus, and instantly began to tout him as the organization's best outfield prospect since Darryl Strawberry. But that comparison never came to fruition.
While Milledge did enjoy a variety of promising minor league seasons (in particular, during 2004 at Single-A, when he posted a .927 OPS, 15 HR and 26 SB), the right-handed hitter had difficulty staying healthy, and only owned a 91 OPS+ over 391 plate appearances with the Mets in the major leagues. The Mets, sick of Milledge's inconsistencies--and perhaps, his rap career, too--shipped him off to the Washington Nationals in a four-player deal on November 30, 2007.
After bouncing around a few major league organizations, Milledge signed with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 2012. To date, the 28-year-old Milledge has posted a .700 OPS with 5 HR and 6 SB for the Japanese team so far this season.
Not only was Paul Wilson the Mets' first overall pick in the 1994 draft, but Wilson was also a founding member of "Generation K," the young trio of "can't miss" Mets pitching prospects. In 1995, the right-handed pitcher dominated in his first full season in the minor leagues, combining for a 2.41 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 4.41 K/BB between Double-A and Triple-A.
At age 23, Wilson was promoted to The Show in 1996 but didn't impress. The Florida-native hurled a 5.38 ERA (and 75 ERA+), 1.53 WHIP, and 1.54 K/BB over 149 innings. But as disappointing as Wilson's rookie season was, his career took a turn for the worse in November when his inflamed pitching shoulder required torn labrum surgery.
Wilson spent most of the next two seasons recovering from his labrum injury, only pitching a combined 82.6 innings. But in 1999, the 26-year-old endured even more bad luck: Tommy John surgery. To Wilson's credit, he did post a decent 92 ERA+ from 2001 to 2004 with the Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but he never came close to the ace the Mets thought they had picked.
Yes, it's true: Kirk Presley is related to the King of Rock 'n Roll, Elvis Presley. But, then again, Elvis probably, too, would have been hit hard by advanced hitting.
After the Mets picked Presley eighth overall in the 1993 draft--and handing him a $900,000 signing bonus, too--it all went downhill quickly. The right-hander pitched to the tune of a 3.83 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, and 1.15 K/BB--walking almost as many as he struck out. But it only got worse the following season for Presley, as he posted a 5.14 ERA, 2.04 WHIP and 0.62 K/BB (this time, walking more batters than he struck out).
Presley's sophomore season was also the start of a string of arm injuries that would finally do him in by 1998. The 23-year-old retired after the 1998 season, having never advanced to Double-A, while owning a 4.04 ERA, 1.58 WHIP and 1.22 K/BB over just 147 forgettable innings.
Long before Billy Beane was a pioneer sabermetric general manager and subsequent subject of a book-turned-Oscar-nominated-film, Beane was a former first-round draftee. The Mets selected the 18-year-old Beane with the 23rd overall pick in the 1980 draft after being gung-ho about his raw tools.
Yet, ironically, Beane's biggest issue as a hitter was patience: He hardly ever walked. Beane owned a 7.0 percent BB% in the minor leagues, and a horrific 3.4 percent BB% in the major leagues. Needless to say, present-day Billy Beane would never have drafted 1980s Billy Beane.
Beane had a few cups of coffee with the Mets in 1984 and 1985 but on January 16, 1986, the team shipped him off to the Minnesota Twins for Tim Teufel. The right-handed outfielder bounced around between the Twins, Detroit Tigers, and then Oakland Athletics. Beane retired from baseball after the 1989 season and took his first front office position with the Athletics. And the rest, is history.
Steven Chilcott's legend has more to do with what he didn't do than what he did. The Mets drafted the 17-year-old catcher first overall, but Chilcott never made it to the major leagues. Even though that might seem like typical draft lore, Chilcott is actually just one of three first overall picks to never make it to the bigs (Brien Taylor of the New York Yankees and Matt Bush of the San Diego Padres are currently the only other two).
The 1966 draft is also interesting independent of Chilcott. After the Mets woefully selected Chilcott, the then-Kansas City Athletics drafted future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. In addition, 18 rounds later, the Mets wisely plucked third baseman Ron Cey with the 361st overall pick, but Cey declined the Mets' offer. Two years later, Cey would again be drafted--this time by the Los Angeles Dodgers--where he enjoyed a great career, marked by six All-Star appearances, and a lifetime 53.3 bWAR.
While Chilcott did enjoy a good season at Single-A for the Mets in 1971, swatting a .864 OPS with 17 HR, and a 13.9 percent BB%, the bust prospect owned a career .769 OPS in the minor leagues and retired by age 23 due to injury.
Ben Berkon is a freelance sports, humor, and tech writer/blogger from New York City. Berkon's work has been featured on The Huffington Post, The Onion, Contently, Medium, and Rising Apple, and he also manages The Beanball and Blah Blah Berkon, his personal stat-heavy baseball and humor blogs, respectively. He's [unfortunately] been a Mets follower his entire life.
Follow him at @BenBerkon.
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