MLB draft's No. 3 pick has produced Hall of Famers, QBs and bad Detroit Tigers

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Sunday brings the 57th MLB draft, set to begin in Denver at 7 p.m. (and televised on ESPN and MLB Network). The Detroit Tigers have the No. 3 overall pick, getting their choice after the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 1 and the Texas Rangers at No. 2.

It’ll be the fourth time the Tigers select third in the draft, though at least a few previous No. 3 picks have had Michigan ties — Joe Coleman (1965, Senators) went on to star with the Tigers in the early 1970s, Taylor’s Steve Avery (1986, Braves) had some early success in Atlanta and Jose Cruz Jr. (1995, Mariners) would eventually coach with the Tigers for a short period.

Steve Avery, who starred at Taylor Kennedy, was drafted No. 3 overall by the Braves in 1986.
Steve Avery, who starred at Taylor Kennedy, was drafted No. 3 overall by the Braves in 1986.

The third spot in the draft has produced as many Hall of Famers (we’ll get to them) as it has Division I quarterbacks (Jay Schroeder in 1979 — who went on to start in the NFL — and Donovan Tate in 2009, who did not). Meanwhile, the spot has produced one MVP (Robin Yount, 1973 draft), one Cy Young winner (Trevor Bauer, 2011 draft), one pitcher with a perfect game (Philip Humber, 2004 draft) and another pitcher with a no-hitter (Carlos Rodon, 2014 draft).

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Let’s take a look at the three best No. 3 picks, the three worst and, well, the three Tigers.

The good

Ron LeFlore slides under the glove of second baseman Paul Molitor in the third inning for his 51st steal of the year in 1979.
Ron LeFlore slides under the glove of second baseman Paul Molitor in the third inning for his 51st steal of the year in 1979.

Remember those two Hall of Famers we mentioned? Yeah, they’re at the top of the list. But 10 years from now, this list might look different: Manny Machado, who has seven more seasons on his contract with the Padres after this one, is fifth among No. 3 picks in WAR at 43.5, about 30 behind our top two.

Robin Yount, 1973 Brewers

Yount lived the pro baseball life the summer before he was drafted, as he lived with his brother Larry, a 1968 fifth-round pick. The next spring, as a high school senior, he hit .455 and was the Los Angeles Player of the Year. After drafting him, the Brewers sent him to low-A Newark, where he hit .285 with 21 extra-base hits in 64 games. The next season, at age 18, he made the Opening Day roster and appeared in 107 games.

He finally broke through in his seventh season, making the first of three All-Star teams. Over the next decade, he won two MVP awards, one at shortstop (1982) and one as a center fielder (1989). He finished his career after 20 seasons, all in Milwaukee, with 3,142 hits, 251 homers, a .285 average and 77.3 WAR (according to baseball-reference.com); he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999 on the first ballot.

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Paul Molitor, 1977 Brewers

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Molitor was drafted by the Cardinals in 1974, but opted to attend the University of Minnesota instead. He was named All-Big Ten as a sophomore and junior and led the Gophers to the College World Series in 1977. He then signed with the Brewers and crushed the ball at Class-A Burlington, with a .962 OPS in 64 games. The next spring, he won the Brewers’ starting shortstop spot, thanks to injuries and a holdout by Yount. That year, he hit.273 and finished a distant second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Lou Whitaker.

Yount’s return eventually pushed Molitor to second base, injuries pushed him from there to third, and age pushed him to DH in the 1990s. Along the way, he just kept hitting, finishing with a career .306/.369/.448 slash line, seven All-Star berths, four Silver Slugger awards, 3,319 hits over 21 seasons and a spot in the Hall of Fame in 2004, on the first ballot. He produced 59.9 WAR over 15 seasons with the Brewers before finishing his career with the Blue Jays (10.5 WAR) and hometown Twins (5.2 WAR).

Evan Longoria, 2006 Rays

Undrafted out of high school, Longoria landed at Long Beach State; as a junior, he was one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award (given to the best player in college baseball). In the draft, he was the first of the five taken, despite the first six picks all being college players. (Pick No. 7, breaking the collegiate streak, was Clayton Kershaw, by the Dodgers. That worked out OK.) Longoria signed quickly with the Rays, and rose through their organization, getting called up two weeks into the 2008 season.

He won the AL Rookie of the Year award that season and made the first of three All-Star appearances. Over 10 seasons with the Rays, he hit .270 with 261 home runs en route to 51.2 WAR. The Rays dealt him to San Francisco in December 2017; in the four seasons since, he has produced 6.1 WAR for the Giants; serviceable, but still a shadow of his early greatness.

The bad

Eight No. 3 picks failed to make the majors at all (and that’s not counting 2017’s MacKenzie Gore, who will likely be called up this season, and 2020’s Max Meyer, a good bet to make it next season at the latest) and two of those were Tigers. For our purposes, though, we’ll stick to three who did make it, but just weren’t good.

Jimmy Jones, 1982 Padres

A hard-throwing Texas high school righty, Jones rose through the Padres’ system methodically — a year at every class — though not particularly successfully, before getting the big-league call Sept. 21, 1986. On that day, he allowed one hit — a third-inning triple — and no walks in a complete game against the Houston Astros. The rest of his appearances weren’t as sharp for the Padres; 61 additional games with a 4.15 ERA before he was shipped to the Yankees in an offseason deal. Still, Jones made 153 career appearances (118 starts) over an eight-year career with the Padres, Yankees, Astros and Expos (albeit with a 4.46 ERA and minus 1.9 WAR), and then spent another two seasons pitching in Japan.

Dave McCarty, 1991 Twins

McCarty seemed destined for a long, productive career in the majors after hitting .420 with 24 homers and being named Baseball America’s Player of the Year in his final season at Stanford. That was half right: McCarty had a long career, lasting 11 seasons and spending time with the Twins, Giants, Mariners, Royals, Rays, Athletics and Red Sox (plus all of the 1999 season with Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers’ farm system). But he never stuck anywhere; he dominated the minors while in the Twins’ system but put up minus-3.2 WAR in a season’s worth of big-league games over three years. McCarty’s best season came in 2000, when the Royals gave him 295 plate appearances and he produced .807 OPS at age 30. But he never quite got to that level again, and spent the next four seasons as a well-traveled utility player.

Dewon Brazelton, 2001 Rays

Tampa Bay first baseman Tino Martinez, right, tries to settle down pitcher Dewon Brazelton, left, during the second inning July 17, 2004.
Tampa Bay first baseman Tino Martinez, right, tries to settle down pitcher Dewon Brazelton, left, during the second inning July 17, 2004.

Pick No. 1 in the 2001 draft was Joe Mauer, the top prep hitter and a hometown pick for the Twins. Pick No. 2, by the Cubs, was Mark Prior, the top college pitcher who had dominated two full seasons in the Pac-10. And picking in the top six for the third time in three years, the dysfunctional then-Devil Rays went with Brazelton, who had dominated the Sun Belt Conference for a single season after tearing an ACL and undergoing Tommy John surgery in high school. In his first three years of pro ball — which included three separate stints in the majors — he was bounced around from level to level while putting up just one stint with an ERA below 3: a two-start run in Double-A Orlando toward the end of his second year. In the majors, he appeared in 63 games for the Rays over four seasons, going 8-23 with a 5.98 ERA. He didn’t fare any better after being traded to the Padres in 2006; he posted a 12.00 ERA in nine appearances (two starts) before San Diego gave up on him. Brazelton finished with minus-3.1 WAR, with his best season coming in 2004: 0.6 WAR in 120⅔ innings.

The Tigers (who were still pretty bad)

Detroit Tigers' Eric Munson (31) swings into an out against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park in Detroit on Monday, Sept. 27, 2004
Detroit Tigers' Eric Munson (31) swings into an out against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park in Detroit on Monday, Sept. 27, 2004

And then you have the Tigers’ three No. 3 picks, of which only one — Eric Munson — made the minors. A closer look at the trio:

Les Filkins, 1975

Perhaps this was a talent-light draft; 12 of the 24 first-rounders — and just two of the top six — made the majors. (And one of those was No. 1 overall Danny Goodwin, who put up minus-1.7 WAR in 252 big-league games.) But Filkins was still a big whiff. Filkins, a Chicago native, hit well in Rookie ball with a .296 average and .408 OBP in 32 games. But he struggled after a promotion to Class-A Clinton, and even more the next year in High-A. From there, the Tigers treated him like a fine wine, letting him get better with age — and repeat years at each level: Two years at Lakeland with a .229 batting average, followed by two at Double-A Montgomery with a .251 average.

Finally, as a 23-year-old, he hit .297 over 83 games in Double-A in 1980 to earn a promotion to Triple-A Evansville, where he posted a .825 OPS. That should have earned him some time in the majors. But the Tigers’ outfield was suddenly full, with Steve Kemp, Kirk Gibson, Chet Lemon and Larry Herndon claiming playing time over the next few seasons. And so Filkins did two more years in Evansville before the Tigers sold his rights to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He may not have made it to Detroit, but Filkins did get one final write-up in the Free Press: A short note buried among the horse racing agate in the Aug. 1, 1983 edition detailing his game-winning triple in a Japanese League game.

Eric Munson, 1999

It looked like the stars had aligned when the Tigers, looking to win in brand-new Comerica Park in 2000, were able to pick a polished hitter and Golden Spikes finalist in Munson. Entering the draft, Munson was hitting .338 with 14 homers for Southern Cal despite missing 21 games with a broken hand. Even better, he signed quickly, thanks to a $6.75 million deal that drew commissioner Bud Selig’s ire. There was also a lot of predraft talk about the inevitability of Munson’s move away from catcher. But, hey, as long as he hits...

And he did, with an .882 OPS in Class-A in 1999 and a .803 OPS in Double-A in 2000 that earned him a September call-up. But Munson went hitless in five at-bats with the Tigers. It was the same story in 2001 – he crushed Double-A pitching for an .853 OPS, then was held to a .461 OPS in 17 games with the Tigers. 2002: .860 OPS in Triple-A … .557 in Detroit. Finally in 2003, Munson moved to third base and made the roster in spring training. He committed 19 errors there in 99 games — but he also hit 18 homers before a fractured left thumb ended his season. He followed that with 19 homers in 109 games in 2004, but a .214 batting average led the Tigers to cut him in December. Munson finished his career with short stints with the Rays, Astros and Athletics.

Kyle Sleeth, 2003

Sleeth’s story may be the most familiar in prospect development: A sudden rise, cut short by injury. He jumped onto watch lists when a new delivery suddenly had him throwing in the high 90s at Wake Forest, where he put together an NCAA-record 26 consecutive wins while posting a 3.47 ERA over three seasons, including All-America nods in his final two. Still, the Tigers took it easy with him, putting off his pro debut until the 2004 season with High-A Lakeland.

There, a 3.31 ERA in 68 innings earned him a promotion to Double-A; he posted a 6.30 ERA in 80 innings. Things got worse the following spring, when forearm tightness shut Sleeth down for weeks. In mid-June 2005, the diagnosis was clear: Tommy John surgery, which cost him all of 2005 and half of 2006. Sleeth wasn’t the same pitcher after his return, though. In 102 innings in 2006 and ’07, he allowed 88 runs with only 64 strikeouts. The fastball just wasn’t there. He knew it, too; he retired in April 2008, never having made it above Double-A and finishing his career with a 6.30 ERA and 192 strikeouts over 262⅔ innings.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: No. 3 pick in MLB draft hasn't worked out for Detroit Tigers