Nationals Arm Race

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A history of Pitchers taken #1 overall

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Brady Aiken joins an exclusive club.  PHoto Scott Kurtz via studentsports.com

Brady Aiken joins an exclusive club. Photo Scott Kurtz via studentsports.com

While researching for the #1 overall pick Starting Pitching matchup post, I found myself typing up little mini biographies on each of the pitchers.  I ended up moving that content to a new post, which you see here.  This is probably the last draft-related post for a while, until I summarize how our draft picks did at the end of the season.

Here’s a biography and career summary of every pitcher who’s been taken #1 overall in the history of the MLB draft, which started in 1965.  PeterGammons.com has a review of all #1 picks, which looks like a nicer-formatted version of the b-r.com page.  Dave Cameron wrote a WSJ article talking about the fact that just two HS arms have been drafted 1-1 prior to 2014 and they were both failures, and Baseball Prospectus’s Steve Goldman printed his own own version of this same post in 2009 with great insight not otherwise available, but it was light on details for the last 5 or so guys.

Believe it or not, there’s only been 17 pitchers picked first overall (including 2014) … and there’s *never* been a prep right handed starter picked.   Fourteen of the seventeen first overall pitchers selected came from college, and twelve of those fourteen were right handed pitchers.

Here’s a brief history of each #1 overall pitcher.

  • 2014: Brady Aiken, LHP from Cathedral Catholic HS in San Diego, drafted 1st overall by the Houston Astros in 2014.  Issues with pre-draft consensus 1-1 Carlos Rodon led the Astros to go with just the third prep pitcher ever to go #1 overall.  Aiken is considered the best talent in this draft by nearly every pundit, with a live arm, good mechanics, 3 excellent pitches and good command.   He quickly signed a below-slot deal, saving the Astros a ton of money that should enable them to sign over-slot deals later on in their draft.  There’s plenty of draft coverage of Aiken in the normal places, so we’ll focus on the previous guys who by now have at least a bit of pro experience.
  • 2013: Mark Appel, RHP from Stanford, drafted by the Houston Astros in 2013.  Appel had quite a draft day history; he was picked in the 15th round out of HS and didn’t sign.  And then in 2012 he was thought to be the #1 draft prospect in the draft (the first year where there were significant restrictions on bonuses by slot) but fell to #8.  The Pirates drafted him at #8 but couldn’t put together an over-slot enough deal to convince him to forgo his senior year.  So that’s what he did; pitched his senior year and then went #1 overall to Houston, who got him to sign an under-slot deal soon after the draft.   Appel was assigned to low-A to finish out the 2013 season and did well, but has struggled mightily in 2014 for Houston’s high-A team.  Some say that he has been unable to adjust to Houston’s “tandem” starting scheme, where guys throw fewer innings/pitches per outing but throw more frequently (every 4 days).  I agree; I think Houston is really foolish to take a prized possession such as Appel and shoe-horn him into a weird/non traditional rotation experiment.  Put him in AA, put him throwing regularly every 5 days and see what he can do.  As of this writing, he sports an 11+ era in the California League, having given up 10 runs in one 1 1/3 inning-outing at the end of May.  The word on the street was that he was suffering from a hand issue which prevented him from locating (but didn’t sap his velocity); still; that’s an awful lot of hits and runs to give up to A-ball players for a guy who (in some opinions) could be in the majors right now.  Is it too early to worry?
  • 2011: Gerrit Cole, RHP from UCLA, drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Cole was part of an amazing 1-2 punch at UCLA in 2011 (his rotation mate was Trevor Bauer, taken 3rd overall in the same draft.  Amazingly, UCLA didn’t even advance out of its own regional despite having two top-3 starters in their rotation).  Cole didn’t pitch in 2011, but “solved” high-A and AA in his first pro season in 2012 and was called up in mid 2013 once he’d cleared super-2 status by the cost-conscious Pittsburgh Pirates.  He was excellent in 2013, maintaining a sub 3.00 FIP for the year and helping Pittsburgh make the post season for the first time in a generation.
  • 2009: Stephen Strasburg, RHP from San Diego State, drafted by Washington.  We all are quite familiar with the story by now; Strasburg was a laconic out-of-shape  hurler in high school who barely merited a college spot, then re-made himself into the “greatest pitching prospect of all time” while at San Diego State.   Despite his reported bonus demands (he ended up with more than $15M deal) and his representation (Scott Boras), the Nats never seriously not selecting him with their first round pick.  The team played the “service time” game with him, keeping him in the minors until his super-2 eligibility was exhausted, then he struck out 14 Pirates in his MLB debut.
  • 2007: David Price, LHP from Vanderbilt, drafted by Tampa Bay.  Price was the friday starter for Vanderbilt, who entered the 2007 post season as the #1 overall CWS seed but who somehow lost in their regional.  Price signed late (this was before the moved-up signing deadline and often big-money draft picks had to wait for the signing deadline to be announced) so he didn’t debut until 2008.  He quickly proved to be un-hittable in high-A or AA and was promoted to the big club in September of his first pro season.  He was up and down (both to and from Durham and in terms of performance in 2009) before exploding onto the scene in 2010, going 19-6 and finishing 2nd in the Cy Young race to Felix Hernandez.  Price won the Cy Young in 2012 in a close race and is generally been considered one of the best 10-15 pitchers in the game.  The biggest question with Price now is where he’ll end up; he’s arbitration eligible and earning a significant portion of the Tampa payroll, and his name has been in the trade rumors for two years running.  However 2014 may finally be the time Price moves on; Tampa has the worst record in the majors and probably starts making moves as soon as the all-star break passes.  I look for Price to join a playoff contender and have a real impact in 2014 and 2015 before his 9-figure payday arrives.
  • 2006: Luke Hochevar, RHP from Tennessee/Indy league, drafted by Kansas City.  Hochevar burned quite a few bridges in Los Angeles prior to his joining Kansas City; he was drafted by the Dodgers twice, the second time agreeing to and then reneging on a 1st round deal worth nearly $3M in 2005.  Instead he played Indy ball and went 1st overall in 2006 to the Royals, who gave him a (now banned) MLB deal with significantly more money than the Dodgers offered.  He debuted in 2007, but generally struggled as a starter for the Royals for the next 5 seasons (compiling a 38-59 record in those years).  In 2013 he remade himself as a wipe-out 8th inning guy, posting a 215 ERA+ for the rising royals.  Unfortunately, he sucummed to the dreaded Tommy John disease early in 2014 and had surgery on 3/7/14.   Hochevar’s injury couldn’t be more badly timed; he’s a free agent this upcoming season and likely will have to sign a non-guaranteed deal until he can show he’s recovered.
  • 2002: Bryan Bullington, RHP from Ball State, drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Bullington’s selection by the penurious Pirates was considered a “signability pick,” with the GM given direction to sign a “safe” college pitcher as opposed to one of the prep talents that were higher ranked on most draft boards.  So Pittsburgh selected Bullington (in lieu of B.J. Upton, Prince Fielder or a slew of other now-successful MLBers from the 2002 draft).  To be fair, Bullington was considered the #1 college arm in the 2002 draft, but few thought he was the #1 overall talent.  He held out for months, finally signing in October of 2002 for $4M.  He progressed slwoly through the Pittsburgh system, debuting in September 2005.  He was hurt though, got diagnosed with a torn labrum and the Oct 2005 surgery cost him all of 2006.   He never was really effective afterwards, sputtering through 2007 and part of 2008.  Pittsburgh waived him in 2008.  After that he bounced around 3 organizations in the next 3 years, ending up with a callup by Toronto in late 2010 where he threw 8 innings of shut-out ball to earn is sole major league victory.  For the last three years he has pitched in the Japanese Nippon league.
  • 1997: Matt Anderson, RHP from Rice, drafted by Detroit.  Detroit picked the Rice hurler believing that his position (closer) and his velocity (100mph capabilities) would mean that he was quick to the majors and they were right; after dominating high-A and AA, he was in Detroit’s bullpen by late June 1998.  He had a great debut season but mostly struggled with control issues (career 5.5 bb/9) as a 7th/8th inning guy.  He tore a muscle in his shoulder in 2002 (allegedly by participating in an Octopus-throwing contest earlier in the day), which sapped him of his velocity upon his return.  Detroit sent him to AAA in 2004 and then released him at the end of the season.  After 2005, he bounced around 3 different organizations, attempted a comeback in 2011 with the Phillies and now is completely out of baseball.
  • 1996: Kris Benson, RHP from Clemson, drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Unlike the Bullington pick, Benson was the consensus #1 player in the draft, having just completed an undefeated junior season at Clemson, leading them to the CWS, and being named the College player of the year.   He spent two nondescript years in the minors and joined Pittsburgh’s rotation in the 1999 season.  He had two good seasons, then blew out his elbow and missed all of 2001 recovering from Tommy John.  He returned to the mound in 2003 and pitched like a #3/#4 starter for several years until being befelled again by injury.  This time it was more serious; a torn labrum.   By this point he had been traded from Pittsburgh to New York to Baltimore and had brought his “road show” along with him (he was married to former stripper Anna Benson, who on more than a few occasaions made headlines thanks to her curious behavior.  It is alleged in some circles that the Mets traded Benson just to rid themselves of his wife’s antics).   He missed the whole 2007 season and a good chunk of 2008 with shoulder soreness, bounced around a couple more organizations, and called it a career after 2010.    He made 200 career starts in the majors and had a 70-75 record all in all.  He filed for divorce from his (crazy) wife, who then was arrested after showing up at his house with weapons while wearing a bullet-proof vest.   I’ll be honest; his devotion to charitable causes doesn’t seem congruous with his marriage to an ex-stripper.  Maybe that’s a bit judgemental on my behalf :-)
  • 1994: Paul Wilson, RHP from Florida State, drafted by the New York Mets.  Wilson was part of a trio of high-end Mets pitching prospects who were expected to be the next wave of power arms for the team (himself, along side of Jason Isringhausen and Fairfax’s Bill Pulsipher).   Wilson’s career peak may have been the year after he was drafted, throwing 180+ innings in the minors.  He struggled in 1996 at the major league level and subsequently had to have Labrum surgery.  That cost him most of 1997 and 1998 … then to add insult to injury he tore his UCL and had to have Tommy John in 1999.   By this point the Mets were apparently tired of waiting for him to develop and traded him to Tampa Bay.  There, he finally got back on the field in 2000 and pitched well enough to earn a 4yr deal from Cincinnati.  Unfortunately, he tore his rotator cuff, underwent his third surgery as a professional … and never made it back afterwards.  He tried to rehab the arm in the minors in 2006, suffered a set-back, took a non-guaranteed deal in 2007, had a set-back, and tried Indy ball in 2008 before being released and retiring.  Despite all these injuries he managed to make 150+ major league starts.
  • 1991: Brien Taylor, North Carolina HS, LHP, drafted by the New York  Yankees.  One of only three high school pitchers ever taken number one overall and (excluding the two most recent draftees) he’s the only player on this list who never appeared in the majors.  Taylor was hitting 98-99 as a HS pitcher, had an absolutely astounding 21 K/9 rate (he struck out 213 in just 88 HS innings), and by more than one scout’s opinoin was the greatest high school pitching prospect the game has seen.  Unfortunately he suffered a significant shoulder injury (a rotator cuff tear that separated the cuff from the bone) in a bar fight while in the minors, missed an entire season after surgery, and lost 8mph off his fastball.  The Yankees released him without his ever appearing above AA.  After bounching around odd jobs, he was arrested for cocaine trafficing in 2012 and is currently in federal prison.  ESPN has a great oral-history just posted about Taylor, with all sorts of quotes from Yankees officials of the day.   He’s a sad story all around.
  • 1989: Ben McDonald, RHP from LSU, drafted by the Baltimore Orioles.   He was the consensus #1 overall pick, the best player in the college game the year prior, and had just led USA baseball to the gold medal in the 1988 olympics.  He is one of the most “close to the majors” pitchers ever drafted.  He signed on August 21st and made his MLB debut just 18 days later, pitching out of the bullpen.  In July 1990, he pitched a 4-hit shut-out in his major league debut, a game I distinctly remember watching on TV.  McDonald was a phenom and was going to bring Baltimore back to the promised land.  It never happened: McDonald struggled with injuries and ended up leaving Baltimore after his initial deal ended.  In Milwaukee he was pitching well but suffered a torn rotator cuff, from which he never recovered.  McDonald was out of baseball at the age of 29.  In the years since, he was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame, a nod to his completely dominant career at LSU.
  • 1988: Andy Benes, RHP from Evansville University, drafted by the San Diego Padres.  Career 1989-2002.  Benes was a “pop up” guy who went from being an unknown prospect to a first rounder thanks to an amazing 21-K outing his junior year in college.  The Padres were “drafting for need” somewhat and had targeted a quick-to-the-majors college arm to be their #1 pick, and Benes was the best available choice.  He was a multi-sport player in college, which some pundits believe limited his pitching development.  He was known to have an excellent fastball with great command … and little else.  Nonetheless, he flashed through the minors and debuted in 1989, finishing 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting.  For the next six years he was basically a #3 starter/innings eater for San Diego, never missing a start, putting up great K/9 numbers and compiling a near .500 record for a series of decent-to-awful Padres teams.  He was traded to Seattle in 1995 (for one Ron Villone) in his walk year to join the Mariners for their playoff run, then signed a 2-year deal with St. Louis.  He pitched well in St. Louis, even getting Cy Young votes, but then a contract snafu led him to join Arizona ahead of their debut season, where he threw the first pitch in franchise history.  After his stint in Arizona, he came back to St. Louis but a series of injuries cause him to miss significant time during his last two seasons.   He pitched excellently in the 2nd half of 2002, but his declining health (he suffered from an arthritic knee, which sapped him of his power, forced him to pitch with a knee brace and caused him to become more of a finesse guy later in his career) caused the Cardinals to decline their 2003 option on Benes.  Frustrated with his health and unwilling to pitch anywhere but in St. Louis, Benes retired in the winter of 2002.
  • 1983: Tim Belcher, RHP from Mount Vernon Nazarene College, drafted by the Minnesota Twins.  Career 1987-2000.   Technically Belcher was a #1 overall pick twice.  He was drafted by Minnesota #1 overall but didn’t sign (Minnesota was known to be cheap with their money back then), and then was picked #1 again in the January 1984 supplimental draft phase by the Yankees.  Belcher visited two more organizations before making his debut, getting snagged by Oakland from the Yankees as FA compensation, then getting flipped to the Dodgers after Belcher struggled in the minors.  He was immediately effective for Los Angeles though, giving them several good seasons after finally debuting at age 25.  He threw EIGHT shutouts in 1989 enroute to a 5th place Cy Young finish, his most effective season as a pro.  He was flipped to Cincinnati (for Erik Davis) and bounced around 5 other orgnaizations from there, always featuring as a #3-#4 starter quality guy who stayed relatively healthy and ate innings but was nothing more.  His career was ended thanks mostly to an elbow surgery late in 1999; he tried to come back in 2000 but was mostly ineffective and hung them up in spring training of 2001.  He served as a coach in the Cleveland organization for most of the rest of the decade but (as far as I can tell) has been out of the game since 2011.
  • 1981: Mike Moore, RHP from Oral Roberts, drafted by the Seattle Mariners.  Career 1982-1995.  Moore was already a known quantity, having been drafted in the 3rd round out of High School.   After being drafted by Seattle (who by 1981 also had former #1 overall pick Bannister on their payroll), Moore made just 14 minor league starts before debuting in the majors in April of 1982.   Predictably, he got hammered.  Seattle was generally awful during Moore’s entire tenure there, despite his putting up several 5-6win seasons.  When he made it to free agency, he joined Oakland and immediately became the leader of a world series winning squad.  He finished his career off by vastly underperforming during a 3yr/$10M contract with Detroit, ending with his being released a month before his contract ended.   He ended up with a career profile quite similar to some of the names above here (especially the likes of Benes and Belcher): decent career, #3 starter ceiling, .500 pitcher.
  • 1976: Floyd Bannister, LHP from Arizona State, drafted by the Houston Astros.  Career 1977-1992.  As with Moore after him, Bannister was a 3rd round pick out of HS but opted to go to Arizona State, where (like McDonald and Benson after him) he was the collegiate player of the year and the clear #1 overall prospect in the draft.   And like several guys before him, he ended up being less of a total Ace and more of a #3/#4 starter, .500 career record kind of hurler.  He probably had his best season for the White Sox in 1987, but knocked around three more organizations and Japan after that, retiring in 1992 with 363 career starts.
  • 1973: David Clyde, Texas HS LHP drafted by the Texas Rangers.  Career 1973-1979.  The first ever pitcher taken #1 overall was Clyde, who turned into a cautionary tale of what NOT to do with your prep draftees: Clyde was a Texas-based high school phenom who had an amazing senior year and was the consensus #1 overall pick.  But Texas did something rather extraordinary; they drafted Clyde and then immediately put him on the major league roster.  He ended up starting 18 games for Texas as an 18 yr old, mostly as a publicity stunt by the owner, looking for increased box office revenue.  He got hurt, was traded to Cleveland and was out of the league by the age of 24.  His wikipedia page is a good read; after retiring he went through some tough times but seemed to come out ok.

Best career of any #1 overall pick by total bWAR: Andy Benes with 31.7 bWAR compiled over a 14 year career where he was basically a .500 starter (career record: 155-139, career ERA+ was 104).   Belcher didn’t quite have the bWAR but had the longest career of any of these guys.  You can probably argue that David Price is more successful already by virtue of his Cy Young award.

Least successful #1 overall pick: clearly Brien Taylor, the only one of these 17 players who never reached the majors (excepting recent picks Appel and Aiken of course).  A couple of the other picks here at least made the majors but compiled negative bWAR for their brief careers.

 

How good is an “All Virginia” team?

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Is Virginia Native Justin Verlander the best ever player from the State? Photo unknown via rumorsandrants.com

Recently, I read a pundit who talked about how a huge percentage of baseball prospects come from relatively few states; California (mostly Southern California at that), Texas, Florida and Georgia.  The Baseball America guys once talked about an “All North Carolina” team and how good it would be (BA is based in Durham, NC).  It got me thinking: how good of a team could you put together of prospects with ties to Virginia?   Having grown up in Virginia and having had the opportunity to play with and against a number of guys with pro ties over the years, I thought it’d be interesting to put together the “All Virginia Team.”

Using mostly the handy Baseball-reference pages, I looked up players who were either born in Virginia, went to a Virginia-based high school, or played baseball at one of Virginia’s universities.  There’s also the fantastic Baseball Cube website (www.thebaseballcube.com) that has very in-depth player databases searchable by high schools that shows every player on a professional or NCAA team by school, which sometimes has better records than B-R.com.  The players here had to be active in the Majors in 2012, though as it turned out there’s enough guys with Virginia ties to make a full starting team.  Feedback is welcome.

Here’s a roster:

Backups: Brandon Guyer OF (HS in Herndon, college at UVA), Rich Thompson OF (college at JMU), Jeff Baker Util (HS at Garfield in Woodbridge), Brandon Snyder IB/OF (HS at Westfields in Chantilly).  Erik Kratz C (college at Eastern Mennonite)

Ok, so we’re a little weak up the middle.  Zimmerman played SS in college but I can’t find a legitimate shortstop out there.  Rhymes was just signed by the Nats to a minor league deal and isn’t likely to make the opening day 25-man roster save for injury.  Inge hasn’t caught regularly in a few years.  But how about the hitting prowness of this lineup?   BJ Upton-Cuddyer-Zimmerman-Wright-Justin Upton-Reynolds is a pretty powerful group.  Coincidentally, I put in Kratz because I find it amazing that someone who played baseball at Eastern Mennonite is actually in the big leagues.  By B-R’s records, he’s the SOLE alumni of that university to have ever even played professional baseball.

Starting Pitchers:

  • Justin Verlander (born outside of Richmond, HS in Goochland, college at ODU)
  • Mat Latos (born in Alexandria)
  • Daniel Hudson (born in Lynchburg, HS in Virginia Beach, college at ODU)
  • Joe Saunders (born in Falls Church, HS at West Springfield, college at Va Tech)
  • Tim Stauffer (college at University of Richmond)

Backup starters: Danny Hultzen (born and raised in Bethesda, college at UVA); an exception to my “active in 2012″ rule but clearly the most high-profile tied-to-Virginia prospect in the game right now.  John Maine (born in Fredericksburg, HS in Stafford) had a decent stint starting for the Mets, but he’s yet to get back to the majors after a shoulder surgery in 2010).

A pretty good 1-2 punch, including arguably the best pitcher in the game.  Hudson has some potential.  Saunders is more of an innings eater lefty, but he’s made a pretty good career for himself already.  Stauffer had elbow surgery in August 2012 and probably isn’t ready for opening day, but he’s the best I could find.

Relievers:

Backup Relievers: BJ Rosenberg (born in Newport News), Jeremy Jeffress (born and HS in South Boston), Clay Rapada (born in Portsmouth, HS in Chesapeake, college at Virginia State).  Seth Greisinger (McLean and UVA) as an honorable mention.

Not bad depth here; I suppose Marshall could close, Bray be the loogy, Camp be an 8th inning guy, Eppley a 7th inning type and the rest be middle men.  I like how Sean Camp was born, raised, went to high school and played baseball in college without ever leaving Fairfax.


Other random Virginia School trivia:

What’s the best producing college in Virginia?   Pretty easily its UVA, with 117 pro players in B-R’s database and 30 guys reaching the majors.  Virginia Tech, ODU, Richmond and VCU are all grouped a bit behind UVA in terms of pro player development.  Amazingly little Liberty University has matriculated 59 players to the pro ranks.

At current, UVA has 6 active alumni in the majors.  William & Mary, ODU and Richmond have 2 each, and a slew of lesser baseball-playing universities have one each (all of which are mentioned above).

What’s the best producing High School in Virginia?  Pretty clearly the high schools in the Virginia Beach/Chesapeake area have been producing some serious baseball talent lately, but even the Upton brothers ended up going to different high schools.  Both Virginia HS in Bristol and First Colonial HS in Virginia Beach list 8 pro player alumni with 2 pros each.

Closer to home in Northern Virginia: Garfield has 7 total players with Pro experience in the database, 3  of which have MLB experience.  Robinson HS in Fairfax has 6 pros/3 MLB experience.  Fairfax HS also has the same; 6 pros, 3 with MLB experience.

Of course, these numbers pale in comparison to some of the baseball factories in the major baseball-producing states Florida and California.   Hillsborough HS in Tampa boasts 41 pro alumni and 10 with MLB experience, including Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and our own Elijah Dukes.  Lakewood HS in Orange county has 57 pro alumni and 12 MLB experienced players, though not nearly of the name quality of Hillsborough’s graduates.    Sarasota HS in Florida also boasts 57 pro player alumni, 14 MLB pros including our own Ian Desmond.  There’s a HS in Oakland called McClymonds that has two Hall of Fame alumni (Frank Robinson and Ernie Lombardi), a host of other famous names from 60s and 70s but which hasn’t generated a pro player since the mid 1970s.  Lastly Polytechnic HS in Long Beach has 47 pro alumni but an astonishing 18 guys with MLB experience, headlined by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and possibly future hall of famer Chase Utley.


Who is the Greatest player to have Virginia Roots?   You could make arguments for Verlander, Wright, Zimmerman or the Upton brothers (probably in that order), but how about one Lou Whitaker, born in Brooklyn but somehow ended up matriculating from HS in Martinsville, Virginia, where he was drafted in the 5th round by Detroit.  Billy Wagner (born in Tannersville, HS in Tazewell and college at Ferrum) is another guy from Virginia with a long, successful career.  Long-time Oriole Al Bumbry was born in Fredericksburg, went to HS in King George and attended Virginia State.

However, there’s only one Hall of Famer with Virginia Roots that I can find: Eppa Rixley, born in Culpeper, HS in Charlottesville and he pitched for UVA before being signed as a free agent by Philadelphia.  He ended up pitching 21 years in the majors and was selected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s committee in 1963 shortly after he died.


(Editor’s Note: you may feel free to stop reading now; Below here is all pretty obscure stuff and only probably interesting to myself and my dad, or people who happen to grow up in the area and are familiar with Vienna baseball.  In fact, I kind of got into a rat-hole of reminiscing for this section, thinking back to the good old days.  I won’t be offended :-).

My Personal experiences growing up and playing in Northern Virginia: I played Vienna youth leagues from 1977 til 1989, played in Vienna Babe Ruth and graduated from James Madison HS in Vienna in 1989 for reference.

The best player from Northern Virginia in my youth experiences was one Pete Schourek, who was two years older than me and graduated from Marshall HS in 1987.  An enduring memory from my youth was watching Schourek blast a home-run to the townhouses beyond the RF fence at Marshall against Mike Nielsen (the ace of my own high school) in 1987.   Schourek turned down a scholarship offer to Auburn and took 2nd round bonus money from the Mets.   Schourek’s career lasted 10 years in the majors and his best season was an 18-7 year that resulted in a 2nd place Cy Young finish.  The word at the time was that the Dodgers wanted to draft him as a hitter; his power from the left-hand side was quite superior.  I often wonder if his would have made it as a hitting prospect; he had such natural lefty power in high school.  (Click here for the Connection’s Schourek profile in their “top 100 athletes” series from 2000).

Other notable pro players from the 3-4 year period right around my draft year who I played against at various points:

  • A.J. Hernandez, who was the star of the local Herndon/Reston/McLean Babe Ruth all-star teams that had Vienna’s number year after year in the late 80s.   He played one year of low-A ball.
  • David Carroll, a tall, rangy left-hander who dominated Chantilly baseball for years.  He was a 6th round pick in 1991 and made it to AAA before washing out.  We played against Carroll’s teams in the Credit Union in the early 90s.
  • Lonnie Goldberg, who was on the same HS team as Schourek at one point; played at George Mason, drafted in the later rounds and played 5 seasons of minor league ball.
  • Bill Pulsipher, who was a dominant player in the area and was drafted in the 2nd Round by the Mets in 1991 out of Fairfax HS.  He made the Mets rotation by age 21 and looked decent before getting injured and spending the rest of his MLB career struggling in the bullpen.  His b-r.com page shows his drive; he was still playing professaional Indy ball as late as 2011.  (Pulsipher Connection profile from 2000).  His 1991 Fairfax HS team also had one Brian Buchanan, who was a 1st round draft pick after attending UVA and played 5 years in the majors.  Imagine; one high school team with a 1st and a 2nd round draft pick in this area.  Amazingly Fairfax HS didn’t win anything more than its District during this time.
  • Robin Jennings: a 1990 graduate of Annandale who did a year of community college and the got drafted under the old Draft-and-Follow rules by the Cubs.  He played in parts of four major league seasons spread across 12 minor league seasons, including his last minor league season with the Washington organization in 2007 at the age of 35, fully 4 years after last appearing in a uniform.  I can’t specifically recall playing against Jennings like I can recall playing against these other guys though.  Maybe in fall ball.

Goldberg and Schourek, along with Marshall’s #2 pitcher Steve Makranczy led Marshall to back-to-back state championship games in the late 80s.  Steve played on a number of fall teams with me and still plays in the local DCMSBL league.  Schourek still suits up for teams in the Industrial League, and according to a couple of random friends, plays in an ultra-competitive basketball league along side other former Division 1 players in the area.

Speaking of my own HS of the time; I was always amazed we didn’t fare better.  Thinking back to 1988, my HS started an entire team of guys who either went pro or played division 1 somewhere.  The 3 leading pitchers played at Radford, BYU and GMU respectively, our starting catcher went to BYU.  Our 1B played at William & Mary.  Our middle infield combo both played at UVA.  Our 3rd baseman was a full ride player at NC State.  In the OF, one guy played at GMU and went pro, another guy played at Montgomery College.  That’s a LOT of talent on one HS team for this area, and they never advanced in the Regional tournament.

The best local player of my draft year (1989) was a fellow by the name of Doug Newstrom, born in Quantico and who went to HS at W.T. Woodson in Fairfax.  He went to Arizona State and was a 7th round pick after his Junior year but never made the big leagues.  Newstrom was the cornerstone of a Woodson team that went undefeated in 1989 and won the state championship (they also won in 1990). My personal experience playing against Newstrom; the fall-league baseball teams of that time period were essentially city-specific all-star teams of the guys who didn’t play football, and the competition was great.  The Woodson varsity team to-be in the spring of 1989 got all their guys together to get a “test run” of their team and they romped to the fall league 16-18yr old championship game.  Our Vienna-based team was a rag-tag collection of guys who attended Madison, Marshall, Oakton, Paul VI and O’Connell but who had Vienna zip codes, but we were good and we also reached the championship game.  It was on a cold November day at Falls Church High School.   We faced off against Woodson’s ace (Mark Bauch, the same guy who would go 13-0 the following spring en route to the Virginia State championship) and promptly knocked him out in the first inning without retiring a batter, racing to a 6-0 lead.  Our pitcher (Jeff Ford, who attended Oakton and played college ball at a small school somewhere) tried to keep the Woodson team at bay throughout the 7 inning game, but they fought back.  In the bottom of the 7th trailing 6-5 and with two outs, the Woodson team put a couple guys on and Newstrom came to bat.  Newstrom connected on a towering drive to right field; I thought he had just hit a walk-off homer.  Our right fielder (Steve Paasch, another Oakton graduate) reached over the RF fence, jumped and caught the ball for the 3rd out and the championship.  It was one of the two or three best games I was ever a part of.

Editor Update: my memory apparently failed me: turns out Newstrom was actually a year behind me (he was born just a few months after me but was a school year behind).  He led Woodson to a 2nd consecutive VA state title in 1990 before committing to ASU.  I got a nice shout-out from one Rob Paine months after this post with a link to this great feature of Newstrom, with a great photo.

Best player from my high school Alma Mater (James Madison HS in Vienna): probably one Mike Wallace, who was picked straight out of high school, was in the majors by 22, and out of the majors by 26.  Wallace seems like he should have played longer; he was a lefty with decent numbers both in the majors and in his final seasons in the minors.  But he was retired at 28.  He signed on with MASN as a baseball pundit in 2011.  However it is worth mentioning one Jay Franklin, who graduated from Madison HS in 1971 and was the 2nd overall pick in that year’s baseball draft.  He tore up the Northwoods league and earned a call-up to the majors as an 18 year old.  I’m guessing he got hurt though, because he missed the entire 1972 season.  He appeared in four more minor league years before retiring at age 24, having just reached AAA.  Another guy who seems like he should have played longer.

Editor addition: thanks to anonymous comment for reminding us about Bobby Brower, whose baseball-reference.com page is missing the fact that he went to Madison HS.  He was one heck of an athlete, earning FOUR varsity letters his senior year of HS.  He attended Duke University, playing both football and baseball before focusing on hardball.  Despite being an All-ACC selection, he went undrafted, got picked up by Texas and eventually fought his way to the major league team.  He was traded to the Yankees after a couple years with Texas but struggled for playing time in New York, getting dropped back to AAA where he stayed through 1990.  A brief comeback in 1992 went for naught and Brower retired at the age of 32.   And I’ll add one Ronnie Slingerman, whose name keeps popping up during research of these early JMHS teams and who remains active in the Vienna baseball community.

Btw, the Fairfax Connection news papers featured all three of these players in their “Top 100 local Athletes” series done in the year 2000.  Click here for Wallace, here for Franklin and here for Brower‘s bios, all three of which go in to much greater detail than I have here.

Baseball-reference.com’s records are somewhat spotty on my high school; they list only 7 pro players and 2 major leaguers from my HS, but we know there are several more with pro experience, just counting guys I’ve directly played with (among others; Chris Burr and Billy Emerson).  BaseballCube lists 28 guys in their database, though not all played pro.   David Driver with The Vienna Patch did an article on Wallace in October 2012 and discussed several other Madison grads who have made the majors, some of whom are not correctly attributed in B-R.com either.   One such player is Jim McNamara, who I’m familiar with because he used to substitute teach while I was attending the high school and he was famous for being manipulated into wasting an entire period talking about his baseball playing days instead of teaching any material.

Best player ever from my college Alma Mater (James Madison University): probably one Billy Sample, born and raised in Roanoke and who played at JMU from 1974-1976.  He was drafted in the 10th round, played for a decade or so and hung ‘em up in 1986.  Mike Venafro was born in Takoma Park, went to Paul VI in Fairfax and then JMU before putting together a 7-year career in the majors, retiring back in 2006.  JMU is actually a pretty decent baseball school; we’ve made the NCAA tournament 11 times and several times recently, and made the College World Series in 1983 (getting blasted by eventual champion Texas and Stanford for a 2-and-out appearance; the wikipedia page is funny, JMU has no “notable players” listed.  Coincidentally; look at some of the talent playing in that tournament: Bonds, Schiraldi, Clemens, Larkin, Sabo, McDowell, Incavilia.  Three future Hall of Famers).   However I can only find one JMU alumni who appeared in the majors in 2012; the aforementioned Rich Thomas, who appears to be a 4th/5th outfielder.

Best player I played with or against post youth/High School: After high school we played in a local amateur league for a year, then put together an entry into the Credit Union, which was a powerful amateur league in the area (which is now part of the Industrial League).  After a brief baseball hiatus spent mostly playing softball (there was no 19+ league in DCMSBL at the time; you had to be at least 30 to play in the league for many years), I’ve been playing consistently in the DCMSBL since 1998.

In the early 90s, we had a local guy named Kevin Gallaher pitch for us periodically.   He had Vienna roots, went to O’Connell and then played at St. Bonaventure (none of which btw is on his baseball-reference page but is on his baseball Cube page).   I got to catch Gallaher here and there and he had pretty good stuff.  Apparently his stuff got better his senior year at college and he was a non-drafted FA signee.  Gallaher made it to AAA before calling it quits at age 29.   His next move: to appear on the reality TV show “Married by America” (it didn’t work out: his bride-to-be left him at the alter).

In the Credit Union, we played against some serious talent, but I was too young to remember most of them.  A couple notable names that I do remember were Steve Norwood, brother of the infamous Buffalo Bills kicker Jeff Norwood, who played alongside his father Del Norwood on the Apple team.  Norwood was a local legend, a longtime coach at W&L in Arlington (he won 10 straight district titles in the 60s and 14 overall at the school; the field is named after him) and had to be in his 70s at the time but could still throw a knuckle-ball by the semi-pro calibre players of the Credit Union.   Local legend amateur player Pete Groves pitched against us in the league; he now leads the Fedlock teams that have won many national MSBL titles (he supposedly reached AAA but I can’t find any records of him playing pro).  We picked up a random guy off a wait list named John Bonfield who had pitched at Yale; he was one of the better pitchers i’ve ever played along side.  He could throw 8 different pitches but had a failing for “enforcing the unwritten rules of the game” at the most unideal time.  He once purposely hit a guy who he thought was stealing signs with the bases loaded in a close game.

In MSBL, the best players I played against didn’t necessarily have direct professional ties.  The Gouveia siblings (brothers of former Redskin Kurt Gouveia were feared sluggers in the league).  Garland Cooper was competitive against players half his age; he played in the Valley league but never pro.  Ira Holland (who played college at  Howard and was drafted before returning to school) was probably the most feared hitter in the league in the early 2000s; guys from that era still ask us about him.  The ace pitcher of my current team Jason Martino signed out of HS but only played one year of rookie ball before getting set aside by his drafting team.

Anyway; if you’ve read this far, I hope you enjoyed my own little personal history of playing ball in this area.