First Pitch: Results from the Seventh Overall Pick in Every MLB Draft

The Pittsburgh Pirates have the seventh overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft, which will be held on June 10th/11th this year. Since the draft began in 1965, the seventh overall pick has produced some great players, but there have also been plenty of players who didn’t make the majors. Here’s a look at the best, average and worst possible outcomes over the years.

Before I get into the best/worst/average, I have to mention the only time that the Pirates had the seventh overall pick prior to this year. That was back in 1982 and they used the pick on a high school shortstop from Arizona named Sam Khalifa. He would make it to the majors in just three years, but only lasted three years in the big leagues.

Ideally, you want better than that from the seventh overall pick, but should you expect something better? Khalifa finished with an 0.9 WAR in his brief big league career. There have been 55 picks made seventh overall. If you eliminate the most recent four because they’re still working through the minors, then you see that Khalifa is actually in the top half of possible outcomes.

Of the 51 remaining players, Khalifa ranks 23rd in WAR. That means 22 players did better than someone with a brief career (Khalifa played 164 games with the Pirates). That also means that 28 times the results have been worse, including 13 players who didn’t even make the majors, as well as 11 more who posted a negative WAR. Among the positive WAR group below Khalifa is a player from one of the best trades in Pirates history. Mike Dunne, who was part of the Pena/Van Slyke deal, had a 0.1 WAR.

Of those 22 players, just how much better were they than Khalifa, who seems to be the best of the worst case scenarios?

Another nine players have accumulated between 2-10 WAR, though it’s important to point out that half of them are active players, including Andrew Benintendi at 9.9 WAR.

You want to dream about the best case scenarios though, so here are two elite examples. In 1989, Frank Thomas was picked seventh overall by the Chicago White Sox. In 2006, Clayton Kershaw was the seventh overall pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s a current and future Hall of Famer, one pitcher from high school, one position player from college.

Getting a Hall of Famer is great, but you’d definitely settle for Troy Tulowitzki (2005) or Nick Markakis (2003). Just below them would be Prince Fielder and Trot Nixon, two guys over 20 WAR career.

Right below those two stands Aaron Nola with 19.4 WAR already in his young career. Just below him is another active player, Mike Minor, who finished eighth in the AL Cy Young voting in 2019.

Then you have four retired players who had decent careers. Richard Dotson won 111 games over 12 years in the majors. Austin Kearns also played 12 seasons. Then you have a pair of All-Star catchers in Ray Fosse and Dan Wilson, who is the father of Eli Wilson, who might just be the best catching prospect for the Pirates right now.

The last player above 10 WAR is Matt Harvey, who is a best/worst case scenario wrapped up in one. If you followed him when he was good in New York, he seemed like a ticking time bomb, but he was well liked because he posted 11.8 WAR over his first three years in the majors. Since that point however, he came crashing to the ground, and has a -0.9 WAR in four seasons and he could be done in the majors at 31 years old.

So the numbers tell you that the middle ground over 51 years is Mike Dunne. Exactly 25 picks have done better than him and 25 have ended up worse. The top 13 picks had at least 10 WAR in their career and includes two Hall of Famers. The bottom 13 all missed the majors. In the middle is a group of 25 big league players, which includes Sam Khalifa of the Pirates, and Scot Thompson, who had a -5.7 WAR in eight big league seasons.





By John Dreker

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, plus two trades of note.

The Trades

On this date in 1965, the Pirates traded shortstop Dick Schofield to the San Francisco Giants for Jose Pagan. Schofield was 30 years old at the time, in his 13th season in the majors. He came up with the Cardinals as an 18-year-old in 1963 and he had been with the Pirates since 1958. He was batting .229 in 31 games, coming off a season in which he hit .209 in 132 games. He also made the third most errors among NL shortstops in 1964. Pagan was also 30 years old, and putting up similar numbers, hitting .205 in 28 games. He was in his seventh season in the majors, coming off a year in which he hit .223 in 134 games. Pittsburgh was making room for young shortstop Gene Alley at the time. Despite the fact Pagan had played just shortstop in San Francisco in 1965, he spent most of his time in Pittsburgh at third base that first season. He lasted in the Steel City until 1972, becoming a utility player, getting time at 3B/SS/LF and occasionally at other spots. He hit .263 with a .690 OPS in 625 games with the Pirates. Schofield hit .197 in 112 games for the Giants before they sold him to the Yankees in May of 1966. He stuck around the majors until 1971, playing for six different teams after he left Pittsburgh.

On this date in 1923, the Pirates traded pitcher Whitey Glazner and second baseman Cotton Tierney, plus cash, to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for pitcher Lee Meadows and infielder Johnny Rawlings. Glazner was a 29-year-old pitcher, who stood just 5″9 and threw right-handed. He was in his fourth season with the Pirates, posting a 3.30 ERA in 30 innings prior to the trade. In 1921, he had a 14-5, 2.77 record in 234 innings, but his 1922 numbers dropped off, down to a 4.38 ERA and a losing record (11-12). Tierney was also 29 years old, coming off a big season in which he batted .345 with 86 RBIs in 122 games. In 1923, he was batting .292 in 29 games with 22 RBIs. Rawlings was 30 years old and had not played yet during the 1923 season. The Phillies had picked him up off waivers from the Giants just 11 days earlier. He hit .282 in 88 games for the Giants in 1922. Meadows was 28 years old and pitching poorly for the Phillies at the time. He had eight seasons of Major League experience, seven times winning in double-digits, but he also had twice led the NL in losses, mostly due to playing on bad teams.

After the trade, Meadows became a star pitcher for the Pirates, winning 87 games his first five season in Pittsburgh. He helped the Pirates to the World Series in both 1925 and 1927 by posting an identical record of 19-10 both years. Rawlings hit .284 with 45 RBIs and 53 runs scored in 1923, then stuck around as a backup for three more seasons in Pittsburgh. Glazner did not fare well in his two years in Philadelphia. He went a combined 14-30 with a 5.29 ERA in 318 innings. He never pitched in the majors again after the 1924 season. Tierney hit .317 with 11 homers and 65 RBIs for the Phillies in 1923, before they traded him in the off-season to the Boston Braves. He played one season there before being traded to Brooklyn in 1925, his last season in the majors. His batting dropped way off, forcing him to the minors to finish his career five years later.

The Players

Corey Dickerson, outfielder for the 2018-19 Pirates. After splitting his first five seasons between the Colorado Rockies and the Tampa Bay Rays, the Pirates acquired Dickerson during Spring Training of 2018 for Daniel Hudson and minor leaguer Tristan Gray. Dickerson hit .300 with 13 homers in 135 games in 2018, while winning the Gold Glove award. He battled some injuries in 2019, both before and after he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for international slot money and cash. He batted .315 with four homers in 44 games for the Pirates, then hit .293 with eight homers in 34 games for the Phillies.

Rick van den Hurk, pitcher for the 2012 Pirates. He had a very brief stay with the Pirates, pitching 2.2 innings over four relief appearances. He gave up five runs on four hits and a walk. Van den Hurk pitched six seasons in the majors, though he never pitched more than he did during his rookie season when he made 18 appearances. He had a career 6.08 ERA in 183.2 innings. The Pirates signed him as a free agent four days after the 2012 season started.

Julian Tavarez, pitcher for the 2003 Pirates. He was originally signed as an amateur free agent in 1990 by the Indians. Tavarez was in the majors by age 20 in 1993, spending his first four seasons in Cleveland. In 1995, he had a 10-2, 2.44 record in 57 relief appearances. He was traded to the Giants prior to 1997 in exchange for Matt Williams. Tavarez pitched in a league leading 89 games during his first year in San Francisco. After pitching a total of 107 games out of the pen between 1998-99, Tavarez moved on to Colorado, where he made 12 starts among his 51 appearances. In his first seven seasons, he had made a total of 12 starts. He pitched for the Cubs in 2001, then the Marlins in 2002, making a total of 55 starts. Tavarez went 31-26 between the 2000-02 seasons, winning at least ten games each year. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent in January of 2003 and was moved back to the bullpen. For Pittsburgh, he made 64 appearances, pitching 83.2 innings with a 3.66 ERA and 11 saves. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Cardinals. Tavarez pitched in the majors until 2009, getting into a total of 828 games, 108 as a starter. He won 88 games, had a 4.46 ERA and pitched a total of 1,404.1 innings.

Jose Mesa, pitcher for the Pirates during the 2004-05 seasons. By the time Mesa joined the Pirates, he was already 15 seasons into his Major League career. At age 38, he had a career record of 70-91, 4.32 with 249 saves in 762 games. In 2003, pitching for the Phillies, Mesa went 5-7, 6.52 in 61 appearances, saving 24 games. In the two seasons prior, he saved a total of 87 games for the Phillies. In 2004 for the Pirates, he had a 5-2, 3.52 record in 70 games, with 43 saves. It was the fourth time in his career he saved at least 40 games. His save total that season ranks second in franchise history to Mike Williams, who had 46 in 2002. Mesa returned in 2005 and didn’t do quite as well, losing his closer job by the end of the season. He had a 2-8, 4.76 record in 55 games with 27 saves. He actually started the season strong, picking up the save in each of his first twelve appearances of the year. His eighth save of the season, on April 27th against the Astros, was number 300 in his career. Mesa pitched two more years in the majors before retiring. He finished with 1,022 games pitched, which ranked 11th all-time, and 321 saves, which ranked 14th all-time.

George Spriggs, outfielder for the Pirates from 1965 until 1967. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur in 1963, making his debut in A-ball, playing for the Reno Silver Sox of the California League. He hit .319 that first season in 133 games. The next year he moved up to Double-A Asheville, where he hit .322 with 16 homers and 96 runs scored. By 1965, Spriggs was in Triple-A, and although he hit just .240 in 136 games, he was a September call-up of the Pirates. He stole 66 bases that season in Triple-A, so when he arrived in Pittsburgh, he was used mostly as a pinch-runner, scoring five runs in nine games, while getting only two plate appearances. Spriggs returned to Triple-A Columbus the next year, hitting .300 with 15 homers, 34 stolen bases and 91 runs scored. He was a September recall again, this time getting seven pinch-hit appearances. In 1967, he made the Pirates out of Spring Training. He was used mostly off the bench, getting nine total starts, five of which came in early May. Spriggs was sent down in late June and did not return. In the off-season, he was taken by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft. He next played in the majors for the 1969-70 Royals, before finishing his career in the minors in 1972. His son Geno played two seasons in the Pirates minor league system before he tragically died from injuries suffered in an auto accident at the age of twenty in 1988.

Hoke Warner, infielder for the 1916-17 and 1919 Pirates. He played four years in the minors before getting his first chance with the 1916 Pirates in August of that season. Warner opened his Pirates career on August 21, 1916, batting lead-off in both games of a doubleheader and playing third base. His fielding was good that day, but at the plate he collected just one single, although it came off of Grover Alexander, a pitcher who would win 373 career games and go on to the Hall of Fame. Warner would play 44 games that rookie season, hitting .238 with 16 RBIs. He played three games in 1917 for the Pirates before serving in the military during WWI, finally returning during the 1919 season. Hoke played another six games for Pittsburgh in 1919, plus he also spent some time in the minors, hitting .250 in 27 games for the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. Warner next played for the 1921 Cubs, getting into 14 games, in what is his only known pro experience after the 1919 season. Chicago purchased his contract from Kansas City in January of 1921, but there is no record of him playing for the Blues during the 1920 season.

Tom McCarthy, pitcher for the 1908 Pirates. He made his Major League debut with the Reds on May 10, 1908, starting the second game of a doubleheader. McCarthy allowed five runs in 3.2 innings, taking the loss in an 8-7 game. Shortly after that game, and before he could pitch again for Cincinnati, the Pirates purchased his contract. On May 30/31, the Pirates played two doubleheaders and McCarthy got the start in the fourth game in two days. He won 13-3, in what would turn out to be his only start for the Pirates. He had one relief appearance. On June 18,1908 he was traded to the Boston Doves, along with pitcher Harley Young, in exchange for veteran pitcher Irv Young. The veteran Young was supposed to help the Pirates with their pennant run, but McCarthy ended up being the best pitcher of the group during the duration of the 1908 season. He would go 7-3 with a 1.63 ERA in 94 innings for the Doves. The next season however, he was unable to pick up a win through the middle of July and he was sent to the minors. McCarthy never returned to the majors, finishing his career in the minors in 1911.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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