<
>
Insider

Looking back at the 1991 draft

4/22/2009

The 1991 draft is the last in a line of weak classes that began in the early '80s, as baseball, inspired by the NFL and the NBA, started to take the draft more seriously. But the class of '91 was as weak as any class since the draft began and would have been the clear-cut worst of all time if it weren't for the presence of a couple of stars, including one who's headed for Cooperstown.

Amazingly, through the first eight rounds, 61 percent of the picks were college players, while the final 89 rounds produced 59 percent high school players. Typically, the percentages are much closer, particularly following the first 100 picks.

Major league stars: 3 of 1600 selections

First round major leaguers: 29 of 44 selections

No. 1 Pick

Brien Taylor, RHP -- New York Yankees

Taylor was hyped up like nobody's business and backed that up with a promising curveball and a fastball that often reached the mid-to-upper 90s. He struck out 213 batters in 88 innings as a high school senior and stood 6-foot-5 with tons of projectability. Oh, and he was left-handed, too.

Tragically, after two very good seasons as a pro, Taylor tore his left labrum and dislocated the shoulder on the same side in a fight and was never the same again.

Scott Boras, who represented Taylor in 1991 when the Yankees signed him to a then-record $1.55 million bonus, claims Taylor is still the greatest high school pitcher ever. At least one scout agrees.

"I was an Expos checker for that draft and saw Taylor on several occasions," he said. "And yeah, I saw hundreds of the best high school arms since 1979, and Taylor was probably the best I've seen, too. You just don't see that kind of velocity, especially on a left-hander."

Best First-round Pick

Manny Ramirez, OF -- Cleveland Indians, No. 13 overall

Ramirez is one of the game's greatest hitters and has been for more than a decade. He's a surefire Hall of Famer who has never been linked to PEDs, tallying 530 homers and a career OPS+ of 155 -- incredible.

Despite some non-talent issues, such as lack of hustle on ground balls to the infield, and his overblown issues with the Boston Red Sox in 2008, Ramirez has had a sensational career and is still going strong at age 36. He's already totaled more than 200 home runs with two clubs, and if he plays long enough, he'll do so in Los Angeles, as well.

Ramirez has five 40-homer seasons and 12 years with 100 or more RBIs. His career on-base percentage sits at .412 as of April 21, and he's finished in the top 10 in MVP voting nine times in the past 12 seasons.

Worst First-round Pick

Kenny Henderson, RHP -- Milwaukee Brewers, No. 5 overall

Henderson passed on a half-million dollar bonus, reportedly demanding $1 million, and headed to the University of Miami instead. The right-hander was not re-drafted and signed a free-agent deal with San Diego in 1995 but never made it past Advanced-A ball in three seasons as a pro.

Regardless of Henderson's success, or lack thereof, when teams pick that high and fail to sign him, something went wrong. Apparently, someone didn't do his homework on Henderson's signability.

Adding insult to injury, Milwaukee passed on Ramirez, Cliff Floyd and Shawn Green, among others.

Best Late-round Picks

Derek Lowe, RHP -- Seattle Mariners, 8th round, No. 215 overall

All Lowe has done in parts of 13 seasons -- 10 full -- is win 127 games and save 85 more, while serving as a shutdown closer or a reliable, front-line starter for whomever he plays. After being traded with Jason Varitek from Seattle in 1996, Lowe's career took off.

He led the league in saves with 42 in 2000 and then won 21 games as a starter two years later. He's not a big strikeout arm as a starter, but he misses just enough bats to compliment one of the best sinkers the game has seen in the past three decades.

Lowe annually ranks in the top three in ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, and he's as durable a pitcher as there is this side of Roy Halladay. He's made 32 starts or more every season he's spent in the rotation and has surpassed 200 innings five times in seven seasons, missing the mark by 2/3 of an inning in 2007.

He's 36 and showing very few signs of slowing down after signing a free-agent deal with the Atlanta Braves this past winter.

Mike Sweeney, C -- Kansas City Royals, 10th round, No. 263 overall

One of the more underrated bats of the first half of this decade, Sweeney has been slowed only by injury and, now, his advanced age. The former catcher brings a career .299/.368/.489 line to Seattle with him this season, with three OPS+ seasons of 130 or better.

Mike Cameron, CF -- Chicago White Sox, 18th round, No. 489 overall

Cameron made his mark in Seattle after being acquired in return for Ken Griffey Jr. prior to the 2000 season, but has continued to contribute solid offense and above-average defense in center field into his mid-thirties. In his prime, Cameron was arguably the best defensive center fielder in all of baseball, and his bat still shows as above-average for the position.

His best season came in 2001 at the pitcher-friendly Safeco field, when Cameron hit .267/.353/.480 with 25 home runs and 34 stolen bases while dazzling with the glove. He's a three-time Gold Glover but probably deserved six or eight more.

Cameron has been a high-value player for 10 years now and, at age 36, is still contributing strongly in Milwaukee.

Jason Isringhausen, RHP -- New York Mets, 44th round, No. 1157 overall

Isringhausen was part of the trio of Mets pitching prospects that was supposed to lead New York to the promised land -- Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson were the other two. And while he's done it in the bullpen and not in the rotation, Isringhausen has had a nice career, making him a sensational 44th rounder.

The 36-year-old enters the 2009 season with 293 saves and a career ERA+ of 117, despite fighting injuries since late 2006.

One That Got Away

Raul Ibanez, OF -- Texas Rangers, 54th round, No. 1375 overall

Ibanez gets knocked for being a bad defensive outfielder, and even in his prime years he lacked range, but offensively Ibanez has improved significantly in the latter years of his career -- a true late bloomer.

Ibanez has had an OPS+ of 120 or better for three straight years -- all at Safeco. The ballpark is somewhat friendly to lefty pull power, but Ibanez likes to go the other way and hits a lot of fly balls.

He's 37 and just inked a three-year pact with the Phillies and is off to a terrific start, smashing five homers and four doubles in the first two weeks of the year. Ibanez is closing in on 200 home runs, and while his OBP isn't top-drawer, he's typically hovering over .350 in his late-prime surge.