One of the ongoing debates that we have had on Lone Star Ball since...well, probably since its inception is about drafting. Specifically, the Texas Rangers draft success (or lack thereof), and whether they would be better off simply drafting based on the general publicly available consensus of who the top player on the board.
You frequently see the suggestion that the Rangers are trying to “get cute” by passing on whoever is perceived to be the top player on the board for someone else, though the reality is that that’s based on how the Rangers rank the available players. MLB teams have boards that diverge and differ dramatically, particularly after the top 20-25 players, and so a guy who one team might have a third round grade on, for example, another team may not have on their board at all.
In any case, I thought it would be a useful exercise to go through some recent drafts and compare who the Rangers picked in the first couple of rounds to who the top player on the Baseball America board was. I decided to start with 2012 because that is when the draft bonus pool system started. I decided to use BA because, well, I had to pick someone’s board, and theirs is the biggest and is generally used as the primary reference point in these sorts of exercises.
Today we are doing 2015. Yes, the infamous Dillon Tate draft. The top of this draft ended up being a disaster.
Here are the Rangers’ draft picks in the first three rounds in 2015, along with their slot values and what they signed for.
#4 — Dillon Tate — $5,026,300 slot, $4,200,000 signed.
#45 — Eric Jenkins — $1,361,100 slot, $2,000,000 signed.
#78 — Michael Matuella — $777,600 slot, $2,000,000 signed.
Tate went for a little below slot — typical for guys in the top few picks of the draft — and then the Rangers went well above slot for Matuella and Jenkins, who combined to be about $1.9 million over slot.
The Rangers’ #1 pick, Dillon Tate, was a righthanded pitcher out of UC Santa Barbara who was ranked #3 on the BA top 500 list, behind only Brendan Rodgers and Dansby Swanson. Behind Tate were Alex Bregman, Daz Cameron, Carson Fulmer, Garrett Whitley, Kyle Tucker, Andrew Benintendi, and Trent Grisham, in that order.
The first three picks in the draft were Swansby, Bregman and Rodgers, which meant the Rangers went chalk with Tate at #4. Tate struggled to adjust to the pros, struggled with adjustments the Rangers wanted him to make, and ended up getting dealt just over a year later, to the New York Yankees, along with Erik Swanson and Nick Green, for Carlos Beltran. The Yankees traded him a couple of years later at the deadline to the Baltimore Orioles for Zack Britton. Tate is a reliever now, and appeared in 16 games in 2019 with a 6.43 ERA, before putting up a 3.24 ERA in 12 games in 2020.
Cameron, the guy ranked right behind Tate, got $4 million to sign with the Houston Astros as a supplemental first round pick. He was a top 100 guy heading into 2016, but hasn’t been seen on those lists since. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers in the Justin Verlander deal, and made his major league debut this year, though he has a 334 OPS in 37 plate appearances. He hasn’t hit, and his stock has dropped dramatically as a result.
Carson Fulmer, a
lefthanded* righthanded pitcher out of Vanderbilt, made it to the majors in 2016 with the Chicago White Sox and put up an 8.49 ERA in 8 games. He bounced between the majors and minors after 2016, and has been waived four times since the start of the 2020 season. He has a career 6.34 ERA in 105 IP, mostly in relief.
* Like A.J. Griffin and Chris Archer, Carson Fulmer is one of those pitchers I’m convinced is lefthanded, even though he’s not. That may be because I conflate him with Tyler Jay, a similar pitcher taken 6th overall in this draft, who actually is a lefty.
Garrett Whitley was a high school outfielder out of New York who was picked by the Tampa Bay Rays, and who has never hit.
Kyle Tucker, who went to the Astros one pick after the Rangers took Tate, has established himself as a solid major league outfielder in 2020. Andrew Benintendi, a college outfielder out of Arkansas, has been good for the Boston Red Sox, though he has regressed since a really good 2018 season. Trent Grisham is having a really nice season in the San Diego Padres’ outfield.
Though really, in retrospect, the guy who the Rangers should have picked was Walker Buehler. The Vandy righthander dropped to the Los Angeles Dodgers at #24 because of concerns about his elbow, and needed Tommy John surgery after the draft. That worked out for the Dodgers.
So Tate was the chalk pick there, with the next three players on the BA board, who were still available when they picked, not working out so far. The Rangers supposedly really like both Alex Bregman and Brendan Rodgers, and were hoping one of those two guys would drop to them...I’m not sure which one they would have taken, had both Bregman and Rodgers both been there.
Eric Jenkins was a toolsy high school outfielder out of North Carolina who was #42 on the BA top 500 rankings. His draft write-up at BA actually has a surprising amount of praise for his hitting ability, praising his bat speed, pitch recognition ability and “feel for the barrel.” He had great speed and was considered to be a quality defender in center field, with the main question being whether his power would develop.
Well, the defense was there. Jenkins, as a professional, graded out as a terrific defensive outfielder. He also was really fast. He also never hit. He put up a career .221/.288/.316 slash line in affiliated ball, never getting above high-A, and has been released by the Rangers. He never really had much trade value at any point while he was with Texas.
The highest ranked player still on the board when the Rangers picked Jenkins was Tennessee prep pitcher Donny Everett, who dropped due to signability concerns and went to Vanderbilt. He passed away late in his freshman season, drowning while at the lake with teammates.
The next highest ranked player still on the board was Michael Matuella, at #23. We will talk about him in a minute.
The next highest ranked player was Chris Betts, a high school catcher out of Long Beach, who was ranked #28 and selected #52 by the Tampa Bay Rays, signed for $1.485M, which was a little over $300K over slot. Betts has not hit much as a pro, has struggled with injuries, and hasn’t made it out of low-A ball yet.
The next highest ranked player was Dakota “Supernintendo” Chalmers, a righthanded prep pitcher out of Georgia. He was ranked #34 on the BA list, and was drafted in the third round by the A’s, signing for $1.2 million, well over slot. Chalmers was traded in August, 2018, to the Minnesota Twins for Fernando Rodney. Chalmers has 68.2 IP over 21 games since the start of 2017 due to Tommy John surgery. He’s on the Twins’ 40 man roster, and the stuff has gotten good reviews, but he’s not high on the Twins prospect lists (though MLB Pipeline has him at #24).
Others of note after Chalmers but ahead of Jenkins on the list include:
Cody Ponce, a righty pitcher out of Cal Poly-Pomona, who was ranked #36, was selected at #55 by the Milwaukee Brewers, was traded to the Pirates at the deadline last year for Jordan Lyles, and who has appeared in 17 innings this year for Pittsburgh, with a 3.18 ERA and a 6.66 FIP.
Jacob Nix, who would have signed with the Astros in 2014 if the Brady Aiken fiasco hadn’t happened, and who was taken by the San Diego Padres at #86. Ranked #37 on the BA board, he was in the top half of the Padres’ prospect rankings for several years after being drafted, and made his major league debut in 2018 with 9 starts (and a 7.02 ERA). He missed much of 2019 with injury, was arrested during the AFL season for drunkenly crawling through someone’s doggy door before being tased, and then was designated for assignment.
Scott Kingery, ranked #40 and selected by the Philadelphia Phillies at #48, had a breakout 2017 campaign that saw him land in the top 50 prospects on the major services prior to 2018. He signed a long-term deal before playing a game, and has been in the majors since the start of 2018, with mixed results.
Mike Matuella was the Rangers’ third round pick. The righthander out of Duke University was the favorite to be the #1 pick in the draft before back and elbow injuries led to him to drop precipitously. He was the highest ranked player on the board when the Rangers picked, aside from Everett. He has struggled with injuries since joining the Rangers.
Dakota Chalmers was the next highest ranked player still on the board when Matuella was selected. Jalen Miller, a prep shortstop from Georgia who was ranked #35 and drafted at #95 by the San Francisco Giants, was the next highest ranked player on the board. He’s never hit and never made it out of A ball. Jacob Nix was the next highest ranked player on the board after that.
The two notable players who went later on in the third round are Brandon Lowe, ranked #98 on the BA board as a second baseman out of the University of Maryland, drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays, and Harrison Bader, ranked #85 as a Florida outfielder, and drafted #100 by the St. Louis Cardinals.
So if the Rangers went chalk in 2014, their selections would have been:
4 — Tate
59 — Mike Matuella or Chris Betts (depending on if we assume the Rangers pass on Matuella again or not)
95 — Mike Matuella or Dakota Chalmers (Matuella if we assume they passed on him and took Betts, Chalmers if we assume they took Matuella in the second round)
The Rangers took the highest ranked guy on the BA board with their first and third round picks, and a guy who was ranked at #42 and selected at #45 in the second round. This is about as “chalk” a draft as the Rangers have had, and it was a disaster.
The Rangers fourth, fifth and sixth round picks were Jacob Lemoine, Chad Smith and Tyler Ferguson. Smith and Ferguson have already been released.
Texas has had several later picks who made it to the majors from that draft.
Dylan Moore, selected in the 7th round as a $10K sign, and traded to the Atlanta Braves for international slot money, was released by the Braves in March, 2018, signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, became a free agent after the 2018 season, signed with the Seattle Mariners, and has been a good player for them the past two seasons.
Peter Fairbanks, signed for $100,000 out of the University of Missouri as a 9th round pick, blew up in 2019, made the majors, and was traded for Nick Solak.
Scott Heineman, signed as an 11th round pick out of the University of Oregon, has gotten major league time as a backup outfielder.
Demarcus Evans, signed as a Mississippi prep pitcher for $100K as a 25th round pick, has made his major league debut this month.
Jeffrey Springs, a 30th rounder out of Appalachian State, has 57 major league games under his belt.
C.D. Pelham, a 33rd round pick, made the majors.
And Tyler Phillips, a 16th rounder signed for $160K, is on the 40 man roster, and seems to have a good chance of making the majors.
I will do 2016 next.