In 1993, the Mets lost 103 games, the first time since 1967 they finished with triple-digit losses for the year. That terrible finish, combined with the loss of three free agents at the end of the year who earned them compensation picks, led the Mets to having eight of the top 100 picks in the 1994 Draft.
Now, when your team is not very good, one thing you can look forward to is building through the draft, even if you may only recognize a handful of the names that are called on Draft Day. They’re all stars when they’re drafted. Unfortunately, the draft is much more art than science and just having a bunch of high picks does not mean they will all make the majors, much less turn into All-Stars.
But in 1994, all Mets fans were convinced that, at the very least, the Mets were going to get one franchise player and several contributors from the draft. Not only did the team have eight of the top 100, the Mets had the top overall pick and this was one of the years where there was a no-brainer to take at number one. So, how did it all turn out? Here’s a list of who the Mets drafted, the round and the overall pick of the draft.
Paul Wilson (1st round, 1) – In 1995 Baseball America listed him as the 16th-best prospect in the minors and the following year he was number two overall. But then he met Dallas Green and the rest was history, and not of the record-breaking kind. Wilson pitched parts of seven years in the majors, finished 40-58 with a 4.86 ERA and ended his career with a 0.5 bWAR.
Terrence Long (1st round, 20) – A compensation pick from the Orioles for the loss of Sid Fernandez, Long has 20 doubles, 10 triples and 16 HR at Double-A in 1998 and looked like a potential All-Star. But he was dealt to the A’s in the Kenny Rogers trade. Long peaked in his rookie year with the A’s and never developed into a good hitter. He played eight years in the majors and posted a .269/.318/.404 line and earned a 5.1 lifetime bWAR.
Jay Payton (1st supplemental, 29) – Another compensation pick for losing Fernandez, Payton was the pure hitter. But injuries slowed him in the minors and he never delivered on the hype. Payton turned out to be a solid major league player and even put up a couple of good seasons for the Rockies in the pre-humidor days. In 12 seasons in the majors, he had a .279/.323/.425 line and a 14.7 bWAR, by far the best mark of any of the 1994 Mets’ picks.
Sean Johnston (2nd round, 35) – He looked like he was going to develop into a fine pick but he underwent Tommy John surgery, lost two full years and never recovered. He never made it past the Florida State League, but he’s a lefty and still only 35 so maybe there’s still a shot…
Matt LeCroy (2nd supplemental, 63) – A compensation pick for losing Charlie O’Brien, LeCroy did not sign and instead attended Clemson. Three years later he was a supplemental first-round pick of the Twins. LeCroy played parts of eight years in the majors and recorded a -0.2 bWAR.
Bryon Gainey (3rd round, 64) – Never played a game in the majors. Gainey was the classic minor league slugger who could do little else. He hit 25 HR in Double-A in 1999 and was back at the same level in 2000. The following year he was in Independent Ball.
Kevin McCarthy (4th round, 92) – Like Gainey, he never reached the majors. Unlike Gainey, he never even showed one potential tool in his brief minor league career. In parts of four seasons, he posted a .213/.285/.298 line in the minors as a 1B/OF.
Ken Pumphrey (4th round, 98) – A compensation pick for losing Howard Johnson to the Rockies, he went 23-12 during the 97-98 seasons. But he found the going a little bit tougher at Double-A. He was lost to the Twins in the Rule 5 Draft but never reached the majors. Pumphrey now works for the B.A.T.T. Academy, which according to its Web site, “trains athletes of all ages & skill levels to help ensure they reach their full potential.”
It’s not just the Mets who whiffed when they had a bunch of early picks. The 1990 Expos had 10 of the first 53 picks and the only impact player they landed was Rondell White. The 1997 Expos had nine of the top 75 picks and only had two players reach the majors (Bryan Hebson and T.J. Tucker). And of course the 2002 A’s, the famous “Moneyball” draft, had nine of the top 100 picks and netted Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton. And that’s pretty good production.
Perhaps the 2011 Rays will buck the trend. Tampa Bay had 12 of the top 89 picks in last year’s draft and ended up with two players linked to the Mets in Taylor Guerrieri and Mikie Mahtook. But we’re a decade away from being able to tell about that draft.
Having the picks is one thing, cashing them in is quite another. The Mets didn’t do too hot in 1994 but they’ve certainly scored in the draft at other times. Hopefully in 2020, we will look back at the 2011 Draft, where the Mets picked up Brandon Nimmo, Michael Fulmer, Cory Mazzoni, Philip Evans and others, as the year the Mets hit a home run.