Joe Saunders in fall instructional league, October 2003, recovering from a labrum injury.
“I still am stunned that we chose Joe Sauders (sic) over Scott Kazmir…unbelievable! This was bad judgment on Donny Rowlands (sic). Kazmir is tearing up the minors and Saunders may never take the mound for us because of a bad shoulder.”
— Post on Angelsbaseball.com message board, January 9, 2004
“This whole Weaver/Drew situation reminds me of a couple of years ago when the Angels passed on Scott Kazmir because they were scared of his demands and took another lefty Saunders. Could you imagine what out farm system would look like if we had Kazmir instead of Saunders.
— Post on Angelsbaseball.com message board, June 7, 2004
“lol, still protecting your arguments above anything else, aren’t you stephen? don’t you think it’s easier to just admit you were wrong about the angels drafting saunders instead kazmir?
— Post on Angelsbaseball.com message board, November 19, 2006
Joe Saunders won a duel of aces last night, as the Angels beat Zack Greinke and the Royals, 1-0.
Watching Saunders pitch his complete game, I was reminded of the temper tantrums thrown on fan boards a few years ago by people who were outraged that the Angels chose Saunders in the June 2002 draft instead of Scott Kazmir.
The Angels had the twelfth pick in that draft. Eleven teams had already passed on Kazmir. After Anaheim, two more teams passed on him. The Mets finally selected him with the fifteenth pick.
Kazmir’s stuff was described as “electric.” He was a left-handed Texas high school superstar who’d been clocked in the mid-90s and had a plus slider.
Looking back through my Baseball America issues, it appears that Kazmir fell to #15 for two reasons. One was rumors that he was asking for a huge bonus. The other was concern with his mechanics. Despite the media hype, some teams’ scouts looked beyond the velocity and evaluated the total package.
Drafts are far more art than science. The Phillies, drafting #17, selected Cole Hamels, who broke the humerus bone in his pitching arm as a sophomore in high school. So if you want to play the 20/20 game, you can bash sixteen teams for not selecting Hamels.
The next spring, Saunders was scheduled to join a “dream team” roster at Rancho Cucamonga that would have had him in the rotation with Ervin Santana. But an exam showed a torn rotator cuff. Rather than undergo invasive surgery, the Angels and Saunders decided to undergo an aggressive rehabilitation process. Kazmir, meanwhile, was labelled one of the game’s top pitching prospects, although he had a tender elbow at the start of the 2003 season.
Saunders resumed his career in April 2004, opening the season with Rancho Cucamonga. The Mets shocked the baseball world in July, when they traded Kazmir to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano. Media reports suggested that the Mets were concerned about Kazmir’s long-term durability; ironically, Zambrano broke down after three starts and was done for the year.
Kazmir carried his “future superstar” label into the big leagues, appearing in eight games that year for the Devil Rays at age 20. Saunders, 2½ years older than Kazmir, quietly went about progressing his career in the Angels system.
Because the Rays rushed him to the majors, Kazmir’s career was in the limelight. Saunders, held back because the Angels had so much depth, found himself trapped in Triple-A as the “#6 pitcher” in a five-man major league starting rotation, pitching at Salt Lake while awaiting his opportunity.
In the long run, Saunders has proven to be the more durable pitcher. Kazmir has found himself on the disabled list from time to time with various injuries, although nothing so far that’s career-threatening. Saunders has yet to go on the D.L. in the big leagues.
Because Saunders is older than Kazmir, it’s not quite fair to compare their career stats through 2008, but if you do you find that Kazmir pitched 761 innings in the majors, had a 3.73 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and averaged 9.6 strikeouts and 4.2 walks every nine innings. Saunders logged 433 innings, had a 3.89 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and averaged 5.2 strikeouts and 2.7 walks every nine innings.
In 2009, Kazmir has a 5.92 ERA after seven starts, a 1.66 WHIP, with 7.1 strikeouts and 5.0 walks every nine innings. Saunders has a 2.66 ERA after seven starts, a 1.10 WHIP, with 4.2 strikeouts and 2.1 walks every nine innings.
I think it’s fair to say that Kazmir is still struggling to realize his potential. As we saw last night, Saunders has found his.