Casey Kotchman played for his father Tom with the Provo Angels for about a week before spraining his wrist and missing the rest of the 2001 season.
Baseball analysts recall the 2001 amateur draft as one of the deepest talent pools in recent history. The first two players chosen were Joe Mauer (Twins) and Mark Prior (Cubs). Mark Teixeira (Rangers) went #5 overall.
Drafts are more art than science — remember Colt Griffin? The Royals chose him at #9. All velocity and no control, he played five minor league seasons, never higher than Double-A. In 373 2/3 innings, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 271:278. That’s not a typo.
The Angels had two extra picks in early rounds as compensation for the Rangers signing reliever Mark Petkovsek — a supplemental pick after the 1st round (#33 overall), and the Rangers’ third-round pick.
In a talent-rich year, it was thought this might be the Angels’ best draft ever. In the immediate years that followed, it seemed likely that would be a reality.
Such judgments in retrospect are, of course, strictly subjective. But although none of the players chosen by the Angels in the draft became superstars, many went on to play in the majors.
Who were the major leaguers? By round:
Casey Kotchman 1B (1st)
Jeff Mathis C (1st, supplemental)
Dallas McPherson 3B (2nd)
Steven Shell RHP (3rd, compensation)
Jake Woods LHP (3rd)
Matt Brown 3B (10th)
Ryan Budde C (12th)
Nick Gorneault OF (19th)
Stephen Andrade RHP (32nd)
Two didn’t play in the majors, but are now coaches in the Angels’ minor league system. Catcher Brent Del Chiaro manages Cedar Rapids, and Mike Eylward is their hitting coach.
Sixth rounder Quan Cosby never made it above Low-A, but went on play wide receiver for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.
Kotchman, Mathis and McPherson were considered top prospects, and it would be fair to say none of them achieved expectations.
Casey Kotchman reached the majors in 2004, called up from Double-A Arkansas after Darin Erstad was injured. He was eventually packaged with minor league pitcher Stephen Marek in a trade to the Braves for Teixeira. Casey went on to Boston and Seattle but never achieved his potential. This year at age 28, he’s having a career year with his home town team, the Tampa Bay Rays. In 328 at-bats, his AVG/OBP/SLG are .332/.394/.457.
Jeff Mathis has started 59 of the Angels’ 113 games to date. Manager Mike Scioscia values him for his defense and game-calling. Jeff never manifested in the majors the offense he showed in the lower minors, and many fans question why Scioscia continues to play a catcher whose AVG/OBP/SLG are .181/.226/.259.
Dallas McPherson reached the majors in 2004 but was never healthy. A lower back injury that began in spring training 2003 grew worse over the years, eventually resulting in a series of increasingly invasive surgeries. The Angels granted him free agency after the 2007 season, and since then Dallas has led a nomadic baseball existence. He played briefly for the Marlins in 2008 and was called up earlier this year by the White Sox, where he was 2 for 15. He currently plays third base for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights.
Was it the Angels’ best draft ever?
Probably not. But of the thirty drafted players who signed, nine appeared in the major leagues. And that’s not bad.
Ervin Santana in fall instructional league, October 5, 2000.
(Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required to watch the videos linked in this article.)
Anaheim’s most significant international signing in recent years was Venezuelan Francisco Rodriguez. Santana is No. 2 with a bullet after agreeing to an undisclosed six-figure bonus last September. At 6-foot-2 with extremely long arms and fingers, Santana oozes the projectability the Angels covet. If his fastball gets any quicker he’ll be truly overpowering, because he already throws 90-93 mph with a peak of 95. His breaking ball and changeup are still works in progress. He flies open with his delivery and drags his arm when he throws his slider, but both it and his change should become at least average pitches. He’s more advanced than fellow Dominican Ramon Ortiz was when he joined the organization, and Ortiz was 19 to Santana’s 16. In 2001, Santana could pitch in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League or make his U.S. debut in the Pioneer League.
— Baseball America 2001 Prospect Handbook
When he signed on September 2, 2000, Ervin Santana was neither Ervin nor 16.
Santana used the birth certificate of a relative to make the Angels think he was younger than he was. It was not an uncommon practice at the time. The name he gave was Johan Quezada Santana, with a date of birth of November 28, 1983. His real name was Ervin Ramon Santana, and he was born on December 12, 1982 — eleven months earlier than he claimed.
The discrepancy was discovered during the winter of 2002-2003, as part of an industry-wide investigation. Some Dominicans were found to be years older than they claimed, so eleven months wasn’t that big a deal.
I saw Ervin pitch for the Angels in fall instructional league on October 5, 2000. It was at the Angels’ old minor league complex, Gene Autry Park, in Mesa, Arizona. If it wasn’t his first start in the U.S., it was one of his first.
Look at his photo above. He was reed-thin. The Angels’ media guide next spring listed him as 6’2″, 150 lbs. That sounds about right.
He was very raw. BA analyst Jim Callis was correct about his mechanics. Ervin flew so wide open that I thought his head might snap off his neck. But that would be fixed with time.
Ervin Santana at Rookie-A Provo, August 27, 2001. That’s Pedro Liriano on the right.
Regardless of age or language barriers, I learned quickly that Ervin wasn’t shy. He was playful and outgoing. In the above photo, he and Pedro Liriano asked that I take their picture together. As I started to snap the photo, Ervin tipped his cap. Typical Ervin.
2002 at Low-A Cedar Rapids was his first full season. His ERA wasn’t all that great at 4.16, but he won 14 games and struck out 146 in 147 innings.
It was that winter we found out his real name was Ervin. Assigned in the spring of 2003 to High-A Rancho Cucamonga, the host parents hung the nickname “Magic” on him, a play on Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson. He had his glove inscribed “El Magic.”
The 2003 Quakes were predicted to be an historic team. Most of the Angels’ top prospects had converged on the opening day roster — Santana, Joe Torres, Casey Kotchman and Jeff Mathis. Dallas McPherson would arrive about a month later after a back injury in spring training that would ultimately derail his career. Mike Napoli was there too, although at the time we didn’t know he would work his way into prospect status from backup catcher and first baseman.
Others who played on the 2003 Quakes that eventually made it to the majors were Ryan Budde, Brian Esposito, Nick Gorneault, Tommy Murphy, Stephen Andrade, Edwar Ramirez, Steven Shell, Rich Thompson, and Jake Woods.
I videotaped a lot of raw footage that year, hoping to one day produce a documentary about that group once enough time had passed to give us a perspective on their careers. I still have the videos; perhaps 2013, their ten-year anniversary, would be a good time.
If you want to see Ervin pitching for Rancho in 2003, click here to watch a clip of him pitching at Inland Empire on April 20, 2003. That was his breakout season; Ervin was 10-2 with a 2.53 ERA in 20 starts. He struck out 130 in 124 2/3 innings. His opponents’ average of .212 was the lowest in the California League. Ervin finished 2003 with six starts at Double-A Arkansas.
By 2005, Santana was in the majors. His big-league debut was on May 17 at Cleveland. The game was forgettable. The first four batters hit for the cycle against him. But he was only 22, and had years of growth and maturity ahead of him.
We crossed paths for the first time in many years when I visited extended spring training in April 2009 at the Angels’ new minor league complex at Tempe Diablo. Ervin and John Lackey were there on rehab assignment. I filmed his bullpen session; click here to watch.
A week later, he pitched a rehab start at Rancho Cucamonga (click here to watch), six years after his All-Star year with the Quakes. His glove was still inscribed, “El Magic.”
May 4, 2009 … Ervin Santana wearing the “El Magic” glove during a rehab assignment at Rancho Cucamonga.
That was one of my last games at Rancho Cucamonga, as I moved to Florida a few weeks later.
Wednesday July 27, 2011 happened to be my off-day from work. The Angels were at Cleveland playing a day game. Santana was the starting pitcher.
By chance, I visited the Angels’ web site and saw Ervin had a no-hitter through five innings. It wasn’t available here on TV or radio, so I checked back on the web site once in a while.
As Ervin went into the 9th, MLB Network went live to Cleveland, picking up the Angels’ TV feed.
I got to see the final three outs, as Ervin pitched the first Angels’ no-hitter since 1990, and the first complete-game no-hitter since 1984.
Erick Aybar, one of this Dominican teammates, dumped the Gatorade bucket over Ervin’s head in the middle of a post-game interview with analyst Jose Mota. Their careers didn’t quite parallel in the Angels’ system, as Erick was usually a year or two behind Ervin. But no teammate was better suited for that prank than Erick.
Ervin Santana is now the toast of baseball, at least until his next start.
I began FutureAngels.com in 1998, so I “grew up” so to speak with many of the homegrown Angels on the parent club roster. With some, a special relationship develops, and you know that even though you’re separated by time and space you still have that special relationship. Around our house, he was always known as the “Ervin Baby,” one of the kids you really did feel like he was your son. I suspect at least two host families who once housed Ervin got a phone call last night from him.
Ervin always had a big heart — which is why he had room for so many of us.
John Lackey and Jerome Williams face off at Salem-Keizer two months after they were selected in the June 1999 draft.
August 20, 1999.
Tom Kotchman and the Boise Hawks were in Oregon to play the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, the San Francisco Giants’ affiliate in the Short-A Northwest League.
I’d flown up to visit nearby friends and see the Anaheim Angels’ affiliate on the road. The game that night was billed as a match of top pitching prospects.
Jerome Williams was the Giants’ first round supplemental pick that June, #39 overall. John Lackey was chosen in the second round by the Angels, #68 overall.
Williams was considered the more polished product. Lackey had converted to the mound that year in his junior college season while not playing first base.
The next winter, Baseball America ranked Williams the Giants’ #4 prospect. They wrote:
Williams is a classic projection draft with a loose, wide-shouldered body that has been compared to that of Dwight Gooden. His fastball is in the 89-92 mph range now, and the Giants expect his velocity to go up as he fills out. Williams has a fluid, easy delivery and arm action.
BA concluded that “Williams might have the highest ceiling in the organization if he physically matures as the Giants think he will.”
A few weeks later, BA published the Angels’ Top 10 prospects list. Lackey wasn’t on it. Under “Newcomer Report,” David Rawnsley included Lackey in a list of Boise pitchers who “flashed above-average stuff.”
When they met on August 20, Williams had the better night. He worked four innings, gave up two runs on five hits in four innings with three strikeouts and three walks. Lackey took the loss. In six innings, he gave up seven runs (six earned) on eight hits with four strikeouts and five walks.
History, of course, shows that Lackey went on to a far better career. He won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series and hit the jackpot when he signed a free-agent contract in December 2009 with the Boston Red Sox for five years totalling $82.5 million.
Williams reached San Francisco in 2003 at age 21 and posted a 3.30 ERA in 21 starts (131 innings). He was traded to the Cubs in 2005, claimed by the A’s on waivers in late 2006 and released, then signed with the Nationals but suffered a rotator cuff injury and was released. His nomadic career took him into independent ball, the Puerto Rico winter league and even Taiwan in 2010.
Jerome began 2011 with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League. The Angels acquired him on June 16 after he posted a 6-0 record with a 2.91 ERA.
Williams made his Triple-A Salt Lake debut last night. In six innings, he gave up three runs (one earned) on eight hits in six innings, with six strikeouts and no walks. The Bees won 6-5 — at Fresno, a Giants affiliate, and Jerome’s home team in 2002, 2003 and 2005.
The right-hander, a first-round pick in the 1999 draft, worked in and out of trouble for six innings and left with a 5-3 lead. He allowed eight hits and fanned six.
“It was awesome, amazing. I felt great,” he said, standing by the Grizzlies dugout. “I got some balls up, but for the most part kept them down and got groundballs.”
It was home-sweet-home for Williams, who has lived in Fresno since 2002 when he met his future wife, Sarah, a Fresno City student and Central High graduate. They married in 2004, have three children and he’s part-owner of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue that has restaurants in Fresno, Crescent City and New York.
Last night was only one start, but if Jerome should resuscitate his career at age 29 and contribute to the Angels in the major leagues, it will be a feel-good year in a season desperately in need of one.
The 1961 Statesville Owls team photo. Nine surviving players reunited fifty years later on the same field.
It all began when the Los Angeles Angels, one of two American League expansion teams in 1961, desperately needed minor league affiliates.
Roland Hemond, the Angels’ newly appointed farm and scouting director, had only three months to find affiliates. He signed working agreements with a Triple-A team in Dallas-Ft. Worth that was already affiliated with the Phillies, and with a Class D team in Statesville, North Carolina whose players were mostly signed independently.
The Statesville Owls were part of the Western Carolina League, a circuit created to feed talent into the Contintental League, a proposed third major league. But when the Continental League folded — in part because the A.L. expanded into the Los Angeles market — the WCL scrambled to find its own talent.
“Affiliation” had a much looser connotation in 1961. A minor league club could still sign, trade and release its own players. But they could also get players from an affiliated major league club. Some got them from more than one.
The 1961 Owls had indy players from North Carolina and across the South, but added Angels players to their roster as soon as they arrived. Most Angels were from Southern California, although a few came from Florida and elsewhere. One player, Gaetan Boudreau, came from Quebec and spoke very little English.
Despite their disparate backgrounds, and the Jim Crow culture that still permeated the Southern culture, the team became a true band of brothers. White, black, Western, Southern or Québécois. It didn’t matter.
Three went on to major league careers. The rest went on to other lives, their playing careers forgotten except for the arcane world of minor league historical archives, and in their own memories.
But after four years of research, phone calls, letters, e-mails and an October 2009 gathering at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, the 1961 Statesville Owls have finally returned to their home ballpark.
On June 17 and 18, the city of Statesville hosted a reunion of nine surviving Owls. The attendees were Dave Best, George Bryson, Walter Darton, Alan Flitcraft, Jerry Fox, Bob Lucas, Vito Porta, Richard Simpson, and Ed Thomas. Fox and Thomas, two of the 1961 indy players, still live in Statesville and helped organize the reunion.
The 1961 Owls pose with City of Statesville mayor Costi Kutteh. Left to right: Jerry Fox, George Bryson, Richard Simpson, Mayor Kutteh, Ed Thomas, Dave Best, Walter Darton, Alan Flitcraft (partially obscured), and Vito Porta.
The Owls were hosted by a new college team that has adopted the original name. The new Statesville Owls are part of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League. The team set up a tent at a Friday night street fair where the players signed autographs on photos created from 1961 images. Later that evening, the 1961 Owls and invited guests gathered at a local restaurant for dinner and storytelling.
The next day, the players were treated to a barbecue at Jerry Fox’s farm. The players posed for a “Field of Dreams” photo in the corn field. They also called former teammate Jack Hiatt, recently retired as the San Francisco Giants’ farm director but still on the road as a special assignment scout.
And then it was on to their onetime home field.
The park looks much different than 1961. It’s used today as the home field not just for the college Owls but also Statesville High School. It’s in much better condition than 1961. The old infield was all dirt! The current infield is grass. One player joked that in 1961 they’d have been better off playing in the street than on that old rock-strewn infield.
The college Owls scheduled a fan fest before the doubleheader, but a thunderstorm passed through and the tents were gone with the wind, which seemed to affect attendance.
George Bryson, Alan Flitcraft and Vito Porta threw out the first pitches before the first game. Flitcraft went down to the bullpen to throw beforehand. He threw the first Angels’ organizational no-hitter on this field on August 26, 1961. When it came time to throw the first pitch, Alan threw a perfect strike.
Between games, the 1961 Owls were honored on the field with a City of Statesville proclamation, and a congratulatory statement from today’s Angels director of Player Development Abe Flores.
Five more alumni threw out the first pitch before the second game — Ed Thomas, Jerry Fox, Richard Simpson, Dave Best and George Bryson.
After the ceremony, they sat behind the third base dugout in an area set aside for them.
I filmed the weekend’s events. The, um, family-friendly version is available to watch online. Click here to watch the reunion video. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required. Photos from the weekend are below.
The Statesville Record & Landmark published a June 19 article about the reunion. In the print edition, the article was on Page 1 with a color photo of Flitcraft’s bullpen.
To put this event in perspective, it would be the equivalent of the 2011 Orem Owlz having a reunion in 2061. It’s a tribute to their camaraderie that the 1961 Owls were willing to return to this town of 27,000 people just so they could reunite their band of brothers and walk on that field one more time.
On a personal note … This ended my four-year odyssey to uncover the history of the Angels’ first minor league team. I walked on that field, met those players, and became one of them when they asked me to autograph their first-pitch baseballs. I have new friends in Statesville simply because we share a common love for baseball.
Fifty years later, the 1961 Statesville Owls are still a family.
At the street fair … Left to right — Walter Darton, Alan Flitcraft and Ed Thomas.
George Bryson discovers a photo of himself in 1961.
Statesville baseball historian Steve Hill (left) meets Alan Flitcraft.
The college Statesville Owls’ president Brian Suarez (left) with Bob Lucas.
George Bryson’s punch line gets a reaction at the reunion dinner.
The “Field of Dreams” photo at Jerry Fox’s farm. Left to right — Vito Porta, George Bryson, Alan Flitcraft, Dave Best, Jerry Fox, Walter Darton, Dick Simpson and Ed Thomas.
Vito Porta is interviewed by Statesville Record & Landmark reporter Jim McNally.
Alan Flitcraft throws on the sidelines at Statesville Stadium.
Alan Flitcraft (left) and George Bryson watch the college Owls play.
Dave Best (left) and Walter Darton discuss action on the field. Richard Simpson watches to the right.
The 2011 edition of the Statesville Owls. Is a 2061 reunion in their future?
Seven Angels minor leaguers from 1961 reunited September 25, 2009 at Tempe Diablo. Left to right — Alan Flitcraft, Dick Simpson, Dan Ardell, Walter Darton, Ed Thomas, Jerry Fox, and Dave Best. Bobby Lucas arrived shortly after the photo was taken.
If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know that an ongoing project has been to reunite the 1961 Statesville Owls, one of two minor league teams the Angels had in their inaugural season. Statesville, North Carolina was Class D, a rough equivalent to today’s Low Class-A. The other affiliate was the Triple-A Dalls-Ft. Worth Rangers, an affiliation shared with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, which means it’s the 50th anniversary of the Statesville Owls.
We staged a reunion in September 2009, held at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona. Today’s future Angels had an opportunity to meet the original Angels minor leaguers. Click here to watch a video of excerpts from the reunion. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.
As the almuni departed, they tasked me with a solemn responsibility — to reunite them in Statesville for their 50th anniversary.
My wife and I moved from California to Florida in June 2009, so in March 2010 we drove 600 miles to Statesville. We met with Ed Thomas and Jerry Fox, two 1961 Owls who still live in Statesville. They took me to stand on the very field where Angels minor league baseball began. Click here to watch video of the Statesville ballpark visit. We established the initial contacts to make possible that 50th anniversary reunion.
Circumstances required me to bow out, so the locals took over planning, led by the new Southern Collegiate Baseball League Statesville Owls. They’ve arranged for a two-day celebration of the 1961 Owls, starting with a street concert in downtown Statesville the evening of June 17. The next day, as part of their FanFest, the Owls will play a doubleheader and honor the alumni. The first pitch in each game will be thrown out by the alumni, and between games they’ll be honored with a ceremony.
I didn’t think I’d be able to make it, but circumstances have changed so I’ll be heading north next week to record the events for posting on FutureAngels.com and this blog.
I do believe I’ll wear my 1961 Los Angeles Angels cap …
Ed Thomas, FutureAngels.com publisher Stephen Smith, and Jerry Fox in Statesville in March 2010. Thomas and Fox played on the 1961 Statesville Owls. Photo courtesy Steve Hill.
The Angels won the AL West last night, and Nick Adenhart was part of the celebration.
Click Here to go to the MLB.com article about what happened after the game. Grab a tissue and click on the image to start the video stream.
Other articles about Nick:
Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike DiGiovanna has in today’s paper a lengthy article about Nolan Ryan and the changes he’s made in the Texas Rangers since taking over as president.
One has to wonder how history might have changed if the Angels had kept Ryan rather than letting him walk as a free agent after the 1979 season.
Los Angeles Times sports blogger Steve Bisheff wrote Monday that he underestimated Juan Rivera’s talents — in part because Rivera doesn’t speak English in interviews.
Los Angeles Times blogger and former Orange County Register sportswriter Steve Bisheff posted Monday night an admission that he had misjudged Juan Rivera’s talents. His justification:
I thought he was a decent enough player, who, in the best of circumstances, would hit maybe .280, finish with 22 or 23 home runs and perhaps 80 RBIs. Not bad, mind you.
Just nothing to get excited about. Kind of like Rivera’s demeanor. He is about as personable as a foul pole, a quiet, introverted type who rarely says anything in the clubhouse and claims not to speak English, though there are those who think that’s just a ploy to avoid reporters.
In other words, he is everything Torii Hunter is not.
By no means am I about to tar all sportswriters with this metaphorical brush, but Bisheff’s admission reveals something that’s troubled me about far too many scribes — the journalist’s reporting about a player is tainted by how big a quote machine he is.
This isn’t limited to sports journalism. I’ve mentioned before that I dabble in political consulting as a sideline. I learned a long time ago that reporters will be far more sympathetic to your cause if you regularly feed them information. It makes their job easier. I’ve seen many articles published over the years — some sympathetic to my causes, others critical — that were largely reprints of information handed to the reporter by a source, without adequate fact checking.
Bisheff’s bias is that Rivera doesn’t speak English and, in particular, the suspicion that Juan might know more English than he lets on.
Well, here’s a revelation for you — lots of Latin ballplayers know more English than they let on.
I remember during the 2002 playoffs that Francisco Rodriguez used an interpreter during post-game press conferences. I was laughing on the sofa because Frankie’s English was quite good. I’d known Frankie in the minors, spoken to him frequently, interviewed him at Salt Lake in July 2002, and happened to see him at Anaheim on September 15 when he was called up. We spoke in English — and his was quite good — about his overnight flight from Salt Lake City.
Most Latin players are anxious to practice their English — with people they trust.
Many of them come from countries where the media are controlled by the authoritarian government. Juan Rivera is from Venezuela, which is run by Hugo Chavez. The Dominican Republic isn’t exactly a bastion of free speech either. So these players are naturally distrustful of the media.
But it seems to me that Bisheff and his colleagues could achieve a lot more access if they simply learned some Spanish.
Bisheff’s comment reminded me of the May 21, 2005 press conference at Rancho Cucamonga where Kendry Morales was introduced to the baseball world. I was there to videotape it; no television media showed up, only newspaper reporters, so I have the only video of this historic event.
Click Here to watch the press conference. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required.
A reporter from the Los Angeles Times monopolized the first fifteen minutes of questioning. (The Angels’ Media Relations should have cut him off, but that’s their problem.) Charlie Romero, the manager of the Angels’ Dominican academy, was there to translate for Kendry. When the Times reporter finally relented, a female reporter from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin asked Kendry a question — in Spanish. The Times reporter meekly asked for a translation.
I was laughing to myself, thinking “Good for you!” that the Daily Bulletin reporter stuck it to the Times scribe.
But it was symptomatic of the same attitude Bisheff has — you owe it to us to speak our language, or else we might not write nicely about you.
I look forward to many more interviews with Rivera, Morales and other Latin players — in Spanish.
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.
The Rays announced today that Kazmir is once again on the disabled list:
Left-hander Scott Kazmir will be shut down for a bit because of a right quad strain he said was caused from bad mechanics in his delivery. Kazmir will continue to throw off flat ground and said it shouldn’t keep him out long.
Bad mechanics was reportedly the reason why the Mets, who originally drafted Kazmir, traded him to Tampa Bay. Looks like his habits are starting to catch up to him.
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.