A Look Into How the Twins Fared in MLB’s 5 Best Draft Classes
Image courtesy of © Bruce Kluckhohn - USA TODAY Sports1) 1985
This draft was absolutely loaded and included B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Bobby Witt, Barry Larkin, and Barry Bonds as five of the first six picks. Raphael Palmeiro and Randy Johnson also came out of this draft and there are plenty more impressive names. But how’d the Twins fare?
Twins draftees to reach the majors: 2/36 (6%)
Total WAR: 7.9
It’s hard to imagine doing much worse than Minnesota did in this draft. The Twins had the 13th and 41st overall picks and selected RHPs Jeff Bumgarner and Steve Gasser. Neither would ever reach the majors and only two of Minnesota’s 36 picks did reach the show: RHP Paul Abbot and Catcher Lenny Webster. Abbot was worth 4.6 career WAR but in his three years in Minnesota he produced -0.1 WAR. Webster served as a backup catcher for the Twins from 1989-93, producing 1.1 WAR for Minnesota and 3.3 WAR for his career.
Talent could be found all over the ’81 draft including in the 10th round where Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn was selected by the San Diego Padres. Other notable players to be selected outside the first round included David Cone, Fred McGriff, Mark Langston, and Lenny Dykstra to name but a few.
Twins draftees to reach the majors: 5/37 (13%)
Total WAR: 49.4
Minnesota found their own gem outside of the first round, selecting LHP Frank Viola in the second round (37th overall). Viola was responsible for the lion’s share of value the Twins accumulated as he represents 47.0 WAR of the 49.4 career WAR Minnesota drafted (27.0 WAR with the Twins). His best years with the Twins were in 1987 when he helped lead Minnesota to its first World Series title and in 1988 when Viola won his first and only Cy Young Award. In ’89 “Sweet Music” was traded to the New York Mets but the Twins received pitchers Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera as part of the return, both of whom would play important roles for the next World Series run in 1991.
Of the five remaining players to reach the big leagues only second baseman Steve Lombardozzi would make any kind of impact with 4.4 career WAR (4.0 as a Twin). Eleventh-overall pick Mike Sodders never got the call, but Viola single-handedly saved Minnesota in this draft.
The ’89 draft produced four Hall-of-Famers in Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman. 2020’s five-round draft would have excluded Thome and Hoffman who were selected in the 13th and 11th rounds and Bagwell would barely make it as a fourth-round pick. This draft also included John Olerud and Jeff Kent.
Twins draftees to reach the majors: 10/59 (16%)
Total WAR: 104.1
This draft was rated by mlb.com as the best Twins draft ever and it’s easy to see why. With the 25th overall pick Minnesota selected Chuck Knoblauch, who contributed 44.6 WAR in his career (38.0 with the Twins), and quickly showed his value as a key member of the ’91 World Series champs (he also won Rookie of the Year). In his seven seasons with Minnesota Knoblauch slashed .304/.391/.416, hit 51 triples, stole 276 bases and was a four-time All-Star. He was incredible in 1996 as he hit .341/.448/.517 for 8.7 WAR and somehow still only finished 16th in MVP voting. He was traded to the New York Yankees in 1998 and the Twins received Christian Guzman and Eric Milton as part of the return.
The Twins weren’t finished as they picked up a pair of quality starters in the third and fourth rounds in LHP Denny Neagle (U of M) and RHP Scott Erickson. Erickson was of course a big part of the ‘91 team as he went 20-8 with a 3.18 ERA and 12.7 of his 24.8 career WAR came in his six seasons with Minnesota. Neagle would also go on to have a good career (22.4 WAR) but he only pitched part of one season with the Twins as he was traded to Pittsburgh for John Smiley (who was great in his one season with Minnesota) after the ’91 season.
Other notable draft picks include Marty Cordova in the 10th round (7.7 WAR/5.8 with Twins) and RHP Mike Trombley in the 14th (9.1 WAR/7.6 with Twins). Cordova’s career started with a bang as he won Rookie of the Year in 1995 and hit .294/.362/.482 with 40 home runs over his first two seasons. After that he sort of fizzled out and was granted free agency after five seasons in Minnesota. Trombley pitched as both a starter and reliever with the Twins and wasn’t particularly effective but did spend nine years with the team.
The ’86 draft was a great depth draft that hasn’t produced any Hall-of-Famers to date. The class did include a couple of great arms in Curt Schilling and Kevin Brown and an explosive bat in Gary Sheffield, all of whom definitely have a Cooperstown case.
Twins draftees to reach the majors: 5/30 (16%)
Total WAR: 11.7
While the percentage of players to reach the majors matched the ’89 class, the quality did not. Utility player Jeff Reboulet was probably the most accomplished player of the bunch with 10.0 career WAR, 5.8 of which came in his five seasons with Minnesota. However, it’s likely Scott Leuis who is most fondly remembered by Twins fans as he had his best season in ’91 when he hit .286/.378/.417 in 109 games and hit the game-winning home run in game two of the World Series off of Tom Glavine.
We’re finally out of the eighties! This draft was disappointing at the top, but there were plenty of stars to be found though out including: Zach Greinke, Joey Votto, Cole Hamels, John Lester, Russel Martin, Howie Kendrick, Prince Fielder, Brian McCann, and Matt Cain.
Twins draftees to reach the majors: 10/50 (20%)
Total WAR: 63.8
Not picking at the top of the draft turned out well for the Twins as they were able to nab Denard Span with the 20th overall pick. Span put up 17.2 of his 28.1 career WAR in his five years in Minnesota where he played mostly center field. After the 2012 season Span was traded to the Washington Nationals for RHP prospect Alex Meyer who never panned out and has since retired.
With their second- and sixth-round picks the Twins selected a pair of future relievers who were quite successful in Jesse Crain (11.4 WAR/5.4 with Minnesota) and side-winder Pat Neshek (10.7 WAR/3.0). Minnesota also selected first baseman Adam Lind (12.7 career WAR) in the eighth round but he didn’t sign.
That wraps up our look at how the Twins performed in historically great drafts. As you’d expect there’re some hits and misses with three good-to-great drafts and two bad ones. With so many great players available it would’ve been nice to see some more in a Twins uniform but hindsight’s 20/20 and Minnesota did manage to win two World Series in the aftermath of the majority of these drafts.
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