2008 Draft Review: Reese Havens

USA TODAY Sports

With their second first-round selection in the 2008 draft, the Mets picked South Carolina shortstop Reese Havens. Havens had a pretty swing and a great approach at the plate, but injuries have completely derailed his career.

We began our 2008 draft review with an examination of 18th overall selection Ike Davis, and we’ll move on to the Mets’ second first-round pick, Reese Havens, who was nabbed by the Mets with the 22nd overall pick. Havens had been the shortstop at the University of South Carolina, where he’d had a dominating performance as a junior after struggling his first two seasons.

What I said in 2008

Havens is the definition of a polished hitter. After being a well-regarded high school prospect, he surprisingly struggled during his first two seasons with the Gamecocks. But he had a great season on the Cape last summer, and he carried it over to 2008. He has a great swing marked by a short swing path, great bat control, and active hips, which are what provide power to his swing. He won’t be a big power hitter, but he should provide some nice pop for a middle infielder. He has great contact skills and a discerning eye. He won’t chase balls out of the zone, opting to wait for fastballs placed where he can drive them.

There are questions about his defense, however. He’s developed good footwork and soft hands, and he possesses a strong arm, but a lack of speed hurts his range. Scouts are split as to whether he’ll be able to stay at short or will have to move to second. His overall defense has improved tremendously from where it had been.

Frankly, I love the pick. He was one of my top targets with the 22, and I’m ecstatic the Mets landed him.

I didn’t pick Havens with my shadow draft selection--I grabbed Zach Collier because I was obsessed with balancing polish and raw talent that year--but with more experience I would have followed the Mets’ lead and drafted Havens, a player I clearly loved. Havens hadn’t been a consistent performer in college, but after watching him a few times during his great junior campaign, I walked away very impressed by his approach at the plate and by his sweet swing. I saw him as a future second baseman who could hit .270 or higher with 15-to-20-homer pop and patience, well worth a pick in the middle of the first round. Truth be told, I was more optimistic about Havens’s future than I was about Ike Davis’s.

The career retrospective

Havens’s career was marked by injury right from the start. He showed up in Brooklyn in 2008 with a balky elbow, and right as that had begun to heal he injured his groin. Both things confined him to a designated hitter role until late in the season when he was finally able to take the field as a shortstop. Despite the limitations, Havens impressed early, demonstrating the power and patience that were expected of him, though I was surprised by a startling lack of contact--he hit just .247 and struck out in nearly 28% of his 97 plate appearances. It was a small sample but something worth keeping an eye on. John Sickels gave Havens a B grade and tabbed him as the franchise’s fifth-best prospect, six slots ahead of draftmate Davis.

Havens returned to the field in St. Lucie in 2009 and had what would sadly be his healthiest season to date. Havens got off to a slow start and was bogged down by hamstring issues that would eventually sideline him for over a month starting in June. He played just 97 games. However, he finally looked healthy in August and improved his season line to an encouraging .247/.361/.422. The power had fallen off some, but he had also cut down his strikeout rate to a manageable 17.0%. All in all,it was a performance that left fans wondering what he could do in a fully healthy capacity. Sickels dropped Havens a slot on the top ten list and lowered his grade to a B-.

But it wasn’t meant to be. In 2010, Havens was outstanding when he was actually on the field. Now a full-time second baseman, he split his time between St. Lucie and Binghamton and hit .312/.386/.592, teasing fans with the sort of ability that could turn him into an excellent offensive-minded second baseman. Unfortunately, he appeared in just 32 games across the two levels. This time plagued by terrible oblique pain, Havens eventually needed offseason surgery to trim his ribs, which were shifting in his body and irritating nerve endings, a condition known as rib tip syndrome. At this point, Havens prospect status had started to slip, and Sickels dropped his grade to a C+.

Mets officials were hopeful that this would be the end of Havens’s troubles. It wasn’t. Havens returned to Binghamton and still produced on the field, hitting .288/.373/.455, albeit with a strikeout rate over 25% again. But this time back troubles flared up and appear to have cost him his career. They, along with continued oblique troubles, would menace him going forward, restricting him to just 190 games over the next three seasons and hampering his production. In 2012 he hit just .215/.340/.351, causing the team to designate him for assignment the next spring. He went unclaimed off waivers, but not even a move to hitter’s paradise Las Vegas could revive his career--he hit .237/.312/.330 this past season.

Was he a successful pick?

No, nope, and not at all. In my Ike Davis retrospective, I outlined six criteria that can define a successful draft choice. They were:

(1) Was the pick defensible at the time?
(2) Did the player perform in the minor leagues?
(3) How did similar players drafted perform?
(4) How did other players who were in play at the same pick perform?
(5) Was the player worth the financial investment the team made?
(6) Did the player meet his major league projection?

The answers, in order, are: yes, yes, better than Havens, somewhat better, no, and no. Points (1) and (2) are no-brainers--the guy has obvious talent and he hit well over his first four seasons when he was healthy enough to take the field--as are points (5) and (6)--Havens hasn’t provided any major league production in return for his $1.4 million bonus and any potential trade value has been negligible.

There were several similar players to Reese Havens in the 2008 class, a couple who were taken earlier and a bunch who were taken later. Gordon Beckham might have been the single-most similar player in the class, a shortstop who profiled best at second or third with a line drive bat and an uneven college career, and he went to the White Sox at eighth overall. He’s provided 5.6 rWAR so far. Miami second baseman Jemile Weeks went twelfth overall, and he’s been very up-and-down as a major leaguer and spent the 2013 season hitting so-so at Sacramento. Lonnie Chisenhall, Havens’s teammate at South Carolina for a season, was selected by the Indians a few picks later, and he’s been a good-hitting third baseman in the minors so far, but he had been kicked off the South Carolina squad for grand larceny and hasn’t been as effective in the majors. After him, there are guys like Conor Gillaspie (-0.1 rWAR), Ryan Flaherty (0.7 rWAR), Logan Forsythe (1.4 rWAR), and Johnny Giavotella (-0.4 rWAR), each of whom have had minor league success and limited viewings in the Show. At the time, I ranked them Beckham, Havens, Weeks, Gillaspie, Forsythe, Flaherty, Giavotella, with Chisenhall not being ranked due to his unique situation.

Later selections included Jordy Mercer, Danny Espinosa, David Adams, Cord Phelps, Chase d’Arnaud, Brandon Crawford, and Dee Gordon. Espinosa and Crawford are the bigger misses, and neither has set the world on fire.

Realistically, who else was an option for the Mets with the 22nd pick? In my shadow draft I went with Christian Friedrich and Zach Collier, both of whom were available for the Mets at this pick. Collier was a toolsy prep outfielder with a swing I liked, but he’s been a disaster as a pro. Friedrich dominated the low minors but hit a wall at the upper levels and has battled injury. He’s provided 0.1 rWAR. Daniel Schlereth was a college reliever who most figured would be on the fast track to the majors (he debuted in early 2009), but he’s been mediocre for the Diamondbacks, Tigers, and Orioles. Otherwise, there are a handful of guys who have been more valuable, but the odds were long that the Mets would have considered reaching to select them. I wouldn’t have.

What lessons can we learn?

I don’t have much. Sometimes bad luck just happens. Seriously. Reese Havens is a talented baseball player with a history of minor league production that suggests he could be an above average second baseman. He keeps getting hurt, and there is nothing in his early track record that suggests he could have been identified as injury prone. He was never hurt in high school or college. His work ethic drew positive grades from coaches and scouts. You can’t look at a kid and figure out that he’s going to develop rib tip syndrome and need to have his ribs shortened or that his back is going to turn to generic-brand oatmeal in five years’ time.

Sometimes--wait a second. There’s a perfect rainbow visible from my office window as I write this. And I think I can make something out on the other side. Figures, shadows in the distance in hues of black and blue. There’s Ben Petrick, wearing catcher’s gear and looking steady and mobile. Brian Cole is manning right field, and Nick Adenhart’s on the mound. It must be some kind of baseball world where bad luck doesn’t happen. Everyone’s BABIP corresponds perfectly with their abilities, no one gets hurt. True justice. And look! There’s Healthy Reese Havens, playing second base. He’s been a major league regular since early 2011. He hit .270/.365/.450 for St. Lucie in 500 plate appearances in 2009 but struck out a little too often. So he spent 2010 working on his pitch recognition at Binghamton and Buffalo and put up a .280/.370/.480 line while keeping his strikeout rate around 17%, establishing himself as one of the best keystone prospects around and leading to a seamless transition to the majors. Healthy Reese Havens did experience some oblique pain at one time, and doctors detected rib tip syndrome, but a revolutionary procedure allowed surgeons to stabilize the ribs by coating his skeleton in a newly discovered space metal called adamantium, turning Healthy Reese Havens into an indestructible force of baseball. He missed a week for the procedure, and he now fights crime on the side.

Ah, well. Maybe there’s still time.

Next up: Brad Holt

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