If you thought our review of recent second-round picks was fun, you’re really going to love reminiscing about players who were slightly worse! Seriously, since a third-round pick is nearly as valuable as a second, I figured it would be fun to also take a look at who the team’s drafted in the third-round in recent years. We'll start with the drafts presided over by former Omar Minaya lieutenants Russ Bove and Rudy Terrassas.
The Russ Bove Era
The Mets didn’t have a second-rounder in 2005 because they signed Pedro Martinez. And they didn’t have a third-rounder either, because they signed Carlos Beltran. I’ll take those trades every year. In their place, the Astros selected Tommy Manzella, a shortstop out of Tulane. Manzella was a senior sign--his bonus was just $289,000--and he was drafted on the strength of a senior season in which he hit .347. Of course, a .347 average in a season in which that player is essentially repeating the same level for the fourth consecutive year is only worth so much, especially when the bats are metal and that level is Conference USA. Manzella had good hands and fluid motions at short, but a lack of foot speed hurt his range, hampering his overall defensive value. In the end, the defense was good enough to carry him to the big leagues but not good enough to keep him there, and he left the majors for good after 82 games in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. He hit .225 and had a -1.4 bWAR. He was cut by the Diamondbacks in March of 2014, the eighth time he was released by an organization since August of 2011.
The Rudy Terrassas Era
2006: Joe Smith, RHP, Wright State University
I thought Joe Smith was a great pick. I have often been highly critical of Rudy Terrasas’s tenure as scouting director, but Joe Smith was savvy selection in the third round. Too often, I think teams reach too high with these picks when there are perfectly reasonable role players available, and Smith was one of those guys. Smith threw sidearm, which often immediately turns scouts (and often myself as well) off, but unlike many he could bring the fastball up to 93, and it had some outstanding sinking action to it. He also brought a solid frisbee slider that was not much help against southpaws but could eat righties alive. A player like Smith, who signed for $410,000, has very limited upside--we’re in ROOGY territory, with the upside of a harder-throwing Chad Bradford-type--but it was a profile that figured to lead to a short minor league stay. And the thought was correct: Smith was in the majors in less than a year, and he’s still a very effective pitcher today. Sometimes it pays to aim low.
2007: Eric Niesen, LHP, Wake Forest University
Speaking of Bradford, the Mets received an extra third-round pick as compensation when the Orioles signed the reliever, and they used it to select Eric Niesen who signed with the club for $351,000. Niesen had bounced between Wake Forest’s rotation and bullpen for three years before being drafted. He had pretty good stuff for a southpaw: his heater would sit in the low 90s and would regularly hit 95 in relief, when he spun it right, his slider had some bite with good depth, and I even thought the changeup had some nice fade to it. And mechanically, I thought his delivery was close to picture-perfect. Unfortunately, he had some major control problems, and when you have control problems with a pretty delivery, it’s difficult to figure out how to fix them; the pitcher just needs to learn how to make the ball do what he wants. He also threw from a low three-quarters arm slot, making him more effective against lefties than righties. I thought he had potential as a middle reliever, but the Mets wanted him to start despite his short frame. Control problems eventually ate him up in Double-A, and the Mets gave him his walking papers after struggling at Binghamton for the third straight year. Now 29, Niesen is still walking the world, one hitter at a time, for Long Island in the Atlantic League.
2007: Stephen Clyne, RHP, Clemson University
And Stephen Clyne is what happens when you aim for a reliever and miss. Clyne was actually the third college reliever the Mets drafted in 2007, behind "Ruff" Eddie Kunz and Brant Rustich, and he was actually the one I liked the best. Like Kunz, Clyne was a sinker/slider guy, but unlike Kunz, who had trouble striking batters out in college, he had actually been a successful pitcher in the ACC. His fastball would come in the low 90s, and his slider would actually flash plus. He signed with the club for a very reasonable $100,000, but unfortunately, he had command issues as a pro due to iffy mechanics, and he was never able to get things right, in part due to injuries. The Mets released him in 2010, and he retired from baseball after an unsuccessful stint in the independent leagues in 2011.
2008: Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF, Azusa Pacific University
Nieuwenhuis, who signed with the club for $360,000 wasn’t on too many scouts’ radars in 2008, thanks to his playing for Azusa Pacific, an NAIA school. While he had apparent athleticism, bringing above average speed and natural strength, many wondered whether he was just beating up on inferior competition. He had been successful in Alaska, a competitive wood bat league, which was encouraging. I mentioned at the time that his contact rate would make him or break him as a prospect and suggested he might fit best as a fourth outfielder, though there was a chance he could make it in center. That prediction has more or less been spot on: when Nieuwenhuis has been able to make contact consistently he’s been a valuable contributor. Unfortunately, those stretches were few and far between, and the Mets recently designated him for assignment, likely ending his tenure with the club.
2009: Robbie Shields, SS, Florida Southern College
I liked the Shields pick a lot and suggested he could be a sleeper. That was incorrect. Shields had been getting first-round buzz before his junior season for Division II’s Florida Southern after destroying pitching on Cape Cod the previous summer, impressive considering the Cape’s reputation as a pitcher’s league. Unfortunately, he had a disappointing junior year, causing him to fall to the third round. He was a good all-around prospect as a shortstop, possessing some pop in his bat, an average arm, good hands, and quick feet, though I worried he might not have enough range to handle the position long-term. Blowing out his elbow almost immediately after signing for $315,000 didn’t help, nor did chronic back troubles. In the end, he couldn’t stay on the field, he couldn’t stick at shortstop, quickly shifting to third, and he just didn’t make enough contact. He retired last May.
2010: Blake Forsythe, C, University of Tennessee
At one point, Forsythe had an outside chance of breaking into the first round. A junior season in which he hit only .286 and struck out over 22% of the time sank his chances, however, and instead he was drafted in the third round, signing quickly for $392,400. Frankly, I thought that was too high. I acknowledged that power and patience would be attractive if he could figure out how to make contact, especially considering he was just good enough defensively to stick behind the plate, but I didn’t believe he’d ever tone down his complicated swing or improve his pitch recognition skills enough to accomplish the feat. I appear to have been correct; he’s hit .226 and struck out in a staggering 28.5% of his minor league at-bats. He is a catcher, however, so he’s still managed to make Triple-A as a backup, mostly by default. I’m rooting for him to make the big leagues just to see how often he’d strike out. The Mets traded him to Oakland last April for "future considerations" who traded him to Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago for "cash considerations."