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The importance of drafting well

Recent Mets history shows that a team's draft choices can impact a franchise for years to come.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

On Thursday, Sandy Alderson and his front office will make a series of decisions that will help shape the future of the Mets’ organization: They'll be selecting players in this year’s draft. Of the players the Mets draft this week, we could be seeing a whole lot of one or two of them in the near future. It’s also possible that none of them will contribute to future Mets teams in any meaningful way.

The difference between those two outcomes could be the difference between a winning team and a losing team, or between a playoff team and one that just misses out on a playoff berth. This is why the drafting well is so important. In fact, recent Mets history gives clear examples of how a team’s performance in the draft can affect an organization for years to come.

It’s far too early to pass judgment on the Alderson front office’s draftees, as they are just now starting to reach the big league level. Nor are we interested in rehashing old arguments about whether the current Mets are really #OmarsTeam. It is, however, striking to compare the Minaya front office’s drafting prowess to that of the Phillips/Duquette regime that preceded it—and to compare the impact that their respective draftees had on the organization.

Listed below are the major league players that each front office drafted. While other draftees made brief appearances in the majors, these are all of the players who reached the minimum level of playing time—130 at-bats for positions players or 50 innings for pitchers—to be considered rookies.

Steve Phillips draftees

1998: Jason Tyner, Ty Wigginton, Jaime Cerda

1999: Angel Pagan, Mike Jacobs

2000: Billy Traber, Bobby Keppel, Jeff Duncan

2001: Aaron Heilman, David Wright, Lenny DiNardo, Daniel Garcia, Randy Wells

2002: Scott Kazmir, Matt Lindstrom

2003: Lastings Milledge, Brian Bannister

Jim Duquette draftees

2004: Philip Humber, Nick Evans, Mike Carp, Jeremy Hefner

Omar Minaya draftees

2005: Mike Pelfrey, Drew Butera, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, Josh Thole, Pedro Beato, Jeremy Hefner

2006: Joe Smith, Daniel Murphy, Josh Stinson, Vic Black

2007: Lucas Duda, Dillon Gee

2008: Ike Davis, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Josh Satin, Eric Campbell, Collin McHugh

2009: Steven Matz, David Buchanan

2010: Matt Harvey, Matt den Dekker, Jacob deGrom, Josh Edgin

The differences here are pretty incredible. In seven years, the Phillips and Duquette front offices drafted exactly one starting pitcher—Scott Kazmir—who had a sustained run of success at the big league level. Wells and Bannister started their share of games in the majors, but neither pitched more than four full seasons and neither was particularly effective. Heilman and Lindstrom, meanwhile, were the only two draftees to have effective major league careers out of the pen.

On the offensive side of things, the Phillips front office struck gold in David Wright, whom it drafted 38th overall in 2001. For that, Phillips and his team obviously deserve credit. Other than Wright, however, the pickings are slim. Wigginton became a solid utility player for a number of teams, and Pagan has had a few productive years with the Mets and Giants. Jacobs had a few decent seasons for the Marlins after the Mets wisely traded him for Carlos Delgado, while the highly-touted Milledge became a disappointment.

Compare that track record to that of Minaya. In his first year as GM, Minaya drafted Pelfrey and Niese—who, while not great, are now longtime starters who have each logged over 1,000 big league innings—and Parnell, who had a very effective run out of the Mets’ bullpen and who eventually became their closer. The following year, Minaya’s team drafted Joe Smith, who has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the last decade.

In 2007 and 2008, the Mets drafted Gee and McHugh, respectively, who seem to be on similar to but—especially in the case of McHugh—potentially better career tracks than Wells and Bannister. And then, remarkably, over the course of the following two drafts, the Minaya front office drafted Matz, Harvey, and deGrom.

Minaya’s record on drafting pitchers speaks for itself. He also hit it big on a couple of position players. Murphy established himself as a productive infielder and is now one of the best players in baseball. Duda has, by wRC+ among qualified players, been one of the 25 best hitters in baseball over the last three years. And Davis, while never living up to the potential he flashed early in his career, became a very similar player to Phillips draftee Jacobs.

Looking at this list of draftees, it’s interesting to consider the long-term implications of a front office’s draft selections. In the cases of both Phillips and Minaya, each GM’s draft picks actually had a bigger impact on the following GM’s teams than they had on their own.

Most of Phillips’s draftees reached their prime playing age during the Minaya years. That said, only two—Wright and Heilman—were significant contributors to the competitive Mets ballclubs of 2006 to 2008. Part of that, to be sure, is because the Mets traded players like Kazmir and Lindstrom. Still, consider how differently things could have been for the 2006, 2007, and 2008 Mets had Phillips’s front office drafted one more quality starting pitcher or one more effective reliever. By contrast, eight Minaya draftees—Murphy, Duda, Nieuwenhuis, Harvey, deGrom, Matz, Niese, and Erik Goeddel (not listed above)—played for the Mets in last year’s postseason.

This is something to keep in mind heading into Thursday night, when the 2016 draft kicks off. While the jury is still out on Alderson’s draft selections, it’s clear that those selections will have major implications, positive or negative, for the future of his team. Here’s hoping that, on Thursday night, the Mets continue to add to a potentially strong foundation of winning teams in the years to come.