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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 15, 2011 at 9:34 AM

When first-round draft picks don’t sign: A closer look

As the deadline nears for teams to wrap up their 2011 draft picks — it’s 9 p.m. tonight, Pacific time — I thought it would be interesting to look at the timeline of some recent draft picks who didn’t end up signing.

The saddest tale, and the one always held up as the worst-case scenario, is that of Matt Harrington, the No. 7 overall pick by the Rockies in 2000. There are far too many twists and turns to recount here, but suffice it to say that Harrington ended up missing out on millions of dollars and, ultimately, a major-league career. Here are the sordid details.

The other cases didn’t turn out nearly so badly. In many of them, in fact, the players who didn’t sign one year ended up having productive careers. And the teams who lost draftees have sometimes hit the mark with their compensatory picks. The Nationals, for instance, got their closer, Drew Storen, with the compensation pick for not signing Aaron Crow.

Teams used to receive a pick in the “sandwich round” after the first round the following year when they failed to sign a first-round pick. Now, for the first two rounds, they get the same slot pick the next year, plus one. For instance, if you fail to sign the No. 10 overall pick, next year you’d get the pick after the No. 10 overall pick. For unsigned third-round picks, teams get a selection the following year in a compensation round between the third and fourth round.

Here is a look at the first-rounders who didn’t sign over the past 10 years:

2009

Rangers fail to sign LHP Matt Purke, No. 14 overall. In 2010, with their compensation pick (No. 15 overall), they selected Jake Skole, 2B/OF from Georgia Tech. Skole is hitting .266/.373/.370 (.743) OPS in 106 games in Class A this year, with six homers and 51 homers).

Footnote: Purke attended Texas Christian and was projected as the third-best draft prospect heading into 2011, behind Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole. But he was riddled by injuries (shoulder, back and blister) and wasn’t picked until the third round by the Nationals. There’s a chance he again might not sign, go back to TCU and hope to get picked higher next year.

Rays fail to sign 2B Levon Washington, No. 30 overall. in 2010, with their compensation pick (No. 31 overall) they selected Justin O’Conner, C from Cowan (Ind.) High School. He is hitting .138 in 35 games in the Appalachian rookie league.

Footnote: Washington was drafted in the second round in 2010 by Cleveland, signed, and is hitting .231 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 62 games in Class A.

2008

Nationals fail to sign RHP Aaron Crow, No. 9 overall. In 2009, with their compensation pick (No. 10 overall), they selected RHP Drew Storen, from Stanford. He is currently the Nationals closer and has 31 saves this year.

Footnote: Crow pitched for the independent Fort Worth Cats in 2009, was drafted No. 12 overall by the Royals, signed, and made the American League All-Star team this year as a relief pitcher.

Yankees fail to sign RHP Gerrit Cole, the No. 28 overall pick from Orange Lutheran HS in California. With their compensation pick, No. 29 overall, they chose outfielder Slade Heathcott, a high schooler from Texas. He is hitting .279 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 53 games at Class A this year.

Footnote: Cole had a dominating career at UCLA and this year was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pirates. He is still unsigned.

2004

Orioles failed to sign RHP Wade Townsend from Rice, No. 8 overall. In 2005, with their compensation pick in the supplemental first round (No. 48 overall), they selected LHP Garrett Olson of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Olson has had a journeyman’s major-league career (including two seasons with Seattle), and is currently pitching in Triple-A with the Pirates.

Footnote: Townsend was selected No. 8 overall in 2005 by Tampa Bay and signed. His career was riddled with injuries and he never advanced higher than Double-A before the Rays released him in 2009. He signed and was releasesd by Toronto, pitched briefly in an independent league for Laredo, but is now apparently through with baseball.

2002

Mariners failed to sign 1B/OF John Mayberry out of Rockhurst HS in Kansas City, No. 28 overall. With their compensation pick in the supplemental first round in 2003 (No. 37 overall) the Mariners selected Adam Jones from Morse High School in San Diego. He signed, made it to the majors with the Mariners in 2007, was traded to Baltimore after the 2008 season, and made the AL All-Star team in 2009.

Footnote: Mayberry attended Stanford, was drafted in the first round (No. 19 overall) by Texas, was traded to Philadelphia in 2008, and is currently a backup player with the Phillies.

2001

Reds failed to sign LHP Jeremy Sowers. No. 20 overall, from Ballard HS in Louisville. In 2002, with their compenstion pick in the supplemental first round, they took third baseman Mark Schramek from Texas. Schramek signed and played four years in their farm system, peaking at AA, with a .226 cumulative average. He is now out of baseball.

Footnote: Sowers was drafted by Cleveland in 2004 (No. 6 overall), signed, and had an 18-30 record for the Indians from 2006-09). He was taken off Cleveland’s 40-man roster in 2010 and is currently battling shoulder problems

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