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Monday, June 4
Updated: June 5, 1:35 PM ET
Looking back five years later: NL

It takes five years, at least, for the results of the yearly amateur draft to be fairly assessed. Let's take a look at the 1996 National League draft class.

As we shall see, the 1996 draft was not a particularly strong group.

Arizona's inaugural draft effort gave mixed results. First-rounder Nick Bierbrodt, a high school lefty from California, has been very inconsistent and plagued with injuries. Better results came from fifth-round pick Brad Penny, from high school in Oklahoma, although he has since been traded. A pair of college outfielders, Rob Ryan (Washington State, 26th round) and Jason Conti (University of Pittsburgh, 32nd round) are established Triple-A players and potential bench candidates. A large variety of raw high school players failed to develop.

Travis Lee
Originally selected by Minnesota with the second overall pick in the '96 draft, Travis Lee is now playing in Philadelphia.

The D-Backs made a big splash by signing "loophole" free agents Travis Lee (San Diego State) and John Patterson (Texas high school), giving them the equivalent of two additional first-round picks. Lee had a good rookie season, but slumped and was traded to the Phillies last year. Patterson was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, but blew out his arm last year and is just now getting back into action.

The Braves usually load up on high school players, and did that again in '96. First baseman A.J. Zapp, from high school in Indiana, was the first player picked. He has been inconsistent and has yet to reach the major leagues. Supplemental first-rounder Jason Marquis, from high school in New York, has had more success and is now an established major-league pitcher, more or less. Another supplemental pick, Eric Munson, failed to sign but developed into a future first-round pick in college.

The rest of the draft class was heavy on more high schoolers and didn't develop much. Seventh-round pick Mark DeRosa, an infielder from the University of Pennsylvania, might get a bench job someday. University of San Francisco right-hander Joe Nelson, drafted in the fourth round, is pitching well out of the Triple-A Richmond bullpen and should get a chance at some point.

Chicago Cubs
No major talents here. First-rounder Todd Noel, a hard-throwing right-hander from high school in Louisiana, has been traded and is still trying to establish himself. He still throws hard, but has trouble staying healthy and throwing strikes. Second-rounder Quincy Carter, a speedy outfielder from high school in Georgia, hasn't hit.

Fourth-round pick Chris Gissell (RHP, Washington state high schooler), fifth-rounder Chad Meyers (2B, Creighton University) and 10th-rounder Phil Norton (LHP, Texas JC) are fringe guys who still might contribute. The best player in the bunch may end up being 20th-round pick Courtney Duncan, out of Grambling, who emerged from obscurity into being a pretty fair bullpen prospect.

This was not a good draft for the Reds. First-round pick John Oliver, a Pennsylvania high school outfielder, was a massive bust. Second-rounder Buddy Carlyle, a high school pitcher from Nebraska, pitched well enough to establish himself as a prospect before getting traded to the Padres, where he saw some limited action in '99. 14th-round pick Ted Rose, from Kent University, pitched well but never impressed the Reds. The Expos picked him last winter in the Rule 5 draft.

No one else developed.

The Rockies went hard after high school pitching in 1996, and came up with three good right-handed arms. First-rounder Jake Westbrook, from Georgia, has reached the majors, but only after three trades. He could be a useful pitcher, but I don't see stardom in his future. Second-rounder John Nicholson, from Houston, had his career ruined by injuries. Third-rounder Shawn Chacon, a local kid from Greeley, Colorado, is now in the majors and could end up having the best career of the trio. No one else developed into anything particularly interesting.

The Marlins selected Cal State Fullerton star Mark Kotsay in the first round. It took him a couple of years to get his bat going at the major-league level, but looks to have a solid career going. He's now with the Padres, but brought young pitcher Matt Clement in a trade this spring.

Florida gave up their second and third-round picks to sign Devon White and Al Leiter as free agents. Fourth-round choice Blaine Neal, a right-hander from high school in New Jersey, is now the closer for Double-A Portland and is having a good year. He still has a chance to contribute in the bullpen. The rest of the draft group focused mostly on high schoolers, and failed to produce anything interesting.

The Astros went with a polished college pitcher in 1996, selecting University of Hawaii right-hander Mark Johnson in the first round. He was traded to the Marlins following the '97 season, and has since bounced around the high minors. He is now with Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers system, and still has a chance as a fringe talent. He was considered more of a "signability" selection in the first place.

The big find in this draft was 20th-round pick Wade Miller, drafted and signed after he dropped out of college. Miller turned into a sleeper prospect almost immediately, and is now one of the better pitchers in the National League. His signing and development was a major triumph for the system, and helped take the sting out of an otherwise disappointing draft class.

Los Angeles
The Dodgers haven't drafted well for the past 10 years, but they did OK in 1996. First-round pick Damian Rolls, an infielder from high school in Kansas City, didn't do much in the minors and is now with the D-Rays, having been picked in the Rule 5 draft. Some later rounds were a bit more successful. Third-round pick Alex Cora, from the University of Miami, isn't a hitter but has a solid glove and will have a long career as a reserve. Fourth-round choice Peter Bergeron, from high school in Massachusetts, developed quickly into a top leadoff prospect, and was later traded to the Expos. He struggled this year and is back in the minors, but is still young enough to have a good career.

23rd-round pick Ted Lilly, from a community college in Fresno, also developed into a fine prospect and was traded to the Expos with Bergeron for Carlos Perez. Lilly later went over to the Yankees, where he is one of several guys who has tried to be the club's fifth starter this year. His K/BB marks are strong, and I think he'll enjoy a solid career.

The Brewers picked University of Kentucky outfielder Chad Green in the first round, as much for his "cheap" bonus demands as for his speed and defensive ability. He can't hit, and is a good example of how "signability" can trump talent for negative effect.

Second-round pick Jose Garcia, a right-hander from high school in California, has had injury and control problems, but is pitching well this year in Double-A and remains a decent prospect. Third-rounder Kevin Barker, a first baseman/outfielder from Virginia Tech, reached the major leagues but didn't hit well, and is currently struggling in Triple-A.

A sleeper was 13th-round pick Allen Levrault, from a community college in Rhode Island. He reached the majors last year and has a chance to contribute as a utility pitcher.

If Garcia comes around, this won't be a complete failure.

The Expos lost their first-round pick when John Patterson was declared a free agent, due to the infamous "contract offer deadline loophole" in the draft rules exploited by alert agents that year. They still got a good prospect in second-round pick Milton Bradley, a high school outfielder from Long Beach. Third-round pick Joe Fraser, a right-hander from a California high school, hasn't developed.

Fourth-round pick Christian Parker, from Notre Dame, was traded to the Yankees in the Hideki Irabu deal, and made the Bronx rotation this spring before quickly getting hurt. 16th-rounder Andy Tracy, from Bowling Green University, has emerged as a useful bat off the bench.

Notice a trend here? Where are the sleepers in these draft groups coming from? Colleges, for the most part.

New York Mets
The Mets didn't have a particularly successful draft, either. First-rounder Robert Stratton, a high school outfielder from California, has massive raw power, but has never learned to quell his strikeouts or produce consistently. Second-round lefty Brendan Behn, from Merced Junior College, is out of baseball. Third-rounder Ed Yarnall was one of the best minor-league pitchers in the late 1990s, but was traded three times in the space of a year, and is now in Japan.

The best player in the group may end up being 16th-round pick Dicky Gonzalez, a Puerto Rican right-hander with great control and a good track record in the minors. He's still adjusting to major-league conditions, and as a finesse guy, he doesn't have a lot of slack. But at least he is in the majors.

The Phillies got a gem in first-round pick Adam Eaton, a high school right-hander from Washington state. Of course, they traded him to the Padres in the Andy Ashby deal, just as he was getting ready to blossom. Second-rounder Jimmy Rollins, a high school shortstop from California, is doing very well for the Phillies this year and is a contender for Rookie of the Year.

The rest of the draft didn't go as well, though 10th-rounder Evan Thomas (RHP, Florida International) is a fringe prospect. But the Eaton/Rollins combination was a solid one-two selection, and better than most teams got from this weak draft.

The Pirates picked Clemson right-hander Kris Benson with the first overall pick in the draft. Although he was a bit disappointing early in his minor-league career, Benson is an established major-league pitcher and a potential ace. But of course he blew out his elbow this spring and his future is now clouded. The rest of the draft class was a bunch of raw high schoolers. The only one who developed into a useful player is fifth-round pick Tike Redman, who should be a useful reserve outfielder in time.

St. Louis
Yet another disappointing draft. First-rounder Braden Looper, out of Wichita State, was supposed to be a big-time closer by now, but is still scuffling in middle relief. At least the Cards used him to help bring Edgar Renteria to town from Florida. The second-round pick was forfeited to pick up Ron Gant as a free agent. Third-round pick Brent Butler, a high school infielder from North Carolina, is now with the Rockies, having gone west in the Darryl Kile trade. He is a good for-average hitter and is doing well in Triple-A this year, but hasn't developed much power.

None of the other early picks did much. Two late-round guys, Stubby Clapp (36th round, Texas Tech, 2B) and Clint Weibl (37th round, University of Miami, RHP) are fringe guys who help out in Triple-A.

San Diego
This may be the worst draft in the bunch. First-rounder Matt Halloran, a high school shortstop from Virginia, couldn't hit. Second-round outfielder Vernon Maxwell, a raw kid from Oklahoma, couldn't hit. Third-rounder Widd Workman, a hard-thrower from Arizona State, couldn't throw strikes. Ninth-rounder Jason Middlebrook, considered a steal out of Stanford, couldn't stay healthy. He is pitching well this year, so he still has a chance, but otherwise this draft was a failure.

San Francisco
The big disappointment was the loss of first-rounder Matt White to the evil loophole. He eventually signed with the Devil Rays, but has yet to reach the majors. This left second-round pick Mike Caruso, a high school shortstop from Florida, as the top player signed. He was sent to the White Sox in the 1997 "White Flag" trade, but lost favor and is now trying to rebuild his career.

Third-round choice David Kenna, a high school catcher from Florida, didn't develop. Fourth-rounder Ken Vining, a lefty from Clemson, went to Chicago along with Caruso and is now trying to get a job in the White Sox bullpen. He could prove useful, as could eighth-round pick Ryan Jensen (RHP, Southern Utah University) and 12th-round pick Damon Minor (1B, University of Oklahoma). 21st-round pick Robbie Crabtree (RHP, Cal State Nortridge) is a Triple-A junkballer who also has a small chance to contribute.

John Sickels, who is the author of the 2001 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook, writes a twice weekly Down on the Farm column each week during the season for ESPN.com. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com, or you can visit his homepage at hometown.aol.com/jasickels/page1.html.

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