Unlike the annual talent drafts in other major sports leagues like the NFL or NBA, the selection process in Major League Baseball is truly unique.
Pulling from a massive amateur talent pool of high school stars, college players, and international prospects, the current MLB Draft takes place in July and will have 20 rounds. Prior to 2019, it was a whopping 40 rounds, with hundreds of new players being injected into the pros every new season.
Because of the size and scope of the process in baseball, the ability to narrow down a player’s true potential against a higher level of competition is often tough to gauge. In fact, out of the four major pro leagues in North America, baseball is either the biggest crap shoot in terms of re-stocking the shelves.
So, needless to say, there have been plenty of times over the years where what looked to be a ‘no-brainer pick’ turns out to be a mistake, in the long run.
Many factors can influence these famous failures. Even if a youngster shows some early flashes of brilliance in Single-A or Double-A ball, they might progressively get more average as they move up the ladder. Injuries and addiction can come into play. And in some cases, an athlete simply loses their desire to compete. Any number of things can be a roadblock to success for these special selections.
Here are three former first-round picks in the MLB Draft that fell incredibly short of expectations
#1 – Shawn Abner, OF, New York Mets (1984)
It would be easy to put Billy Beane in this category either, as the man who would later make Moneyball famous was a former 23rd overall pick for the team in 1980. Unfortunately, Beane never lived up to his high school hype.
However, the future Oakland GM at least found some success in the game later. The same can’t be said for another former Mets selection, outfielder Shawn Abner.
As the top pick in the ’84 Draft, it was believed that the do-it-all player would someday form a dream outfield combination with superstar Daryl Strawberry. After years of being laughable losers, the franchise’s high placement in the order every year had allowed them to take almost every prospect they fancied. They were emerging as a powerhouse, and Abner was viewed as one of the last pieces in the puzzle of a Mets Dynasty.
Unfortunately, he would never play a single game for the team. It didn’t take long before New York traded him to the Padres, where he would debut in 1987. Abner would stick around the majors for parts of five seasons, finishing his career .227 batting average and 11 home runs.
Shawn Abner was once supposed to be the next big thing in The Big Apple, but his career never blossomed the way many scouts initially believed it would. He was later arrested on animal cruelty charges after abandoning a pet dog and allowing it to die. He was found guilty in 2020 and sentenced to up to 23 months in jail.
#2 – Todd Van Poppel, RHP, Oakland Athletics (1990)
In the midst of the Oakland A’s and The Bash Brothers ruling the American League West, the Bay Area bullies selected what they thought was their future ace in Todd Van Poppel.
The pick had fans of the franchise thinking dynasty. They believed that the redheaded kid with the big arm would be the next link in a pitching chain that had included greats like Dave Stewart and Bob Welch. And he was to be the centerpiece of a new Oakland franchise – built around what they thought could be the best rotation in baseball for years to come.
Van Poppel was one of four starters taken by the A’s in the first 36 picks of that year’s draft, and fans and observers quickly labeled them “The Four Aces”. Along with TVP were Don Peters, Dave Zancanaro, and Kirk Dressendorfer. None of them became stars, and only Van Poppel and Dressendorfer made it to the big leagues.
Because of the way Van Poppel’s contract was structured, he could only make a certain number of minor league starts before the A’s had to promote him to the majors. This may have been a calculating move when he signed, but it proved to be a hindrance to his development. Van Poppel never emerged as the pitcher he could have been, although he managed to hang around long enough to pitch for six different teams from 1991-2004. He finished his career with a 40-52 record and a 5.58 ERA.
#3 – Brien Taylor, LHP, New York Yankees (1991)
Even in The Land of Pinstripes, the most vaunted franchise in baseball history is no stranger to falling short when it comes to promising prospects. Over the course of their history, they may have discovered players like Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly, and Derek Jeter, but they’ve missed the mark on just as many potential stars.
One such player was pitcher Brien Taylor, the lean lefty with electric stuff who was destined to be the Ace of the Bronx someday.
After an astounding amateur career at East Carteret High School in Beaufort, North Carolina (29-6 with 213 in 88 innings pitched), the Yankees took him first overall in 1991. It turned out to be a bit of a stretch, but to be fair, that year’s top ten didn’t produce any impact players. Taylor looked like a safe selection, especially since as an 18-year-old phenom, he had time to develop.
Unfortunately, he never did. After two seasons, he hurt his shoulder during a fight in the off-season. His velocity never returned and he was out of professional baseball just five years after being taken first overall, never having made it to The Show.
In 2011, Taylor would later be arrested for drug distribution and serve 50 months in prison. He was released in 2015.
Main Image: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports