Tag Archives: Tommy John

Tales of Unsigned First Round HS Pitchers, Part 1


When the Astros and Brady Aiken, their first overall pick in the 2014 draft, failed to reach agreement at the signing deadline, the entire baseball world was utterly flabbergasted. A couple days after the draft, the 6’4”, 210 lbs, southpaw reportedly accepted the Astros‘  original signing bonus offer which came out at $6.5 million.

However, an MRI discovered something physically unusual in Aiken‘s pitching arm – an abnormally undersized UCL. Concerning about the potential risk of Tommy John surgery, the Astros reduced their offer to $3.16 million. Aiken and Casey Close, his adviser, didn’t like the move, and the sides moved apart. The Astros increased their offer to $5 million at the very end, but Aiken never took it.

As a result, Aiken joined the club of “unsigned overall 1st picks in the history of the baseball draft” as the 3rd member, which consists Danny Goodwin from June 1973 and Tim Belcher from January 1983.

Now we know how it turned out. Aiken joined IMG Academy‘s post-graduate program to reboot his stock for the upcoming 2015 draft. Unfortunately, in his first outing with the squad, he exited the game after just 12 pitches due to an elbow injury that eventually required him to undergo Tommy John surgery – just like the Astros foresaw.

Even though he’s unable to throw for another few months, Aiken is seen as a first round pick in the 2015 draft, although it’s hard to see someone offering him $5 million again. So, in hindsight, Aiken should have taken the Astros‘ final offer, even if it was an insult to him.

This led me to wonder how these stories ended up in previous cases. Using Baseball America‘s Draft Database, there have been 12 pitchers, other than Aiken, who went unsigned when they were drafted out of high school since 1987 when they ditched the January draft.

In this 2-part series, I inspected how life treated each case. Some gained benefit from the decision, while some others went on to disastrous careers.

Alex Fernandez, 24th overall, 1988 


Fernandez forewent the Brewers‘ $110,000 signing bonus offer to attend a Miami area JuCo. After transferring to University of Miami after his Freshmen year and spending a spectacular campaign as a Hurricane, he went as the 4th overall pick in the 1990 draft and signed a $350,000 bonus with the White Sox. He spent 10 years in the big leagues before shoulder injury cut his career short at the age of 30.  The Cuban descendant put up a career 115 ERA+, and struck out 1252 while walking 552, in 1760.1 innings.

Scott Burrell, 26th overall, 1989

Burrell, a 6’5″ right-hander out of Hamden High School in Connecticut, was also known as a basketball star. He turned down the Mariners‘ offer, which was reportedly more than $110,000, to play basketball at University of Connecticut.  After being selected in the 5th round in the next year’s draft by the Blue Jays, and signed for “first round money,” Burrell played briefly in their farm system over the parts of two following seasons.

Inside Hoops
Inside Hoops

His professional baseball career wasn’t as successful as his basketball one, which lasted more than seven years in the NBA.


Chad Hutchinson: 26th overall , 1995

Much like Burrell, the San Diego native stood at 6’5″ and was known as a two-sport athlete in high school, though he was a baseball-football guy.  He was selected 26th overall in the 1995 draft by the Braves, who offered a $1.5 million signing bonus.  Rather than playing in the minor leagues for the next few years, Hutchinson accepted a two-sport scholarship from Stanford University, where he pitched for the baseball team in the spring, and played quarterback for football team in the fall over the next 3 years.  With

AP Photo
AP Photo

an MVP award in the Sun Bowl and a trip to the College World Series under his belt, Hutchinson re-entered the draft in 1998. He went with the 48th overall pick this time, and signed a $3.4 million major league contract with the Cardinals. He could have gone higher than that, in fact, there were buzzes from some evaluators that considered him as the best pitching prospect in the class, but many teams thought it would be tough to sign a deal with him; hence, he slipped this low.  Despite breaking camp with the Cardinals in 2001, he got sent back to triple-A after an obscene 24.75 ERA and 17.05 FIP in 4.0 innings, and he never made another

AP Photo
AP Photo

appearance as a big league pitcher. After his baseball career came to an end after the 2001 season, Hutchinson went on to play QB for the Cowboys and the Bears, but his career in NFL lasted no longer than 3 years.

Matt Harrington, 7th overall, 2000

If William Shakespeare wrote a story about baseball,  it would be about Matt Harrington. This is arguably the saddest and most tragic story in baseball draft history.

Entering the 2000 draft out of Palmdale HS near Los Angeles, the right-hander attracted scouts everywhere from the States with his 98 MPH fastball. Baseball America, Gatorade, and USA Today named him the best high school player in the nation that year. Due to signability concern, he slipped to the Rockies’ pick, 7th overall. Their $2.2 million initial offer was far apart from Harrington’s asking price, $4.95 million. Negotiations after negotiations, the Rockies finally offered that $4.9 million, but it was as a salary over 8 years, and forced him to give up 3 arbitration years. Tony Tanzer, Harrington’s adviser, insisted that he reject the offer. And the sides never came close thereafter.


After a brief 19-inning stint with the St. Paul Saints,  one of the most well-known independent league clubs, Harrington re-entered the draft in 2001. Losing the fastball velocity he once possessed, as well as his stock as a player, he slipped to the 58th overall pick with the Padres. Their offer was somewhere around $1.2 million. Scott Boras, who had taken over the role as Harrington‘s  new adviser, told him not to take it.  Once again, he did not sign.

His fall from grace continued.

Harrington spent another year in independent ball, splitting time between the Long Beach Breakers and the Fort Worth Cats.  The Rays took him in the 13th round of the 2002 draft, but he didn’t take the offer.

5 more seasons in independent ball, 2 more draft selections and rejections, and one not-so-impressive spring training with the Cubs later, Harrington found himself working at Costco as a tire-repairer, for 11 and a half bucks an hour.

This is an extreme case of a player falling off a cliff after turning down big money. You can read more about the sad saga of Matt Harrington in this ESPN story,  written by Amy K. Nelson back in 2009.

This is part 1 of 2-piece series. Part 2 will be out later date.

Kazuto Yamazaki is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @Kazuto_Yamazaki.

25 Most Important People in Baseball History

My friend Graham Womack hosted an interesting crowd-sourced project at his fabulous blog Baseball: Past and Present.  To participate this project, each voter picked 25 people whom they believe to be the most important in the history of baseball.

I, of course, cast a ballot, though it was a tough quest. I considered an unfathomable number of people who contributed something significant to baseball. There’s no clear measurement like, say, WAR, to judge how great they are. It’s completely based on my opinion. It took me more than 5 hours, but I was finally able to fill out my ballot. If you ask tomorrow, I’d probably choose a different 25. But for today, here are my picks, sorted by an alphabetical order.

Hank Aaron CardHank Aaron

Great baseball player, even greater person. 755 home runs, 3771 hits, 2297 RBI, 142.6 bWAR, 21 all-star selections. Also, he’s said to be one of the classiest guys in the sport.

Barry Bonds CardBarry Bonds

The best player the game ever had not named Babe Ruth. In the light of his great talent and the darkness of all the steroid crap, he represents how baseball looked like in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Alexander Cartwright CardAlexander Cartwright

He didn’t create the game from the scratch. But he and his New York volunteer firemen colleagues were an unignorable part in forming the rules of the game, and played the first recorded baseball game in history.

Chadwick's American Baseball ManualHenry Chadwick

All he created was RBI, pitcher W-L, and many of the stats classified as “useless” by stat heads these days. But Chadwick invented the box score itself. It’s even possible that advanced stats wouldn’t have existed without his invention of a way to record the game in the books.

Curt Flood CardCurt Flood

After becoming a regular in 1958, his age 20 season, Flood had accumulated 42.2 bWAR before he turned 32. But he sacrificed his borderline Hall of Fame career in the fight to get players the right known today as free agency.  In fact, he got only 40 more plate appearances afterwards. Without his effort,  there wouldn’t be 9-figure contracts today.


Sean Forman

For us baseball nerds, Baseball Reference is a part of life. Eat, sleep, brush teeth, browse through various B-Ref player pages. Forman changed the way we watch the game by creating the encyclopediac baseball database.

Rube Foster CardRube Foster

Pioneer of African American baseball when they weren’t allowed to be in the big leagues.  The Texas native played a huge part in establishment and improvement of the Negro League.

Melissa Lacey/Journal-World Photo
Melissa Lacey/Journal-World Photo

Bill James

Without this man, advanced baseball analysis wouldn’t look as it does today. Bill James is to sabermetrics as Jimmy Page is to rock n’ roll, or Galileo Galilei is to astronomy.

Ban Johnson CardBan Johnson

Johnson is known as the founder and the first president of the American League. While a few other leagues,  like the Federal League, lasted for only a couple of years or so, the Senior Circuit has been there for more than a century.

Mike Groll/Associated Press
Mike Groll/Associated Press

Frank Jobe

An uncountable number of pitchers’ career would’ve been cut short had Jobe not invented the way to reconstruct torn UCLs in their elbow. The image we’ve chosen for Dr. Jobe includes his most famous patient, former pitcher Tommy John.

Connie Mack CardConnie Mack

With a 3731-3948 record, Mack is both the winningest and losingest skipper in history, by a thousand light years. In today’s game, no one manages for 50 years, let alone stays with one team for that long.

Willie Mays CardWillie Mays

This  spot could easily be given to Stan Musial, Micky Mantle, or Tris Speaker. But John Fogerty sung about none of them in his universally known classic song. Well, Ty Cobb missed the cut because of his personality. Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio, in my opinion, didn’t have a long enough career. So I’m going with Say Hey Willie.


Voros McCracken

McCracken’s legendary research on pitching and defense is one of the most significant events in the history of sabermetrics and, furthermore, the game itself.  Advanced pitching stats like FIP or BABIP would probably not have been exposed to our eyes had McCracken not done this research.

Associated Press
Associated Press

Marvin Miller

During his tenure as the executive director of the MLBPA, the average annual player salary went up more than 1700%. He also played an important roll in the establishment of free agency, along with Curt Flood. It’s a shame that Miller wasn’t elected into the Hall of Fame before his death (and he still hasn’t been).

Branch Rickey CardBranch Rickey

Player development would’ve been completely different without Rickey. Among Rickey’s many innovations are affiliated farm system and the 20-80 scouting scale. But he did even greater things for the game itself (see below).

Jackie Robinson CardJackie Robinson

Branch Rickey’s best known accomplishment is signing the first African American player in modern baseball history, Jackie Robinson. Imagine if Robinson had failed. We would never have had Aaron, Mays, and Bonds at the top of all-time leaderboards. The role he had was huge, and he surpassed the stratospheric expectation.

Babe Ruth CardBabe Ruth

No one has changed (or ever will) the game in the way this great American did.


Vin Scully CardVin Scully

It would be blasphemous to go without mentioning the greatest broadcaster of all-time.


Shoriki MatsutaroMatsutaro Shoriki

He probably was an awful person. He even was arrested for supporting  WWII. But he’s the guy behind the founding of NPB. The Japanese Professional Baseball League would have been less than it is now without him. He’s enshrined in the NPB Hall of Fame.

Al Spalding CardAl Spalding 

Not only was he a fine player, Spalding also was a  successful businessman. After his playing career, in which he pitched 2886.1 innings and had a 252-65 record in a span of 7 years in the 1870s, he founded a sports equipment company named after himself. Spalding one of the biggest players in the business today. Moreover, he’s said to be the first known player used a glove.

O'Meara/Associated Press
O’Meara/Associated Press

George Steinbrenner 

The last owner in history who single-handedly controlled his team.  The Boss and his Yankees  were always at the center of baseball journalism, or somewhere around there, during his tenure as an owner.

Bill Veeck CardBill Veeck

He was an even more influencing owner than Steinbrenner. He was a man of many ideas. One of them was using a midget as a pinch hitter.


You may or may not have seen this photograph of a tiny guy squatting at the plate.  He deserves my vote for the Eddie Gaedel at-bat (well, it’s officially a plate appearance), along with many other weird stuff he did.

Ted Williams CardTed Williams

It wouldn’t be a proper list without including the best hitter in the history of game in my 25. Yes, Teddy Ballgame is even a better batsman than The Bambino, in my honest opinion.  I always wonder what his career stats would’ve looked like had he not lost 5 years to serving his country.

Horace WilsonHorace Wilson

Not many baseball fans have heard of Wilson.  He’s said to have brought the game of baseball to Japan in 1871, when he was a teacher at a school currently know as Tokyo University.  To this Japanese author, it’s important enough to put his name here. Wilson was elected to the NPB Hall of Fame in 2003.

Cy Young CardCy Young

It’s called the “Cy Young Award,” not the “Walter Johnson Award,” nor the “Nolan Ryan Award.” Johnson might have been a better pitcher, but for this reason, my 25th pick belongs to Denton True “Cy” Young, both the winningest and losingest pitcher in history.

That’s my Top 25 – who’s on yours? Let me know on Twitter. The overall project results will be posted on BaseballPastAndPresent.com sometime during the week of November 10, 2014, so be sure to have a look and see what the 262 voters came up with.

Kazuto Yamazaki is a Contributor for The Scoop, based in Japan. Follow him on Twitter at @Kazuto_Yamazaki.