Detroit Tigers Throwback Thursday: Analyzing the 2003 MLB Draft

VIERA, FL - MARCH 09: Relief pitcher Jay Sborz pitches in the ninth. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
VIERA, FL - MARCH 09: Relief pitcher Jay Sborz pitches in the ninth. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Tigers not only had one of the worst seasons of all-time in 2003, they also had a colossally bad draft.

On June 3rd, 2003 the Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres, 3-2, to move up to 15-40 on the season. However, many Tigers fans were focusing on another event; the 2003 MLB draft. The Tigers had the third overall pick, and fans were hoping they could use the draft to help rebuild the franchise to glory amidst an entire decade of mediocrity, and in the midst of a historically bad season (they finished 43-119, the most losses in regular season history).

Three years later, the 2006 Detroit Tigers were in the World Series, having swept the Oakland A’s in the ALCS……no thanks whatsoever to their 2003 draft. In fact, the only thing worse than their god awful 2003 season may have been their 2003 draft, which has to go down as one of the worst individual team drafts in history.

The Tigers drafted 50 players in the 2003 draft. Of those 50, seven played in the major leagues. Of those seven, only two had a bWAR greater than 0. Those two are Dustin Richardson (39th round pick, 0.4 WAR) and Dusty Ryan (48th round pick, 0.1 WAR).

Let me reiterate that; only two of the 50 players had a positive bWAR in the major leagues, and they were selected 1,150th overall and 1,405th overall. Yowza.

The 2003 Draft

Here’s a list of all seven of the players who made it to the Major Leagues from that draft:

Round 2, pick 40: Jay Sborz, RHP. 1 game, -0.2 bWAR
Round 3, pick 70: Tony Giarratano, SS. 15 games, -0.3 bWAR
Round 7, pick 190: Virgil Vasquez*, RHP. 19 games, -1.1 bWAR
Round 11, pick 310: Brian Rogers*, RHP. 13 games, -0.3 bWAR
Round 16, pick 460: Jordan Tata, RHP. 11 games, -0.4 bWAR
Round 39, pick 1150: Dustin Richardson*, LHP. 29 games, 0.4 bWAR
Round 48, pick 1405: Dusty Ryan, C. 27 games, 0.1 bWAR

*Played for other teams

115 Major League games played, a -1.7 bWAR between all of them. No matter how you spin it, this draft was a colossal bust for the Tigers.

Detroit’s 2003 draft woes started right at the top. They selected Wake Forest junior right-hander Kyle Sleeth with the third overall pick. Sleeth had an incredible college career at Wake Forest. However, he didn’t sign with the Tigers until August, so he didn’t debut in the minors until 2004.

Sleeth was ranked as the #36 prospect in all of baseball prior to his first pro season, but injuries and ineffectiveness pushed the right-hander out of baseball just three years later. Sleeth finished with a 6.30 ERA across three minor league seasons, none above AA. Fellow first round selections taken after Sleeth include Nick Markakis, John Danks, Aaron Hill, Carlos Quentin and Adam Jones.

Rounds 2-4

Rounds two and three belonged to Jay Sborz and Tony Giarratano, both of whom made the Major leagues for the Tigers. They played in a combined 16 games, posting a -0.5 bWAR. In fact, Sborz only threw 2/3 of an inning in the Majors, giving up a spectacularly bad five earned runs on three hits and two hit batters. Scott Baker and Andre Ethier went in the second round, and Shaun Marcum, Sean Rodriguez and Matt Harrison all went in the third.

Round four was a high school right-hander named Josh Rainwater (amazing name) who pitched all the way until he was 28, but never at the MLB level. Michael Bourn and Jonathan Papelbon followed.

This could continue, but you get the point. The MLB draft in particular is a complete crap shoot, and it’s true that first round picks bust with regularity. However, to see absolutely none of the 50 players selected have any level of big league success is alarming, especially when you consider how quickly the team turned it around.

Was the coaching in the minor leagues poor? Did they have inferior scouting? Was it just extremely unlucky? Likely, it was all of the above.

Next: Best Draft Picks by Round in Team History

It’s not all bad. The Detroit Tigers fared better starting in the first round the following year, when they took another high-profile college right-hander with the second overall pick, Old Dominion’s Justin Verlander.