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A look back at the 1st round of the 1996 draft

Once upon a time, Kris Benson was Stephen Strasburg. No, really.

Pitcher IP H K/9 BB/9
Strasburg 97.1 61 12.3 1.5
Benson 156 109 11.8 1.6

I dare say Benson was facing tougher competition pitching in the ACC than what Strasburg has faced for the Mountain West Conference. I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer.  If I was the GM of the Nationals (call me, Mr. Kasten!) I would draft Strasburg in a heartbeat. The point is there's lots of risk involved in giving gobs of money to any pitcher.

Benson is just one wart on the ugly face that is the 1996 draft.

Charted below is how the draft went down, alongside their wins above replacement totals for their first six years in the majors. Again, we're looking at six years because that is when the player was under his team's control.

Player POS Team HS/College WAR
Kris Benson P PIT College 8.2
Travis Lee 1B MIN College 2.5
Braden Looper P STL College 3.8
Billy Koch P TOR College 5.8
John Patterson P  MTL HS 5.1
Seth Greisinger P DET College 0.3
Matt White P SF HS 0
Chad Green OF MIL College 0
Mark Kotsay OF FLA College 13.6
Eric Chavez 3B OAK HS 26.7
Adam Eaton P PHI HS 4.4
Bobby Seay P  CHW HS 0.5
Rob Stratton OF NYM HS 0
Dee Brown OF KC HS -2.8
Matt Halloran SS SD HS 0
Joe Lawrence SS TOR HS -1
Todd Noel P CHC HS 0
R.A. Dickey P TEX College 0.6
Mark Johnson P HOU College -0.6
Eric Milton P NYY College 13.2
Jake Westbrook P COL HS 8.2
Gil Meche P SEA HS 4.4
Damian Rolls 3B  LAD HS -0.5
Sam Marsonek P  TEX HS 0
John Oliver OF CIN HS 0
Josh Garrett P  BOS HS 0
A.J. Zapp 1B ATL HS 0
Danny Peoples 1B  CLE College 0
Paul Wilder OF TB HS 0
Nick Bierbrodt P ARI HS -0.1
Peter Tucci OF TOR College 0
Corey Lee P  TEX College 0
Matt McClendon P CIN HS 0
Chris Reitsma P BOS HS 1.1
Jason Marquis P  ATL  HS -0.1

Scott Boras is evil, just in case any of you had forgot. Exploiting a loophole in Rule 4 (E), his clients Travis Lee, John Patterson, Matt White and Bobby Seay all filed grievances and were declared free agents. Lee and Patterson ultimately signed with the Diamondbacks, White and Seay signed deals with the Devil Rays. The four combined for $29.2 million in signing bonuses flushed down the toilet.

Outside of Boras and is antics, there's not much to say here. Eric Chavez was a star. Eric Milton and Mark Kotsay became average big league regulars while they were under team control. 71% of this first round class contributed less than an average of .5 WAR per season while under team control. That is...bad. Splitting them into groups ---

Grouping # Total WAR Avg /season
College Pitcher 8 31.3 0.652
HS Pitcher 13 23.5 0.301
College Hitter 5 16.1 0.536
HS Hitter 9 22.4 0.414

College players came out ahead over high school players, high school pitchers in particular predictably came out worse than any grouping.

Later on, Jimmy Rollins was taken in the 2nd round, and much later on, Travis Hafner was picked in the 31st round. Apparently it's hard for North Dakota kids to get noticed. Other notables in the '96 draft are Milton Bradley (2nd), Joe Crede (5th), Mark DeRosa, Casey Blake (both 7th), Doug Davis (10th) and Chad Bradford (13th).

We've only looked at three drafts so far but I think there are some lessons here. 1.) not every draft is equal. Each draft has it's strengths and weaknesses.  2.) TINSTAAP likes to rear its ugly head. 3.) Which is tied to 2, and that is there are a ton of failures along the way. When reading different scouting reports on some of these draft prospects you might get the impression that some of these players are destined to stardom or least will make it as big league regulars. The odds are against such outcomes.