In June 2001, as the Orioles GM Syd Thrift and Scouting Director Tony DeMacio convened in front of a speaker phone to choose the next group of young talent for the organization, the Major League club was coming off of an 88 loss season in 2000, and was a little over 2 months into a 98 loss season. For an organization with a rich history of pitching success, the current Orioles woes were directly related to poor results on the mound.
The 2000 Orioles pitching staff concluded the season with four of the regular five starters losing double digit games, and their Closer, Ryan Kohlmeier, finished with only 13 saves. To make matters worse, their most talented pitcher, Mike Mussina, was now on his way to winning 17 games for the rival New York Yankees. It was clear that the Orioles needed to nail the #7 overall pick and it needed to be a pitcher.
Thrift and DeMacio met the challenge by choosing a player who would never make it past low A ball, LHP Chris Smith. It was not entirely their fault as many believe Smith was injured due to an overemphasis on a specific pitching motion by the developmental staff, but history will remember him as just another bust.
Let’s take a closer look at the 2001 draft overall though. As you’ll see, if 2000 was considered one of the worst drafts ever, 2001 can’t be too far behind.
The top of the first round of the 2001 draft was actually very solid. The Minnesota Twins selected a local highschool Catcher named Joe Mauer and he’s been a phenomenal success. Mauer is a six time All Star, a three time AL batting champion, and the 2009 AL MVP. He’s also won 3 Gold Gloves and at this point in his career, he has a shot to go to the Hall of Fame. There is no doubt that the Twins hit a home run with the first pick.
The Chicago Cubs followed the Twins and selected Mark Prior, a pitcher out of USC who most analysts considered the best player coming out of college. Prior would be an All Star but his career was somewhat of a disappointment due to injuries. After the Tampa Bay Rays took college pitcher Dewon Brazelton, the two players the Orioles coveted the most came off the board in order.
Although not expected to be there at pick #7 for the Orioles, it stung fans to see local products out of Mount St. Joe’s go back to back just before the O’s pick. RHP Gavin Floyd was taken fourth by the Philadelphia Phillies and the Texas Rangers immediately selected 3B Mark Teixeira with the fifth pick. This would be the first of several disappointments for Orioles fans with regards to Teixeira.
Two picks later the Orioles selected Smith, who would never don an Orioles uniform. 12 picks later, the Orioles picked 2B Mike Fontenot who, along with 2001 3rd round pick Dave Crouthers, would be traded to the Cubs in 2005 for Sammy Sosa. Thrift and DeMacio would finish the 1st round with supplemental pick Bryan Bass, who would help the executives continue their dubious streak of 1st round picks who would never play in the Major Leagues for the Orioles.
In the 5th round, the Orioles made the best selection of the Syd Thrift era when they took RHP Jim Johnson, who would go on to pitch 8 seasons for the O’s and save 122 games, topping 50 saves in 2012 and 2013. Johnson was the only All Star the Orioles drafted during Thrift’s tenure as General Manager. Although Johnson was a great pick, it seems that the Phillies and Rangers struck again in the 5th, just before the Orioles pick. The Phillies selected future MVP Ryan Howard, and the Rangers found their future Ace in LHP C.J. Wilson.Best of 2001 Draft
C – Joe Mauer
1B – Ryan Howard
2B – Dan Uggla
3B – David Wright
SS – J.J. Hardy
OF – Chris Young
OF – Jonny Gomes
OF – Skip Shumaker
DH – Mark Teixeira
UT – Kevin Youkilis
SP – Mark Prior
SP – Dan Haren
SP – C.J. Wilson
SP – Edwin Jackson
SP- Zack Duke
RP – Jim Johnson
The 2001 draft was only slightly better than the 2000 draft for the Baltimore Orioles but if there was any ray of hope on the horizon perhaps it came in the form of a little known Outfielder from Georgia selected in the 35th round by the Cincinnati Reds. Nick Markakis chose Georgia Tech over the Reds. Two years later, he’d develop into a first round level talent, and Syd Thrift would be gone. Perhaps the Orioles fortunes were about to change…then again….
2001 Draft Fun Facts
* Hollywood Homerun Hitters
– The Milwaukee Brewers drafted a player named Ray Liotta. Unfortunately for them and for the Chicago White Sox who would draft him in the 2nd round three years later, the actor Liotta more resembled a baseball player in 1989’s Field of Dream than the player who shared his name, who never made it to the Major Leagues.
– The Boston Red Sox drafted a player named Chris Farley, the LA Dodgers selected a player named Jimmy Stewart, and Cleveland took a player named Chris Cooper.
* NFL Futures
– Future Bengals Wide Receiver Quan Cosby was drafted by the Anaheim Angels in round 6, and future Bears 1st Round Pick Cedric Benson was taken by the LA Dodgers in round 12.
* Trade Targets