The Dodgers have not had many opportunities to pick a top player in the draft. Their last pick that was a single digit first round pick was in 2006. That picked turned out to be the best player ever drafted and signed by the Dodgers.
Clayton Kershaw is that once in generation player that any franchise is fortunate to draft. And because of Kershaw and his teammates, the Dodgers have not had a pick that early in the first round since 2006.
But what about before Kershaw, how many times have the Dodgers had a chance and that type of talent. Well between 1987 and 1993, the Dodgers had four single digit first round picks.
Dodger single digit 1st round picks since 1987
|Year||Rnd||OvPck||Name||Pos||WAR||G||Drafted Out of|
|Year||Rnd||OvPck||Name||Pos||WAR||G||Drafted Out of|
|2006||1||7||Clayton Kershaw||LHP||65.1||315||Highland Park HS (University Park TX)|
|1993||1||2||Darren Dreifort||RHP||7.8||265||Wichita State University (Wichita KS)|
|1990||1||9||Ron Walden||LHP||N/A||N/A||Blanchard HS (Blanchard OK)|
|1988||1||5||Bill Bene||RHP||N/A||N/A||California State University Los Angeles (Los Angeles CA)|
|1987||1||8||Dan Opperman||RHP||N/A||N/A||Valley HS (Las Vegas NV)|
The four players selected in those drafts were all pitchers and only one, Darren Dreifort, pitched in the major leagues.
Right-handed pitcher Dan Opperman was drafted out of high school in 1987. According to this story written by Marty Esquivel for the Los Angeles Times, prior to the draft, the Dodgers did their own check on Opperman’s elbow.
Per the story, Ben Wade, the club’s director of scouting, said Dr. Frank Jobe told him Opperman was fine.
While preparing to pitch for his Rookie-league team in 1987, Opperman reported a sharp pain in his right elbow. After the pain continued, he was sent to Dr. Jobe. Jobe would end up finding that Opperman’s medial collateral ligament was worn and he had to repair that frayed ligament.
Opperman would make his Dodger organizational debut in 1989. He would pitch four seasons with the final two years for the Dodgers Triple-A Albuquerque team where two of his teammates would eventually become Hall-of-Fame players, Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez.
Opperman did not pitch for any organization after the 1992 season.
I suppose one could argue that Bill Bene was the most disappointing first round pick in Dodger history. Outside of Darren Dreifort, he is highest pick made the Dodgers in their draft history since picking Bobby Valentine with the fifth overall pick in 1968.
And while both Valentine and Dreifort did not have the major league careers that the Dodgers hoped they would have when they drafted them, the pick of Bill Bene is typical of the picks the Dodgers began to make from the late 1980s until Logan White’s first draft in 2002.
Bene would pitch seven seasons in the Dodger minor league organization. The velocity that intrigued the Dodgers was also part of the problem that Bene could never correct, his command. Bene averaged nearly 10 walks per nine innings in his professional career.
In 1990, at the Dodgers Florida State team, Vero Beach, Bene walked 96 batters in 56⅔ innings. Overall, in three seasons at Vero Beach, he pitched 126⅔ innings and had 177 walks.
Bene would finish his career in organized baseball in 1997 when he pitched in the Angels minor league organization. Bene would resurface in the news again in 2012 when he was sentenced to serve six months and pay more than $106,000 in fines for for operating a business without paying federal taxes on the sales.
Ron Walden was the ninth overall pick in 1990 and he got off to a good start at Great Falls. However, after reporting a problem with his elbow, Walden would eventually have two elbow surgeries and he did not pitch again until 1993.
According to this 1999 story in The Oklahoman by Bob Hersom, after Walden’s first intrasquad game in 1993, he reported a problem with his left shoulder. After a two month rehab, he pitched in three games for Vero Beach but by then his velocity began to drop.
Eventually, Dr. Frank Jobe performed left shoulder surgery on Walden in April 1993 and Walden would end up retiring from baseball in February 1994.
Finally, Darren Dreifort is on the list but not because he was a bad pick, he just never reached the heights that was hoped for when he was picked.
The number two overall pick the Dodgers had in 1993 remains their highest pick in their draft history. And Darren Dreifort was regarded very highly before that draft. Sure, he is not Alex Rodriguez who was picked ahead of Dreifort but that was just the way things went that year.
Dreifort pitched for the Dodgers from 1994 - 2004. He pitched 872⅔ innings and had 6.0 bWAR as a Dodger. The three home runs he hit as a pitcher in 2000 is tied with Rick Rhoden and Fernando Valenzuela as the most hit by a Los Angeles Dodger since Don Drysdale hit seven in 1965.
Maybe Dreifort would today be developed as a power reliever, maybe even a closer. He is also one of the few players that were drafted and signed by the Dodgers to eventually sign a multi-year deal as they approached free agency.
So sometimes it is injuries that cut short a career, sometimes it is performance and sometimes it is a combination of both. In any case, next week, the Dodgers will get a chance to bring some new players into their organization and here’s to them becoming the best they can be.