Draft Review: A Hindsight Look at the 1990 Draft

The defending World Champion Oakland A's were looking to add young pitching talent to a world class rotation. The New York Yankees were just trying to get some young players to get them back to respectability. The 1990 draft became a turning point in both franchises' fortunes over the next 10 seasons.

Bush was the president, America was at war in Iraq and ... the A's had one the highest payrolls in baseball? Yes, the year was 1990 and the A's were the reigning World Champions. They were also sitting on a truckload of first round draft picks and were looking to recharge an aging pitching staff by loading up on pitching talent. The New York Yankees were a struggling franchise, having missed the playoffs for over half a decade and coming off a losing season. The Yankees had only one number one pick, which they used on an unstable outfielder who made his biggest mark with the Red Sox.

No one ever would have guessed that when the dust settled on the 1990 draft, the A's would have come up with nothing, while the Yankees would have drafted the cornerstones of their 1990s dynasties.

The A's began the 1990 draft with one agenda: to add young pitching. The A's had done a great job of developing young position players in the 1980s, including such stars as Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Terry Steinbach (as well as 1988's Rookie of the Year Walt Weiss). However, the A's had failed to develop very many major league caliber starting pitchers. Curt Young, an effective but unspectacular number five starter, was the best pitcher the A's had drafted and developed in the 1980s.

Despite the lack of minor league pitching talent, the A's had built a championship-quality pitching staff through trades and free agent acquisitions. By 1990, the A's brass rightly recognized that their veteran pitching staff likely only had a few more good years left in them. So GM Sandy Alderson and crew set out to find the next Dave Stewart, Mike Moore and Bob Welch.

Armed with four first round picks (the result of some free agent losses), the A's selected four pitchers. The first was the highly touted high school phenom Todd Van Poppel. The next three were less well-known but highly regarded (Don Peters, David Zancanaro, and Kirk Dressendorfer). The four first round draft picks were quickly given the label as the future stars of the franchise. Even the most pessimistic A's fan figured that at least one of these draft picks would turn into an ace of the A's staff. Instead, Van Poppel was the only one to spend any significant time in the major leagues, but he never came close to achieving what most thought that he would. To make matters worse, the A's passed on local college hero, Mike Mussina of Stanford, who went 6 picks after Van Poppel to the Baltimore Orioles. One can only imagine what the A's would have been able to accomplish in the mid and late-1990s with Mike Mussina on the staff. The rest of the A's 1990 draft was as ineffective as the first round was for Oakland. Arguably the best player the A's drafted in 1990 was Tanyon Sturtze, who they picked up in round 23.

Mike Mussina's future team, the New York Yankees, entered the 1990 draft desperate to add impact minor league players to get them back to their glory years of the late-1970s-early 1980s. Much like the A's, the Yankees failed to find much talent in the few rounds of the draft. They did pick Carl Everett with the 10th pick in the draft, but he never played for the Yankees, as he was lost in the expansion draft of 1992 to the Florida Marlins.

The Yankees' fortunes began to change in the middle rounds. In the 16th round, the Pinstripers picked up outfielder Ricky Ledee. Ledee later developed into a much celebrated prospect who helped the Yankees net David Justice in a trade with Cleveland in 2000. Justice, of course, was an important clog in the Yankees' World Series victory in 2000. The Yankees had even better luck in the lower rounds, picking up starter Andy Pettitte in the 22nd round and Jorge Posada in the 24th round. Pettitte and Posada, as everyone knows, were two of the most important parts of the Yankee nucleus during their championship runs between 1996-2000. For good measure, the Yankees topped off their draft by picking up Shane Spencer, who was a key role player for the Yankees, in the 28th round.

So what can we learn from the draft of 1990? For one, it shows the importance that a single draft can have on the fortunes of a franchise. Secondly, this draft also demonstrates how important it is for a team to maximize the quality of their picks if they have multiple ones in the first few rounds. The A's failure to do just that in 1990 cost the franchise a lot money in bonuses and time in player development. Lastly, the 1990 draft demonstrates that there is some measure of luck involved in the draft. Who would have thought that the Yankees would have drafted more stars in rounds 22-24 then they did in rounds 1-21?

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