When I was in high school, I spent inordinate amounts of time during health class - and at home in bed late and night because I'm just this cool - creating Top 10 lists on my TI-82 calculator. David Letterman had just changed networks, I had arbitrarily taken his side in the late night scuffle with Jay Leno, and having learned the basics of program writing I could think of nothing better to do than amuse my friends with my own take on Letterman's classic bit.
Looking back I can't remember what many of my lists entailed. There was one about the top ten things our freshman year football coach would shout during practice ("RUN Y'GOTTA TOUCHDOWN!"), there was one about the top ten things most likely to distract our english teacher from giving us a test (something about baking bread), and I'm sure there were a few which I'd now find cringe-worthy. I'd love to look back at them now, to get a look at the psyche of the weirdo I was when I was 14, but I lent the calculator to someone who wanted to show his friends my top ten lists and naturally most of them got somehow erased. Newman!
Getting back on track, with the MLB Draft just around the corner we already have a number of draft-related features available and a few more are coming this week. With Dave's final show coming tonight, I wanted to tie in one of my draft features with Letterman's swan song. It won't be funny. You've been warned.
My guidelines are rudimentary. I'll be judging based off of BaseballReference.com's wins above replacement metric, rWAR, for the sake of making my life a bit easier. All players are eligible for the top ten, regardless of which phase they were drafted in, as long as they were originally a draftee of the Minnesota Twins at some point. If they didn't sign with the Twins, or signed but perhaps played their entire Major League career for another organization, they're still eligible. Of course we hope that the organization's best draft picks stayed with the team and gave Minnesota their talents, but I'll relieve you of that hope now and tell you that's not the case. Because hey - what fun is a list without noting the swinging strikes?
And now, from the home office in Sioux City Iowa, tonight's top ten list.
June Secondary phase, 1979
Drafted: 1st round, 11th overall
Career rWAR: 42.0
Third time's the charm, apparently. Gaetti was drafted in the January phase of the draft (for players who graduated during the winter) in 1978 by the Cardinals, but he didn't sign. That made him eligible for the June Secondary phase later that year, when the White Sox made him a third round pick...but he still didn't sign. So he played a year of collegiate ball for Northwest Missouri State in the spring of 1979, hit .342/.416/.640, and became the 11th overall pick in the June Secondary phase of the '79 draft. This time he signed, and he was by far a more valuable player than any of his fellow draftees.
Drafted: 1st round, 25th overall
Career rWAR: 44.6
Philadelphia made Knoblauch their 18th round draft pick in 1986, attempting to lure him to the professional ranks out of high school, but Knoblauch didn't sign and spent the next three years playing shortstop for Texas A&M. He hit .356/.442/.520 while walking almost twice as often as he struck out. He was still the third shortstop taken in the draft; the first two are players you won't have heard of. While Knoblauch didn't spend his entire career with the Twins he certainly made his name in Minnesota, winning Rookie of the Year on the 1991 World Series winning team and making four All-Star appearances before getting dealt to New York for Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, Danny Mota and cash.
Drafted: 8th round, 206th overall
Career rWAR: 45.5
Oddly enough, the eighth round of the 1991 draft yielded four really good pitchers. Jason Schmidt went one pick before Radke, to the Braves, while Derek Lowe and Steve Trachsel went back-to-back to the Mariners and Cubs later in the round. None of them have the overall value of Radke per rWAR however, and truth be told the only other player who accumulated more value than Radke in any of the first eight rounds was Manny Ramirez. A good pitcher on a lot of bad teams in a time of performance-enhanced hitters, Radke might be under-appreciated - outside of Minnesota, anyway. His career ERA is 4.22 (4.24 FIP), but his ERA was at least 10% better than league average in eight different years.
Drafted: 15th round, 316th overall
Career rWAR: 46.1
Yes, that Mark Grace. He played for Saddleback Junior College as a freshman in 1983, exhibiting fantastic discipline and being exceptionally difficult to strike out, but he didn't profile as the hitter he would eventually become. The Twins took a shot anyway in the following January, but Grace didn't take the bait. He went back to Saddleback in '84, and his stock as a hitter started to rise. He transferred to San Diego State in '85, hit .395/.465/.517, and that incredible line still only made him a 24th-round pick for the Cubs in 1985. By the time the '85 season started, Minnesota had their own young first baseman who was going into the year with a .301/.368/.494 triple slash, so it's not like the Twins needed Grace, but it would have been a nice problem to have.
Drafted: 1st round, 1st overall
Career rWAR: 46.4
2014 and 2015 haven't shown us the Joe Mauer we'd become accustomed to seeing over the first decade of his career, but that doesn't take away from the player he was during that time. His career value according to rWAR puts him in line with fellow '01 first round picks Mark Teixeira and David Wright. Whether Mauer is actually in decline or is off to a slow start, we'll find out, but don't let it taint your long-term view of what he's been and what he's meant to this franchise. Take the opportunity to appreciate one of the best players to ever wear a Minnesota Twins uniform.
Drafted: 2nd round, 37th overall
Career rWAR: 47.4
The Royals took a flyer on Viola back in 1978 with their 16th-round pick, but he didn't sign and ended up pitching for St. John's university for three years. Viola's fellow second-round pitchers, Mark Gubicza and Mark Langston, all had better careers than any first-round pick in 1981. He led Minnesota to the championship in 1987, and like Knoblauch was also eventually sent to a New York squad for a bucket of prospects. At the trade deadline in 1989, the Twins sent Viola to the Mets for Rick Aguilera, Tim Drummond, Kevin Tapani, David West, and (eventually) Jack Savage.
Drafted: 1st round, 20th overall
Career rWAR: 50.8
As Minnesota's most successful compensation pick, Hunter's appearance this high on the list goes to show just what kind of a career he's had. There's a real chance that, unless the bottom falls out, he'll move up one more spot on this list and thereby surpass one of his childhood heroes. He already far outstrips fellow '93 first-rounders like Jason Varitek (who was taken by the Twins with the very next pick and then didn't sign), Billy Wagner, Derrek Lee, Trot Nixon, and Chris Carpenter. We all hoped, or at least I hoped, when watching Hunter play for the Twins in the 2000s that he'd eventually be one of the best players to ever wear the uniform. It's amazing to think he's achieved this level of success, not the mention longevity.
Drafted: 1st round, 3rd overall
Career rWAR: 50.9
Still a nose in front of Hunter, both the Blue Jays and the Cubs passed on Puckett for a chance at players that didn't make a Major League impact. Kirby, from Chicago, probably would have relished the opportunity to play in the city where he grew up, but that's not how it happened. Instead he became One of Us, going from Bradley University as a freshman in 1981 (where he clobbered the ball to the tune of a .378/.464/.660 triple slash) to the professional ranks. The Twins didn't have a great deal of success with the January phase of the draft, but considering what they got out of Puckett I think they're probably happy with their results.
Drafted: 4th round, 74th overall
Career rWAR: 68.0
Sometimes decisions that make sense in the moment look awfully silly in hindsight. That's the case here. A superior defender, the Twins were having a hard time getting him into the lineup everyday. Bob Allison, Ted Uhlaender, Cesar Tovar, and Tony Oliva were older and more established. Perhaps seeing into the crystal ball for left field in 1970 would have stayed Minnesota's hand, or [insert Billy Martin joke here], but instead the Twins packaged him with Dean Chance, bob Miller, and the aforementioned Uhlaender and shipped them to Cleveland for one season Luis Tiant and one and a half years of relief from Stan Williams. Nettles would shift to third base full time for the Indians, hitting 71 home runs in three years before he was traded again - this time to the Yankees, where he'd make his name. From the time he left Minnesota until 1978, a span of nine seasons, Nettles averaged 5.7 rWAR per season. When all was said and done he was a six-time All-Star, had won two Gold Gloves, won two World Series and lost three, and perhaps the highlight of it all: Nettles reunited with Billy Martin in New York. First from '76 to '78 and then again in '83. Had he stayed in Minnesota, who knows what might have happened. Some of those 70s Twins teams might have been more fun to watch.
Drafted: 3rd round, 55th overall
Career rWAR: 95.3
From the Netherlands but definitely also from California, Bert's tumultuous relationship with the Twins ended up in the black...which is good, considering he's the color guy for Minnesota's television broadcasts. He played long enough to bridge generations, pitching in front of guys like Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and Rod Carew while also being a contemporary of three other guys on this list: Puckett, Viola, and Gaetti. He missed a fourth, Nettles, by one year. We recapped his five best pitching performances a few years ago.
- Kent Hrbek (1978), 38.4 rWAR
- Steve Garvey (1966), 37.7 rWAR
- Jay Bell (1984), 36.9 rWAR
- Justin Morneau (1999), 26.4 rWAR
- Butch Wynegar (1974), 26.3 rWAR