Ron Seibel

Golden pick or washout pick, that is the question

Mercer’s Kyle Lewis prepares for a television interview prior to Thursday’s Major League Baseball draft.
Mercer’s Kyle Lewis prepares for a television interview prior to Thursday’s Major League Baseball draft. dshirley@macon.com

The Kyle Lewis watch that concluded Thursday night put a lot of eyes on the Mercer baseball program.

A powerful bat made the Mercer junior very attractive to scouts, general managers and those who follow that sort of thing. The payoff for Lewis came with a pick from Seattle with the 11th selection in the first round.

Congratulations, Kyle. You’re about to get paid. Paid to the tune of at least the $3.29 million value the 11th pick carries. Just by making Claude Smith Field your personal launching pad the past few years.

Not bad work, if you can get it.

He didn’t get the No. 1 pick that some had predicted. That went to another outfielder, Mickey Moniak, a high school senior from California. But any first round pick is worth good money, and Lewis will get the chance to prove himself.

So, about that No. 1 slot ...

A look back at the No. 1 picks of the past 15 years shows a roster of players who have enjoyed at least some success in the majors, with a few exceptions.

Justin Upton, David Price, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper have become household names. Bryan Bullington and Matt Bush? Not so much.

For the most part, No. 1 picks in the 21st century have enjoyed quality time in the bigs. All but two No. 1 picks from 2000 onward are still in organized baseball, with a half-dozen becoming all-stars.

Prior to Moniak’s selection Thursday, the last time an outfielder went No. 1 was in 2010, when Harper was taken by Washington from the College of Southern Nevada. Braves fans don’t need to be reminded of the heartburn he has given the rest of the NL East.

Excluding Moniak Harper, the most recent outfielder taken No. 1 came in 2003, when Tampa Bay picked up Delmon Young, a high schooler from California. He had big league stops with the Rays, Minnesota, Detroit, Philadelphia and Baltimore prior to his midseason release in 2015, batting .283 for his career. He was arrested in February on a battery charge in Miami.

A No. 1 pick from a mid-major program — not counting baseball-only powers like Rice and Cal State Fullerton — is rare.

Going the mid-major route for the No. 1 pick didn’t pay off for Pittsburgh, when it selected Bullington, a pitcher from Ball State. He managed just 26 big league appearances and 10 decisions in five seasons, going 1-9 with a 5.62 ERA with the Pirates, Cleveland, Toronto and Kansas City. He went to Japan in 2011, where he played until 2015 before developing shoulder issues.

Before Bullington, the most recent No. 1 pick from a mid-major came in 1988, when San Diego picked Evansville pitcher Andy Benes, whose 14-year career included an All-Star game selection.

No. 1 picks don’t always get fast-laned to the bigs. It took 12 years, in fact, for Bush to make his major league debut. The No. 1 pick by San Diego in 2004 finally took the field May 13 with Texas, following numerous off-the-field issues through the years that included a little more than three years in prison following a drunk driving incident that injured a motorcyclist.

So the No. 1 pick doesn’t mean a direct path to the majors, but there’s still a lot of pressure. That’s pressure Moniak — and not Lewis — will have to face.

What does the future hold for Lewis? If Lewis can get the timing of big league pitching down quickly, he has plenty of upside. He could be under the bright lights sooner rather than later.

A first round draft pick isn’t a golden ticket in and of itself. But it can sure open doors to some big things.

Mercer fans hope Lewis will find his way to that big stage. He certainly deserves the opportunity.

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