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Me, Elsewhere: Revisiting Some Freakish Starts

My latest Hardball Times article revisits several players who got off to “unusual” starts this year. There isn’t much of a Padres connection, although I suppose there have been rumblings that the club might have interest in Cleveland right-hander Jake Westbrook. Another player featured in the article is Nationals outfielder Josh Willingham. I’ve expressed my desire to see him in a Padres uniform, although I don’t think that will happen.

Willingham is an interesting cat, and not just because he can play a little. The guy was taken in the 17th round of the 2000 draft. That’s not Mike Piazza late, but still… To provide some perspective, the Padres have made 43 picks in that round over the years. Four of those players reached the big leagues, although two (Glen Cook, 1980; Brandon Fahey, 1999) never signed with San Diego and a third, Matt Mieske, was traded (with Ricky Bones and Jose Valentin) for Gary Sheffield while still in the minors.

Only one 17th-round pick of the Padres has made it to San Diego. That would be Brian Lawrence, who won 49 games over five seasons here before being shipped to Washington, where his career effectively ended. After missing all of 2006, Lawrence got into a handful of games with the Mets the following year but has been toiling in the minors ever since. As of this writing, he is 8-6 with a 3.87 ERA at New Orleans, the Florida Marlins Triple-A affiliate. Lawrence is 34 now; his chances to return to the big leagues lie somewhere between slim and none, but it’s hard not to admire the persistence.

The Padres picked Lawrence in the 1998 draft. That was a special year for the team and its fans, of course, but it was also a surprisingly strong 17th round. B.J. Ryan (Reds), J.J. Putz (Twins, did not sign), Eric Hinske (Cubs), Lawrence, Mike MacDougal (Orioles, did not sign), and Ty Wigginton (Mets) all went on to have productive big-league careers.

Sometimes those late picks turn out well. Other times, you end up with guys like Theodore Tomasovich, Lee Purchatzke, and Sean Drinkwater… great names, but that’s about it.

You won’t read about them in my Hardball Times article. Still, I like to think it’s worth a few minutes of your boss’ time.

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