The most tantalizing asset in all of sports is youth. Youth allows - even encourages - people to idealize, to project, to dream of what someone can become. There's a quote in Moneyball about the potential held by a high school pitcher, but it could really apply to youth in any sport; "High school pitchers were so far away from being who they would be when they grew up that you could imagine them becoming almost anything." Youth didn't last forever - still doesn't - so those high school pitchers, like everyone else, did grow up to be who they would become. What they became was as much up to them as it was to circumstance, but either way they ended up in a certain place, and this is an exercise in finding out where that is. Every smart analyst will proclaim at the end of a draft that you can't truly know how the draft went until you're four years out, so we're going to double that for good measure. This is a quick reminder that no scout is perfect, no team always signs the right guys, and even the can't miss players can miss. This is also a look at how an elite talent can become an elite player, and what that means for the team who drafted them. 2005 was a good while ago, but we're going back there to ask the somewhat terrifying question: did they make it?
The 2005 MLB Draft had a ridiculous crop of infielders. The top seven picks contained three third basemen, two shortstops, and a catcher. Today, you'd probably recognize five of those six, but you probably wouldn't have guessed what positions they'd be playing. Shortstop Justin Upton, brother of B.J., was the best high school prospect in the draft, and was essentially tied for the top pick with a third baseman from the University of Nebraska named Alex Gordon. Also among the third base crop was a good-hit no-field college kid named Ryan Braun. Though these three have since traded dirt for grass, there is no denying that they have been exquisite in the majors, with all of them making the Midsummer Classic at least once. Joining those three were two more infielders who stayed close to the plate: Ryan Zimmerman was a potential Brooks Robinson at the hot corner and Troy Tulowitzki was a big shortstop in the mold of Cal Ripken Jr. I won't get ahead of myself and put any of these guys in the Cooperstown, but they were definitely the success stories from this draft class. Among the rest of the successes from this draft were NL Central mates Jay Bruce and Andrew McCutchen as well as a pair of 2013 World Series winners in Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz. You may notice that I mentioned a catcher in the top seven picks, and the player who went off the board third was USC catcher Jeff Clement, to the Seattle Mariners. Proclaimed as a middle of the order masher with Mike Piazza potential, Clement has been stuck in AAA for the better part of five consecutive years, and just switched to the Twins organization before this past season. Mirroring Clement's path have been the Mariners, who never did find that big bopper to plug in to their lineup, and have played legendary catchers Josh Bard, Mike Zunino, and Kenji Johjima in his stead. Baseball might be the easiest sport to make up for a blown top pick, but it still clearly has lasting effects nonetheless.
The NBA in 2005 was just getting the grips with the dominance of the 2003 draft class of LeBron, Carmelo, Bosh, and Wade, and kinda sorta knew that 2005 didn't bring quite as much to the table. They were pretty much right, but there was still room for a couple of little guys to make it big. Despite the Hawks (picking second) having needed a point guard for the preceding two decades, Deron Williams and Chris Paul slid to the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Hornets with the third and fourth picks, respectively. These were the best two picks in the draft, as they have developed into the only true franchise players in their class. In a different world we would be able to include third and fourth players in that franchise mold, but injuries have stolen the recent past from Andrew Bynum (#10) and Danny Granger (#17), who are currently playing small minutes in an attempt to regain their star power from just a few years ago. Chris and Deron took their teams to relative success for a few years, but never quite obtained that elite supporting cast, and both eventually were traded to big markets. Currently, Paul is trying to overcome the perpetual mess that is the Clippers to head to his first Conference Finals, while Williams is attempting to lift the disaster that has been this iteration of the Brooklyn Nets superteam. On the other end of the spectrum, Marvin Williams has been trying to increase the profile of the cursed second pick. Following in the steps of such luminaries as Sam Bowie, Darko Milicic, and Jay Williams, Marvin has managed to prove that not starting for your college team probably means you shouldn't start for your pro one either. More interestingly, the entire second ten of the draft (save Danny Granger) has been downright awful. Picks 11-20, in order:
Fran Vazquez - 0 NBA minutes. Enough said.
Yaroslav Korolev - 10 points per game, in the D-League. Plays in Russia.
Sean May - Not every fat NBA player is Charles Barkley, or even Boris Diaw
Rashad McCants - UNC was a great college team, but it didn't fare so well in the pros.
Antoine Wright - I'm pretty sure he played shooting guard?
Joey Graham - Played in the NBA with his brother, which was not good for the Raptors.
Danny Granger - Currently broken. Pretty good otherwise.
Gerald Green - Won a dunk contest! Is a backup for the Suns!
Hakim Warrick - Most similar player: Frank Brickowski. Ouch.
Julius Hodge - Almost hit the immortal 100 mark! Career minutes, that is.
By the way, David Lee is the fifth best player from this draft. He went 30th to the Knicks. I'm done here.
The NFL Draft in 2005 was kind of like the bizarro world version of the Luck-Griffin draft. Two quarterbacks were competing for the top spot, each had teams that really wanted them, but neither of them were valued highly enough to trade for. As a result, Aaron Rodgers lasted until pick 24, and Alex Smith became the face of the 49ers. I'm not here to hate on Smith because I think he's been between good and excellent, which is hard to pull off, and there are many players much more deserving of that. Rodgers though has been very nearly the best in the business since 2009, and his team has ridden his coattails to a Super Bowl amidst plenty of other successes. Also elite in this draft were the trio of linebackers selected in the mid-first round: Demarcus Ware, Thomas Davis, and Derrick Johnson. Offensively, Frank Gore and Vincent Jackson were chosen outside the first sixty picks, and they're still doing pretty well for themselves. Of course, in order to properly measure the good you have to see just how bad the bad really were. While this draft looked like an offensive coordinator's dream, the only first round receiver still getting reps is Roddy White, while none of Braylon Edwards, Troy Williamson, Mike Williams, Matt Jones, or Mark Clayton are currently on NFL teams. Somewhat impressively, Williamson and Jones managed to combine for two seasons starting, and both were out of the league before the turn of the decade. David Pollack gets head bust status for all of 2005, as he went from being picked 17th to out of the league in less than two seasons. He's currently a talking head on ESPN college football programming. That's an impressive amount of shittiness right there.
I don't think there's a lesson to be found here beside the fact that drafts have been and always will be crapshoots (see Bowie, Sam and Piazza, Mike). It's mostly just cool to see what guys have just hit their primes and look back to see who their contemporaries were during the initial talent evaluation process. Could you imagine if the Packers were happy with having Brett Favre and let Aaron Rodgers slip one more pick to the Redskins, and how different the NFL would look? Or if the Bucks were able to predict the NBA's move toward a small-ball league and draft General Chris Paul first overall? Who would the Red Sox have beaten in the 2007 World Series if the Rockies had preferred Ricky Romero to Tulo? The list goes on and on, but it's always good to remember one thing: no one in sports knows what the hell they are doing, and that makes it so much more fun.