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What Did Scouts Miss About This Star?

Chase Utley, a player for the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, has announced he will retire after the 2018 season.
His announcement quickly set off a debate over whether he will one day be voted into the baseball Hall of Fame.
We will leave that discussion to others. What interests me more is how well (or poorly) the major league baseball teams did in choosing talent in 1997, the year Utley was drafted.
What happened in that draft underscores how excruciatingly difficult it is to predict future performance, even with the help of stopwatches, video, personality research and all the other tools available to talent evaluators.
At the time of the draft, Utley was a star player in a Southern California high school. Utley attracted a lot of attention from scouts, and there was no doubt he would be selected in the draft. The only question was when, and by which team.
Detroit chose first, picking Matt Anderson, a pitcher from Rice University. Anderson played seven seasons — two of them above-average — in the major leagues. One by one the teams made their picks. Some worked out, others didn’t. J.D. Drew and Troy Glaus, picked second and third, respectively, had more-than-respectable careers.
Los Angeles owned the 25th pick in the draft, but elected not to pick a home-town product. Instead, the Dodgers decided on Glenn Davis, a first baseman from Vanderbilt University. They did not pick again until 51 slots later, when they chose Utley. In all, the Dodgers made 71 picks in the 1997 draft. Only seven of those players ever reached the major leagues. Davis was not among them.
It was not a successful draft for the Dodgers, especially since Utley declined to sign a contract with them, choosing to go to UCLA instead. Utley was eventually signed by the Philadelphia Phillies and he spent the best years of his career with that team.
Only one other player from that draft comes close to Utley in the length and quality of his career. Tim Hudson pitched 17 years in the big leagues, making the All-Star team four times. And Hudson waited far longer than Utley did to be drafted. He was selected in the sixth round by the Oakland Athletics, but only after 184 players had been taken.
In future blogs we’ll discuss why some top-rated players flop, while low-rated players become stars. In the meantime, please let me know your favorite story of an undervalued performer becoming a star.


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