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The Yellow Jackets draft05/04/2004 2:59 PM ET
By Kent Malmros / Special to MLB.com
In 1994, Georgia Tech was widely considered the best college baseball team in the country. Some have even suggested they were the greatest college team in history.
Most great teams are composed of great players, and this squad was no exception. Jason Varitek, Jay Payton and Nomar Garciaparra were all selected in the first round of the 1994 First-Year Player Draft. And more incredibly, all have found success at the highest level, with Varitek and Garciaparra among the best at their respective positions.
The first Yellow Jacket selected, No. 12 overall by the Boston Red Sox, Nomar has clearly emerged as the most accomplished pro of the three and ranks among the elite players in the game. Garciaparra is arguably the best shortstop in baseball, now that Alex Rodriguez is a third baseman. After seven full seasons in the big leagues, he possesses a .323 career batting average -- winning the 1999 and 2000 batting titles -- and has driven in 100 runs four different times.
But ten years ago, most experts would have told you the best player on that Georgia Tech team was Varitek, drafted No. 14 overall by the Mariners. As the only baseball player in Yellow Jacket history to have his uniform number retired (No. 33), it's clear he was viewed as a superior college performer. The switch-hitting catcher won virtually every postseason award his mantle could support, including the 1994 Golden Spikes Award and Baseball America's College Baseball Player of the Year. When his career ended, he was anointed the greatest catcher in college baseball history by Baseball America.
At 6-foot-2, Varitek was expected to revolutionize his position at the professional level as well. He possessed a combination of size, arm-strength and offensive power rarely seen in catcher. His talent and positional value probably warranted the first overall selection in the draft. But it was widely known among organizations that Varitek would have record-setting contract demands. So many teams avoided him, and his subsequent prolonged contract negotiations with Seattle delayed the beginning of his professional career.
Though Varitek never reached his potential (or the Majors) with the Mariners, he blossomed after being dealt to the Red Sox at the 1997 trading deadline. He was reunited with Garciaparra and began a steady improvement that culminated in his first All-Star appearance in 2003.
Payton (No. 29, Mets), also a dominant offensive player in college, had a great minor league career before injuries impeded his progress. When he finally arrived in the Mets starting lineup during the 2000 season, his innate hitting ability was apparent. That season, Payton hit .291 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs.
While injuries plagued Payton again in 2001 and 2002, the outfielder enjoyed his best year to date in 2003 with the Rockies. In Colorado, the Ohio native slugged 28 homers and 89 RBIs, while hitting .302.
The fact that three Yellow Jackets were selected among the first 34 picks is unusual. Considering the odds of draft success, it's truly remarkable that two became stars at their positions and all became productive, everyday Major League players.
Like any draft, 1994 had its share of fulfilled potential, its first-round flops and its later-round gems. Here's a sampling:
First round to the Big Leagues
No. 1, RHP Paul Wilson, Mets (Florida State): Heralded baseball's next great power pitcher, injuries changed the course of Wilson's career. After years of rehab and recovery, he has become a reliable Major League starter.
No. 2, OF Ben Grieve, Athletics (Martin HS, Arlington, Texas): Grieve arrived in Oakland poised to become one of the best left-handed hitters in baseball. In his first full Major League season, Grieve registered 18 home runs and 89 RBIs. Those numbers improved each of the next three seasons, culminating with 27 homers and 104 RBIs in 2000.
No. 3, RHP Dustin Hermanson, San Diego Padres (Kent State University): Not a star, but he's put together a solid Major League career (two 14-win seasons). Now pitching for the Giants, his sixth Major League team.
No. 8, 2B Todd Walker, Minnesota Twins (Louisiana State): A career .291 hitter, Walker was a critical part of the Red Sox success last season, collecting 85 RBIs and scoring 92 runs. Nowhe's a Cub, playing nearly every day with the injury to Mark Grudzielanek.
No. 13, C Paul Konerko, Dodgers (Chaparral HS, Scottsdale, Arizona): Konerko tore through the Dodgers minor league system, but couldn't earn a locker in Los Angeles. After being traded to the White Sox (via Cincinnati), the first baseman emerged as an offensive threat on the south side of Chicago, averaging 26 home runs and 95 RBIs between 1999 and 2002.
No. 20, OF Terrence Long, Mets (Stanhope Elmore HS, Millbrook, AL): Long quietly became a good offensive and defensive presence in the Athletics lineup over the past four years. However, as his .OPS went down and his strikeout totals up, Long lost favor in the Oakland front office and was dealt to San Diego last off season for Mark Kotsay.
Other Notables: No. 9, LHP C.J. Nitkowski, Reds; No. 10, RHP Jaret Wright, Indians; No. 17, C Ramon Castro (first 1st round choice from Puerto Rico in MLB history), Astros; No. 23, RHP Carlton Loewer, Phillies; No. 24, 1B-OF Brian Buchanan, Yankees; No. 25, RHP Scott Elarton, Astros; No. 26, C Mark Johnson, White Sox.
No. 4, 3B Antone Williamson, Brewers (Arizona State): Williamson projected as an elite offensive corner infielder and was the Brewers' top organizational prospect by 1995. But his career ended after just 24 games played at the Major League level, all during the 1997 season.
No. 5, Josh Booty, Marlins (Evangel Christian HS, Shreveport, LA): Booty was last seen holding a clipboard as the Cleveland Browns' third-string quarterback. Which probably isn't a bad thing. Labeled a superior athlete coming out of high school, the shortstop opted to bypass an opportunity to quarterback the LSU football team in favor of playing minor league baseball. After managing just a .198 career batting average, Booty returned to Baton Rouge and eventually the NFL.
No. 11, SS Mark Farris, Pirates (Angleton HS, Texas): Who? Exactly. Let's just say the Pirates are thrilled with the play of Jack Wilson this season.
No. 19, RHP Bret Wagner, Cardinals (Wake Forest): Between 1993 and 1996, the Cardinals chose a pitcher with its first pick in each draft. The players: Alan Benes, Bret Wagner, Matt Morris and Braden Looper. Wagner is the only one of the four not to enjoy any success at the Major League level.
C A.J. Pierzynski, Twins, 3rd round (71st overall): He's not a superstart, but Pierzynski is an above-average every-day catcher (career .297 hitter). Most organizations would be happy if a catcher drafted in the first round accomplished the same status.
3B Aaron Boone, Reds, 3rd round (72nd overall): Though he's sitting out the 2004 season with a torn ACL, Boone's become an All-Star caliber third baseman, making the National League squad in 2003.
OF Scott Podsednik, Rangers, 3rd round (85th overall): Podsednik emerged as one of last year's premier rookies after nine years of minor league obscurity. His .314 batting average, 100 runs scored and 43 stolen bases provided one of the Brewers' top highlights last season. It may have taken the 28-year old a while to get to a Major League city, but it looks like he's here to stay.
RHP Danny Graves, Indians, 4th round (101st overall): The 101st overall pick in the 1994 draft is among the NL saves leaders this season and has 142 career saves.
RHP Javier Vazquez, Expos, 5th round (140th overall): A premier starter in the NL for the last three seasons, Vazquez is entering his prime at the top of the Yankees staff.
RHP Keith Foulke, Giants, 9th round (256th overall): He's not Eric Gagne or Mariano Rivera, but he's close, and clearly a better closer than anyone selected in the first eight rounds of the 1994 draft.
Other Notables: SS Geoff Blum, Expos, 7th round; SS Ron Belliard, Brewers, 8th round; SS-P Wes Helms, Braves, 10th round; OF Bubba Trammell, Tigers, 11th round; P Carl Pavano, Red Sox, 13th round; SS Ryan Freel, Cardinals, 13th round; SS Placido Polanco, Cardinals, 19th round; OF Dustan Mohr, Angels, 20th round; P Brett Tomko, Dodgers, 20th round; P Scott Stewart, Rangers, 20th round; P Lance Carter, Royals, 21st round; P Scott Saeurbeck, Mets, 23rd round; P John Halama, Astros, 23rd; SS Mike Young, Orioles, 25th round; OF Dave Roberts, Tigers, 28th round; SS Julio Lugo, Astros, 43rd round; P Kyle Farnsworth, Cubs, 47th Round; SS Chris Woodward, Blue Jays, 54th Round.
Kent Malmros is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.