|Matt Cain celebrating his perfection|
Back in 2002 Matt Cain was drafted 25th overall by the San Francisco Giants. It was the same draft that saw the Rays taking B.J. Upton (#2), the Royals went with Zack Greinke (#6), the Brewers took Prince Fielder (#7) and the Phillies nabbed Cole Hamels (#17).
The Twins held pick #20 that year and they chose OF Denard Span. Now the argument can be made that Denard was a good pick. He has produced at the major league level and is a very solid center fielder. His career WAR (wins above replacement) is a respectable 14.0 and his career BA is a good .286. Span has served as the Twins starting center fielder and lead off batter for the better part of the last 4 years so it's safe to say that he definitely wasn't a bust.
Now I know that hindsight is always 20/20 and MLB drafts are literally just a crap shoot. But I don't think I'm too far off saying that the Twins should've at least entertained the idea of taking Cain. 2002 was a good year for Minnesota. It was Gardy's first year as manager. They finished 1st in the AL Central at 94-67 and made it to the ALCS but you'll remember they lost to the Angels 4 games to 1.
Their pitching was fairly solid that year with Rick Reed leading the staff with 15 wins. Kyle Lohse and Eric Milton each had 13 wins, Radke had 9 and Johan Santana made the move from the bullpen to a starter and posted 8 wins. Joe Mays suffered injuries that year, pitched in only 95 innings and posted a rough 4-8 record with a 5.38 ERA. The Twins' team ERA that year was a not-so-good but okay 4.12.
Torii Hunter was the starting center fielder and had good numbers that year with a .289 BA, 29 HR and 94 RBI. Jaque Jones also roamed the OF that year and posted a .300 BA, 27 HR and 85 RBI. They were both young and fast and looked to be the anchors for the Twins outfield for years to come.
Even though the pitching staff, with the exception of Rick Reed, was very young at the time, and Milton, Radke and Mays pitched very well the year before, there were definitely question marks with a young Kyle Lohse and no established #5 starter. And who knew at that time that Johan Santana would go on to have the career he had. That being said, looking back it would appear as if the Twins needed pitching shored up more than the outfield, especially when they had guys like Michael Cuddyer and Bobby Kielty waiting in the wings. Therefore, it would've have been far fetched to select a guy like RHP Matt Cain with the 20th pick that year.
Now that's not to say that Cain has had HOF numbers but he has done very solid going 77-75 with a very good 3.28 ERA and 1181 K's over 1412.1 innings and would definitely be the ace of our staff right now. Denard Span is doing well this year as well, batting .293 with 16 doubles, but I think its safe to say that Cain is out performing him this year and with 8 wins, would be making a bigger impact on the team.
Now Span might have been the better player at the time, but Cain would've definitely filled some holes and, ultimately, would've been the better investment. Also too, that's not to mention that 3 other pitchers were picked inbetween the Twins #20 and the Giants #25 but, at least for me, it's fun (and sometimes depressing) to look back at past drafts and see who could've been on the Twins.
But the emphasis at draft time is always that you need to select the best player available at the time whether he fills any holes or not. And that's what makes me worried with this year's draft when they selected yet another outfielder in Byron Buxton and passed on what they needed with RHP Mark Appel.
Good for Cain and good for the Giants, but I will have to say this though, it would've been pretty nifty to have seen Cain pitch his masterful perfect game last night in the Minnesota Twins pinstripes instead of a San Francisco uniform. Just sayin'.