If you want to identify a date at which the Royals hit rock bottom, look no further than June 6, 2001.
Ten years ago, nearly to the day, the Royals may have reached their high point, or low point rather, in futility at the 2001 amateur draft. And there have been plenty of days to choose from.
To say that a draft would mark the low point in the history of a franchise may seem odd. But consider where the team was at that point. The once-proud franchise had finished the last six seasons below .500. The team was struggling to retain its top talent in the free agent market, and had missed on several of its recent draft picks. The farm system was depleted. An infusion of talent was needed.
On that day in 2001, however, spirits were riding high. The Royals spent their first two picks in the major league baseball draft on two high school phenoms. No, make that legends.
Colt Griffin and Roscoe Crosby. The two conjured up memories of Nolan Ryan and Ken Griffey, Jr.
“We got the best high school arm in the country, and we got probably the best athlete in the draft,” said Allard Baird about the picks. “If somebody would have told me before the draft we were going to get Mr. Griffin and Mr. Crosby, I would have said ‘You’re nuts.’”
Today it looks like Baird was the one who was nuts. But he wasn’t the only one who coveted Griffin and Crosby. The two were considered risky picks, but not without off-the-charts potential.
Griffin and Crosby never panned out, however. The 2001 draft turned out to be simply the culmination of several consecutive bad drafts that left the franchise devoid of young talent. The draft of 2001 was not the beginning of the Royals problems, as you can see by reading here.
But the pinnacle of imperfection was the 2001 draft, which netted two legendary flameouts.
The Royals took Griffin with the ninth pick of the draft because he was reported to have topped 100 mph, supposedly the first high schooler known to have done so. KC risked a $2.4 million signing bonus on the 6’4” Texan, knowing he would have to conquer control problems.
He never did.
Griffin bounced back and forth between Burlington and Wilmington for two consecutive seasons, trying to gain some semblance of control over, and develop anything besides, his blazing fastball. He worked on changing his mechanics, developed arm problems, and languished in A-ball.
In one last-ditch effort to get something out of his golden arm, he converted to the bullpen at Wichita. He got his walks more under control there. But faced with shoulder surgery following the 2005 season, he opted to retire at age 22.
Griffin could have served as the model for Bull Durham’s “Nuke” LaLoosh. For his minor league career, he struck out 271, walked 278, hit 44 batters, and threw 82 wild pitches in 373 minor league innings. He posted a career 4.79 ERA.
If Griffin’s story is disappointing, Crosby’s is tragic.
The South Carolina high schooler had the tools, according to Royals scouts, to rival Griffey. The only reason Crosby was still available in the second round, at pick number 53, was because he was also one of the most sought-after football talents in the nation.
The Royals, willing to let Crosby play football at Clemson, planned to develop his talents as a center-fielder on a part-time basis, hoping their patience would eventually pay dividends. The Royals had, of course, been the part-time home of none other than Bo Jackson in days past.
But their new young star was star-crossed. While setting freshman receiving records at Clemson, he injured his elbow. He worked to rehab the injury during the summer under the watchful eyes of the Royals.
But tragedy struck when several of his high school friends, en route to visit him at Baseball City, FL, were killed in a horrific car crash. Crosby was devastated.
He planned to red-shirt the upcoming football season to recover from the elbow injury. But he wound up going AWOL, seeking psychological counseling, and battling the Royals over arbitration when he didn’t return to the field.
Later, his brother died in a swimming accident. Crosby couldn’t recover.
Crosby never played a baseball game after high school, and wound up getting just $1 million of his $1.75 signing bonus after arbitration.
He made one final attempt to tap his limitless potential by trying out for NFL teams in 2005. But he never stuck.
The 2001 draft, which inspired such high hopes at the time, left the farm system completely empty. The only player taken by the Royals who actually made the majors is Devon Lowery, who pitched in five games in 2008.
Every franchise has its spectacular flops. Players who just couldn’t miss, but somehow did. But the 2001 draft followed a disastrous string of failed drafts when the team could ill afford it.
No one thought it would turn out this way for Griffin and Crosby. And the franchise paid a steep price for it. About a decade’s worth.