03 February 2004

One Drew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Back in 1998, the Yankees took a gamble with their third-round draft pick, scooping up a two-sport, high school standout from Michigan named Drew Henson. Sports Illustrated did an article about Henson in August of that year, perhaps even the cover, if I recall correctly, hyping his talent and potential as only the Carrier of the Curse can. Naturally, today Henson's a failure as a baseball player.

The whole reason the Yankees were able to pick up such an apparently talented player at such a low position in the draft (immortal talents like Andy Van Hekken and Alex Santos were chosen ahead of him) was the question of his signability. Henson is from Michigan, and by the time of the MLB amatuer draft had already committed to play quarterback for the University of Michigan football team after graduation from high school, so nobody else figured they could convince him to give that up and sign with them to play baseball. The Yankees figured that they could afford to take a chance on Henson, given their tradition, and the presence of fellow Michigan alum Derek Jeter and, oh, let's say seventeen million other reasons. (Most draft picks who go #97 overall don't get 6-year guaranteed major league contracts that make them independently wealthy at the age of 18.)

Sports Illustrated's article explained at the time that Henson was not only a two-sport star, but a two-way star within the sport of baseball, serving as both the starting thirdbaseman for his high school team and its star pitcher. The Yankees chose to have him playing 3B full time, and while he did show some promise in his first few seasons, he was never impressive and failed to improve once he was moved up to AAA.

Years                      Avg   G    AB    R    H   2B  HR  RBI  BB   SO   SLG   OBP   OPS

1998-2000 (mostly A & AA) .275 159 600 92 165 34 23 88 54 187 .453 .335 .788
2001-2003 (mostly AAA) .235 342 1257 161 295 77 44 186 82 369 .410 .282 .692

The rates of Henson's "counting stats" (homers, RBI, etc.) stayed about the same, but he lost what little batting average he had, which cost him quite a lot in his on-base and slugging percentages. Clearly, if he's been in the minors for six years and is striking out 170 times and walking only 40 times a season, against the likes of Everett Stull and Mike Buddie, he's not going to be able to handle Jamie Moyer's "same-up" in the majors, not to mention Randy Johnson's slider or Barry Zito's curve.

Which is why he'll be working out for potential NFL suitors next week.

One thing that would have been interesting, I think, would have been to see if Henson could have gone back to pitching. Brooks Kieschnick got himself back into the majors solely on his ability to both hit and pitch, though admittedly he's great at neither. I'm sure that Henson has no desire to be a part time, "useful spare part" like Kieschnick, when he could be a star quarterback in the NFL instead. But what if he could go back to pitching and become good, that would make it worthwhile to stay in baseball, no?

It would take some work, which takes time, to see if he's even got the "stuff" anymore. He'd have to prove he can get minor leaguers out, and start from the bottom of the ladder again, working his way back up. I imagine that, ironically, trying to keep Ray Lewis from turning you into a permanent part of somebody's astroturf looks like a pretty attractive option right now.

Good luck to him. Maybe the Yankees can use his $12 million dollars to find a thirdbaseman who doesn't suck.

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