John Danks was the ninth player selected in the first round of the 2003 draft. And the best player selected in the first round of the 2003 draft.
(BaseballReference.com will tell you that Nick Markakis’s 19.7 career Wins Above Replacement exceed Danks’s 18.9, but I’d take Danks over Markakis, the seventh overall pick that year, and bet most teams would, too.)
Danks not only stands out in the first round of that 2003 draft, Grady Fuson’s second as Rangers scouting director – he has been one of the best picks of the 1,480 made that year.
Oklahoma high school outfielder Matt Kemp, chosen by the Dodgers in the sixth round, has been better (21.7 WAR).
Washington high school righthander Tim Lincecum, selected by the Cubs in the 48th round but not signed, has been better (22.5 WAR).
But Danks and Markakis and Kemp and Lincecum and everybody else in the 2003 draft trail one player.
The best player whose name was called in the 2003 draft, at least sabermetrically speaking, has been 17th-rounder Ian Kinsler (the 496th overall pick), whose 24.9 WAR reigns supreme. You have to go all the way back to 1988, when Kinsler was six years old, to find a 17th-round pick who has had a more productive career, and that was outfielder Brian Giles, who in 15 seasons racked up a 42.5 WAR count.
Kinsler’s 24.9 has been six seasons in the making.
Before Kinsler reached Arlington, and before Danks was traded to Chicago, the two were teammates in Short-Season A Spokane (2003) and Low A Clinton (2004). Danks was in the LumberKings dugout in that spring of 2004 when Kinsler destroyed Midwest League pitching and wore out Midwest League left field foul lines and left field foul poles to the tune of .402/.465/.692 over 60 games.
Both Kinsler and Danks said goodbye to Clinton after the June 12 game, a 4-3 L-Kings win over the Peoria Chiefs that featured Kinsler’s 11th home run, 30th double (!), a walk, and a couple RBI, and Danks going three innings (two unearned runs on three hits and a walk, three strikeouts). Therafter, Kinsler was sent two levels up to AA Frisco, and Danks was moved up to High A Stockton (to replace righthander John Hudgins, who was promoted to Frisco to replace lefthander Sam Narron, who was promoted to Oklahoma to replace righthander John Wasdin, who was promoted to the Texas rotation to replace righthander R.A. Dickey, who was moved from the rotation to the long man role in the bullpen of a bad Rangers team).
Kinsler and Danks wouldn’t play together in 2005, as Kinsler spent the whole year in Oklahoma while Danks split the season between High A Bakersfield and Frisco. They missed each other the next year when Kinsler, in May of his rookie season, spent two weeks rehabbing a thumb injury in Oklahoma, where Danks had made one cameo start in late April but wouldn’t return for good until late June.
That winter, Kinsler finished seventh in the AL Rookie of the Year vote. And Danks, yet to pitch in the big leagues, was traded to the White Sox.
Since then, neither Kinsler nor Danks has seen the minor leagues (with the exception of a handful of rehab games for both). And they’ve faced off 30 times.
In those 30 battles, Kinsler has hit safely 11 times and drawn two walks, video-gaming a slash line of .393/.433/.929. Danks has fanned Kinsler three times – though not at all in their last 18 matchups – while Kinsler has three doubles and four homers among those 11 hits.
One of those doubles came yesterday, on the second pitch the Rangers saw in 2012, and one of the bombs came two innings later.
Danks was really good yesterday. He was super-efficient, his changeup was filthy, he was hurt in his sixth and final inning by an Adrian Beltre grounder to third that would have gone for a double play if Brent Morel had played it like Beltre would have, and that instead led to the game’s decisive run.
I’m more than a bit surprised Danks signed long-term with the White Sox in December, in the midst of a Chicago teardown and a year before he would have been a free agent, but maybe that’s exactly where he wanted to be (or maybe he figured five years and $65 million was too good a deal to pass up). I have no problem with that. But I sure wish he’d have gone free this coming winter and that he’d have been open to a return to Texas.
The idea of locking up long-term before the issue becomes acute is also the big story in Texas right now, as the Rangers and Kinsler reportedly got very, very close on a lengthy extension this week, and there seems to be at least some speculation that two sides, while preferring to avoid the potential distraction of negotiations now that the season is underway, could nonetheless punch the ball in soon if whatever issues remain can get ironed out quickly and quietly.
What Kinsler did yesterday afternoon shouldn’t impact contract talks any more than Albert Pujols hitting into four outs in three official at-bats last night and never getting the ball out of the infield should affect how his contract is viewed.
But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Kinsler stepped up regardless of what was happening off the field. The guy’s a baller.
Or that Colby Lewis, who was in the midst of a demotion to AAA at the time Kinsler and Danks signed just after the 2003 draft, before a shoulder surgery and a couple designations for assignment and an outright assignment and another designation for assignment and outright and a release and another designation for assignment and outright and another designation for assignment and release and a stint in Japan and two really solid years back with Texas, especially in the biggest games, would get the job done on Opening Day.
Or that the bullpen, deployed yesterday just the way things are drawn up around here, would be nails, starting with a nasty inning from Alexi Ogando, who has been in pro ball one year longer than Kinsler or Danks.
The only real surprise for me from Texas 3, Chicago 2 is that anyone would throw Josh Hamilton strike one, or any hittable pitch whatsoever to start an at-bat, which the White Sox did every one of his four times up.
It was the kind of day it would have been fun to dream up nine years ago, when Texas popped Danks in Round One, and an infielder with lightning-fast hands from Central Arizona Community College and Arizona State and the University of Missouri in Round 17, a couple players who have turned out to be two of the five most productive players from that draft, chosen 487 slots apart.
It would have been a crazy dream, but for lots of us maybe no more of one than imagining that they’d be facing off on Opening Day, one in the uniform of the two-time defending American League champions, and that the uniform would have “Texas” stitched across its front.