Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was working for White Sox scouting director Al Goldis in 1989 and was assigned to watch Auburn University in some early-season games.
He couldn't stop thinking about how much damage the first baseman could do.
In a scouting report Rizzo filed in March that year, he called Frank Thomas the "top bat around'' and projected he could hit 30-plus homers a season in the big leagues. He went into the margins of a standardized form to call him a "very good, impact major leaguer" even though he didn't see Thomas as a .300 hitter and on-base machine.
On the 20-80 scale used by scouts, Rizzo ranked Thomas as only a 35 hitter "now'' with a chance to become a 50 hitter. He had his power as 70 now and 80 in the future.
Goldis and White Sox general manager Larry Himes were thrilled Thomas still was on the board when they selected seventh overall. LSU ace Ben McDonald was the buzz guy in the draft, going to the Orioles with the first pick, and in the two picks ahead of the White Sox the Rangers took Texas Tech outfielder-defensive back Donald Harris and the Cardinals took high school outfielder Paul Coleman.
That might have been the Cardinals' last wasted draft pick. It allowed the Sox to land Thomas, who would win American League MVP awards in his fourth and fifth big-league seasons.
The Sox's selection of Thomas is easily the most significant pick ever for a Chicago team in the draft. Here are my next nine, some good, some painful:
2. Greg Maddux: The scouting report Doug Mapson turned in on May 26, 1984, listed the high school pitcher from Las Vegas at 6-foot-1, 155 pounds, but a subsequent report from cross-checker Spider Jorgensen noted that he had "long arms, long fingers.'' Mapson had noted Maddux really could pitch, saying on his report he "possibly (would) be the No. 1 player in the country if he only looked a little more physical.'' The Cubs used the third pick overall on a much bigger pitcher (lefty Drew Hall) but nabbed Maddux with the 31st selection.
3. Mark Buehrle: Twice cut from his high school team, Buehrle was a draft-and-follow player the White Sox claimed in the 38th round in 1998, when Ron Schueler was the GM and Duane Shaffer the scouting director. The Sox don't win the 2005 World Series without doing a good job scouting Jefferson College.
4. Bobby Seay: The White Sox used the 12th overall pick in 1996 on the Sarasota (Fla.) high school left-hander but didn't turn their immediate attention to signing him. That allowed the Seay family adviser, Scott Boras, to exploit a loophole in the draft that would make Seay and fellow first-rounders Travis Lee, Matt White and John Patterson free agents (Rule 4E of the Professional Baseball Agreement to make a formal contract offer to every pick within 15 days of the draft). The White Sox were given a replacement pick in the '97 draft and used it to take pitcher Rocky Biddle, but a chasm opened between Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Boras that continues to haunt the Sox.
5. Josh Vitters: While Reinsdorf has feuded with Boras, the Cubs often looked to spend as little money as possible in the draft. That was the case in 2007, when they took the California high school third baseman with the third overall pick rather than pay the freight to sign Matt Wieters, a switch-hitting catcher coming off a huge season at Georgia Tech. Wieters could have given the Cubs their top catcher since Randy Hundley, if not longer, but Tribune Co. was opening the vault only for guys such as Alfonso Soriano and Ted Lilly, not Boras clients in the draft.
6. Mark Prior: On the one hand, Prior got the Cubs as close to the World Series as anyone since that grounder went through Leon Durham's legs in San Diego. On the other, Joe Mauer, the St. Paul, Minn., hometown hero whom the Twins selected ahead of USC's Prior, has been a cornerstone of three playoff teams and has won three batting titles. Luck always plays a role in life, and the quirk here is that the Rays, not the Twins, would have had the first pick in 2001 if they hadn't won eight of their last 10 in 2000. They could have saved the Cubs from Prior, and vice versa.
7. Ty Griffin/Mike Harkey: Four years after they selected Maddux, the Cubs invested in Griffin, the switch-hitting Georgia Tech second baseman with the ninth overall pick. In doing so, they ignored record-setting Oklahoma State third baseman Robin Ventura, whom the White Sox selected one pick later. Oddly, the same dynamic had played out in the previous draft, when the Cubs took Harkey, a Cal State-Fullerton right-hander, with the fourth pick, leaving Stanford ace Jack McDowell on the board. The White Sox took McDowell fifth.
8. Doug Glanville: Nothing against cerebral players, but talent sometimes wins out. That was certainly the case in 1991. The Cubs grabbed the Ivy League outfielder from Penn with the 12th pick overall, one selection before the Indians got Manny Ramirez. Imagine how dangerous the Cubs would have been if they had Ramirez and Sammy Sosa in their primes.
9. Mike Cameron: Selected in the 18th round in that '91 draft, Cameron would go on to a good career, playing 15 full seasons in the big leagues, but his biggest value for the White Sox was giving Schueler the perfect piece to trade when the Reds decided Paul Konerko could not play third base or left field. Reds GM Jim Bowden had identified Sean Casey as his first baseman and wanted a solid, two-way center fielder. The Sox landed a cornerstone in exchange.
10. Danny Goodwin: Chicago teams have had the first overall pick only three times. The White Sox got Harold Baines in 1977 and the Cubs took Shawon Dunston in 1982. Goodwin was the first. The outfielder from Peoria Central opted to attend Southern University rather than sign with the White Sox. He still remains the only first pick not to sign. George Brett (Royals) and Jim Rice (Red Sox) were taken long after Goodwin in '71. He later signed with the Angels as the first pick in 1975.