Bob Lutz

Andy Dirks joins distinguished list

Andy Dirks made his big-league debut with the Detroit Tigers this week, becoming the 29th former Wichita State player of the Gene Stephenson era (1978-present) to play in the majors.

Dirks, an outfielder who went to Haven High and played for the Shockers in 2007 and 2008, is just starting on his journey. He might stick and he might not. Time will tell.

Former Shockers Mike Pelfrey, Casey Blake and Koyie Hill are still in the majors with the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. Conor Gillaspie, who played with Dirks at WSU, is in Triple-A for the San Francisco Giants and played briefly for the Giants at the end of the 2008 season.

But most of the ex-Shockers who have reached the majors have also reached the end of their playing careers. With Dirks' recent promotion to Detroit, it's a good time to rank all 29 former WSU players from one to five stars. Dirks and Gillaspie get incompletes.

The rankings are based mostly on big-league production, but also on where a player was drafted and how much was expected going forward.

5 stars

Joe Carter (1979-81, first round, fifth overall, Chicago Cubs, 1981) —Easily the best of the former Shockers to play in the majors, Carter made his biggest mark with a home run to win the seventh game of the 1993 World Series for Toronto against the Philadelphia Phillies. Carter, an outfielder, finished his career — played mostly with Cleveland and Toronto — with near-Hall of Fame numbers (396 homers, 1,448 RBIs).

Casey Blake (1993-96, seventh round, Toronto, 1996) —Early on, it appeared Blake might flame out in Triple-A. But he received a big break when he was traded to Cleveland in 2003 and got a chance to play every day at third base. He's been a lineup fixture ever since and now, at 37, is nearing the end of his career with the Dodgers.

4 stars

Charlie O'Brien (1980-82, fifth round, Oakland, 1982) —Hey, the guy was Greg Maddux's personal catcher in Atlanta for a few years. Enough said. Mostly a back-up, O'Brien's career spanned 16 seasons because he had some pop in his bat (59 career homers) and he was outstanding defensively.

Mike Lansing (1987-90, sixth round, Miami Marlins of the Florida State League, 1990) —Lansing's name appeared on the Mitchell Report, so there are reservations here. But there's no doubt he was a viable major leaguer 10 seasons, finishing with a .271 career average. His best seasons were with the Montreal Expos, for whom he had 67 extra-base hits in 1997.

Pat Meares (1988-90, 12th round, Minnesota, 1990) —Meares played in 982 big-league games with Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Twelfth-rounders don't usually do that. He amassed 849 hits and a .258 average.

Braden Looper (1994-96, first round, third overall, St. Louis, 1996) —Much was expected from Looper and he had a good career with 72 wins and 103 saves in 12 seasons.

Nate Robertson (1997-99, fifth round, Florida, 1999) —The big lefty took the ball every five days for Detroit from 2004-08, winning 12 games in '04 and 13 in '06. Classic overachiever.

Mike Pelfrey (2003-05, first round, ninth overall, New York Mets, 2005) —Pelfrey is one of the frontline starters for the Mets and has gotten off to a nice start. Pelfrey was 15-9 last season with a 3.66 ERA and I expected a real take-off this season. But he's only 3-3 for the Mets with an ERA just over 5.00. Could still get to five-star status easily.

3 stars

Don Heinkel (1979-82, 30th round, Detroit, 1982) —Three stars for Heinkel because of his perseverance. He didn't get to the big leagues until 1988, with Detroit. He appeared in only 28 big-league games. But he made it despite having marginal stuff because of a huge heart. And he did win a game with St. Louis in 1989.

Russ Morman (1982-83, first round, 28th overall, Chicago White Sox, 1983) —Became a decent pinch-hitter in the big leagues, where he played for nine seasons, but not much more.

David Haas (1985-88, 15th round, Detroit, 1988) —Had some nice moments in 1992 with the Tigers, when he was 5-3 with a 3.94 ERA after a midseason call-up from the minors. Wasn't able to sustain that success.

Tyler Green (1989-91, first round, 10th overall, Philadelphia, 1991) —After beating John Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves on June 30, 1995, Green improved to 8-4 with a 2.75 ERA. He was chosen to the National League All-Star game. But he had a terrible second half of that season and won 10 more big-league games.

Doug Mirabelli (1990-92, fifth round, San Francisco, 1992) —Found a way to make it as a backup catcher for 10 seasons, the best of which were as Jason Varitek's understudy with the Boston Red Sox from 2001-06.

Darren Dreifort (1991-93, first round, second overall, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1993) —Dreifort made it through eight seasons with the Dodgers before his right arm finally gave out. After signing a five-year, $55 million contract with the Dodgers in 2001, he was expected to anchor the pitching staff for years to come. Injuries did not allow that to happen.

Koyie Hill (1998-2000, fourth round, Dodgers, 2000) —Hill is still a backup catcher with the Cubs and is in his eighth season in the majors after playing third base in college.

Two stars

Rick Wrona (1983-85, fifth round, Chicago Cubs, 1985) —Batted .283 in 38 games for the Chicago Cubs in 1989, his best season. And Harry Caray called his name.

Phil Stephenson (1979-82, third round, Oakland, 1982) —Arguably the greatest player in WSU history never found the same success in the big leagues. Batted .201 for his career.

Eric Wedge (1987-89, third round, Boston, 1987) —Went on to manage Cleveland and now Seattle, but never gained much traction as a player because of injuries that curtailed his career when he was 26.

Greg Brummett (1986-89, 11th round, San Francisco, 1989) —Received a call-up to the Giants in 1993 and was 4-4 that season with a 5.08 ERA for the Giants and Twins. Never again pitched in the big leagues.

P.J. Forbes (1987-90, 20th round, California Angels, 1990) —Battled his way through the minor leagues to finally get to the bigs with Baltimore in 1998. Three years later, he played in three games with Philadelphia. Had three hits in 17 at-bats.

One star

Bryan Oelkers (1980-82, first round, fourth overall, Minnesota, 1982) —Was 3-8 with a 6.01 ERA in a short career.

Jeff Richardson (1983, first round, 24th overall, Toronto, 1983) —Was briefly a Shocker and even more briefly (one-third of an inning with California in 1990) a big leaguer.

Kennie Steenstra (1990-92, 12th round, Chicago Cubs, 1992) —Did make it to the Cubs in 1998, but lasted only four games.

Jaime Bluma (1991-94, third round, Kansas City, 1994) —After a promising start, Bluma succumbed to arm issues after only 17 appearances with the Royals in 1996.

Zach Sorensen (1996-98, second round, Cleveland, 1998) —Played in 48 games for the Indians and Dodgers. Batted .143.

Adam Peterson (1999-2000, 2002, fourth round, Toronto, 2002) —Got into three games for the Blue Jays in 2004. None of them went well.

Kevin Hooper (1996-99, eighth round, Florida, 1999) —Had his only major league hit in eight at-bats with the Tigers in 2005.


Conor Gillaspie, Andy Dirks.