Padres Editorial: Matt Bush & the 2004 First Year Player Draft Revisited

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Credit: Sporting News
Credit: Sporting News

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane. The year was 2004. The team, and the fans, were anticipating the grand opening of Petco Park. The $495 million venue was the epitome of a new era for San Diego Padres baseball.

The team changed their logo, to that weird picture of home plate with “SD” in the center, palm trees on both sides, and a wave. I have so many things I could say about that logo, but it was the least of worries for San Diego fans.

The Padres unveiled new uniforms. They were unique, and were supposed to be a revolutionary breakthrough for MLB uniform designs. However, what we got was a sand-colored road uniform (why did we do that?) and a navy blue alternate jersey that resembled something a softball beer league team would wear. I still have one of those, with Khalil Greene‘s name and number on the back, but that’s beside the point.

The front office did a makeover of the roster. They presented a team that was built to contend (sort of). The team had a young, dominant ace in Jake Peavy, a solid bullpen lead by one of the best closing pitchers in history and a mixture of young guys and seasoned vets in the lineup.

So what kept this team from succeeding? Two words: Kevin Towers. Now, I could go on for days about the poor decisions and draft dumpster diving he always did at the trade deadline, but that isn’t the point of this. I would like to take this time to look back at the 2004 First Year Player Draft. Former owner John Moores also played a hand in this. He was a real estate guy who didn’t like to spend money.

The Padres had the number one overall pick in that draft. The front office had their pick of any of the bright young prospects who entered the draft that year, players like Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew. These players are now enjoying decent careers in the majors. That Verlander guy has thrown a couple of no-hitters. This Jered kid has been solid as the ace of the California… I mean, Anaheim…. no… Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim! That’s it! And that Stephen guy? Well, he’s moved around a bit, but he has made a career as a serviceable shortstop.

However, Towers and the front office decided to pick a youngster named Matt Bush. Bush was a product of Mission Bay High School. A shortstop, Bush had the defense and arm strength to make him a decent prospect. Definitely not a number one overall pick, but a decent prospect nonetheless. I would have taken him in the middle-to-late rounds, but that’s beside the point and I wasn’t the one making the selection.

So, the Padres draft Bush, and give him a $3 million signing bonus. Remember this, because it’s going to be mentioned again.

Credit: UT San Diego
Credit: UT San Diego

It was revealed later that Bush was actually their third choice, and they preferred drafting either Weaver or Drew, but passed up on it because they both were represented by agent Scott Boras. The super agent Boras is great at his craft, and has a knack for getting the biggest deals for his clients. Moores didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a number one overall prospect, and there was no changing his mind.

So, this 18-year old kid was fresh out of high school with $3 million. What could possibly go wrong?

He was suspended before he ever saw the field after he got into a fight outside a bar in Arizona in 2004. Why a minor was at a bar, during his rookie season, is beyond me. He hit a whopping .181 for the Arizona League Padres that season.

In 2006, he broke his ankle during Spring Training and missed half the season. In 2007, when it was apparent that he wouldn’t amount to much as a shortstop, the Padres converted him into a pitcher. But his woes didn’t stop there. He tore a ligament in his pitching elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery. He missed all of the 2008 season because of it.

Credit: AP Photo
Credit: AP Photo

In 2009, he and the Padres parted ways. He was designated for assignment. Soon after, it was revealed that he was drunk in a high school parking lot, when he assaulted a couple of freshman lacrosse players.

So, is this a story of a promising young prospect plagued by the injury bug and a lack of self-control? Not so fast. Bush spent time in prison while with the Tampa Rays. He was driving drunk with a suspended license, and hit a 72-year old motorcyclist, and even fled the scene. He served three years behind bars for the incident.

Today, Bush is with the Texas Rangers. He made his Spring debut with the club on March 23, pitching two scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs, striking out two hitters and walking one. He even got Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler to whiff at his fastball, which topped out at 98 miles per hour.

Perhaps Bush could make the most of his second chance at reaching a Major League club. I hope he does. He’s a talented player, but he allowed his reckless lifestyle to get the best of him when he was young.

As much as we all wanted to see our number one overall pick excel at the game like some of the other first round picks from that draft, it just didn’t happen. It was another chapter in the book of woes for a franchise that has yet to reach the highest peak in Major League Baseball.

Congratulations on your solid outing, Mr. Bush. Keep it up. People love second chance success stories, and you’re writing yours now.

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