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Prospect Retro: Roger Clemens

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Prospect Retro: Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens went to college at the University of Texas. In 1983, he went 13-5 with a 3.04 ERA, with a 151/22 K/BB ratio in 166 innings and was the hero of the College World Series. Despite these exploits, he went "just" 19th overall in the '83 draft. Scouts liked him a lot, no question. But on the Texas staff he was usually considered the number three guy behind Calvin Schiraldi and Mike Capel. Clemens was considered to be the best pro prospect of the group: Schiraldi was drafted 29th overall, Capel went in the 13th round.

Scouts were aware of Clemens' combination of stuff and command, but on draft day there were several pitchers selected ahead of him (see below).There was nothing wrong with Clemens certainly; there were just a few pitchers who scouts felt were more projectable and had more room to grow, or who were a bit more polished. Nowadays, Clemens' outstanding K/BB and K/IP marks in college would draw stathead notice and he'd probably go earlier in the round, but at the time college stats were discounted even more than they are now.

Clemens did great in his pro debut, going 3-1, 1.24 in 29 innings with a 36/0 (no misprint) K/BB for Winter Haven in the Florida State League. Promoted to Double-A, he went 4-1, 1.38 in seven starts and 52 innings for New Britain with a 59/12 K/BB. Nowadays a similar pitcher coming out of college and blowing people away like that would get, at worst, a Grade A- from me and probably a straight Grade A. The only thing I'd worry about would be an excessive college workload possibly leading to injury.

Clemens went 2-3, 1.93 in six starts for Triple-A Pawtucket to begin 1984, with a 50/14 K/BB in 47 innings. Promoted to Boston, he went 9-4, 4.32 in 20 starts, a touch erratic at times but posting a terrific 126/29 K/BB. He clearly had the potential to be an outstanding pitcher, if he stayed healthy.

Clemens went 7-5, 3.29 in 1985, but his strikeout rate dropped sharply, his walk rate rose, and he ended up being limited to just 15 starts by a shoulder injury, which required surgery to correct and ended his season in August. His status entering '86 was uncertain, but he quickly proved healthy and went 24-4, 2.48, beginning a run of superb pitching over the next 20 years.

What if the shoulder injury had been more severe?

It is safe to say that Clemens is one of the top five pitchers who ever lived, and a strong case can be made that he's the best overall pitcher of the last 100 years. His combination of durability and dominance is historic. Certainly, his minor league and college track records were that of an excellent pitching prospect. But no one could have predicted this, certainly not the scouts and clubs who placed him in the middle of the '83 first round, rather than on the same list with guys like Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, or Tom Seaver.

Pitchers drafted ahead of Roger Clemens in 1983

1st overall: Tim Belcher, RHP, Mt. Vernon Nazarene College, Twins
5th overall: Stan Hilton, RHP, Baylor, Athletics
6th overall: Jackie Davidson, RHP, Texas HS, Cubs
7th overall: Darrel Akerfelds, RHP, Mesa CC, Mariners
10th overall: Ray Hayward, LHP, University of Oklahoma, Padres
13th overall: Joel Davis, RHP, Florida HS, White Sox
14th overall: Rich Stoll, RHP, University of Michigan, Expos
15th overall: Wayne Dotson, RHP, Texas HS, Tigers
16th overall: Brian Holman, RHP, Kansas HS, Expos
18th overall, Eric Sonberg, LHP, Wichita State, Dodgers