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When the Marlins Could’ve Had Mike Trout

Instead, they drafted left-hander Chad James, seven picks ahead of the iconic Angels outfielder.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

In the baseball lexicon, the term “best player” has been used liberally to describe Mike Trout for nearly a decade at this point, and for good reason. Since the start of the 2012 season, Trout’s first full run against big-league pitching, the Angels center fielder has amassed 75.6 rWAR (Baseball-Reference’s version). Nobody else is in Trout’s zip code—the runner-up in total value, former Diamondbacks’ and current Cardinals’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, is still 25.3 wins behind the 3x AL MVP.

And to think, Trout wasn’t even the first player taken in his year’s MLB Draft class. Stephen Strasburg, a player who has gone on to have a successful career in his own right, hogged all the oxygen during the 2009 pre-draft process.

Meanwhile, Trout wasn’t the second, or the fifth, or even the tenth player taken that year. Heck, the Millville Meteor wasn’t even the first player taken by the Angels, as his name was called after fellow outfielder Randal Grichuk.

Being the only player selected in attendance at MLB Network’s Studio 42 that early June night, the Angels selected Trout 25th overall, a pick that would go down as one of the best in Major League history. Oh, how so many front office personnel would soon feel the resonance of Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” once Trout thrust himself into superstardom.

Of the 24 players selected prior to Trout, four never even reached the big leagues: Donavan Tate (#2), Matt Hobgood (#5), Bobby Borchering (#16), and Chad James (#18).

James, the 18th overall pick by the then-Florida Marlins, starred for his Yukon, Oklahoma baseball team, pitching to a 1.28 ERA, striking out 100 in 63 13 innings his senior season.

“I’ve waited for this day my entire life,” James said (via The Oklahoman), after putting on his Marlins hat. “I’ve always wanted to grow up to play professional baseball.” Once signing hours prior to the August 19 midnight deadline, James received a $1.7M signing bonus (nearly half a million higher than Trout’s $1.2M).

The Oklahoman

Despite his best intentions, James unfortunately couldn’t live up to the sizable expectations of being a first-rounder. Making pro his debut with the 2010 Low-A Greensboro Grasshoppers at age 19, James struggled, pitching to a 5-10 record, finishing with a 5.12 ERA. He issued 65 walks, the second-highest total for any pitcher in the South Atlantic League that season.

While 2011 brought with it marginal improvements at High-A Jupiter in terms of run prevention (3.80 ERA) and control (3.1 BB/9), James finished the year 5-15, allowing 173 hits in just 149 13 innings. He stagnated in 2012 and 2013 with ERA’s of 4.87 and 5.74, respectively. Miami would release him prior to the start of the 2014 season.

James would soon catch on with an independent ball team in Indiana and parlayed that into a contract with the Rangers organization. He pitched decently for them at times and broke through to the Double-A level, but by 2015, following three failed tests for banned substances—with the last suspension costing him 100 games—James would be out of affiliated baseball for good by age 24.

The former 1st-round pick’s final minor league numbers? 22-44, 4.51 ERA, 498.2 IP, 540 H, 1.54 WHIP, 425 SO.

As for that kid from Millville? Well, let’s just say he turned out alright.