Sometimes making plans can be overrated. I discourage people from making New Year’s resolutions or asking “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”
You never know how things unfold. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare and try and have a strategy. But sometimes expect even some of the most carefully realized plans could go wrong.
That brings us to Kirk Dressendorfer and the Oakland A’s.
In the late 1980’s, the Oakland A’s were THE team in baseball. They won the 1988 and 1989 American League pennant, taking the title in 1989 over the San Francisco Giants in the Earthquake series.
There seemed to be many titles still to be won. They had Dave Stewart and Mike Moore at the top of their rotation. Bob Welch was their Number 3 starter and he would wind up winning the 1990 Cy Young Award. Dennis Eckersley nailed down the deepest bullpen in the game. And a lineup featuring Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Rickey Henderson among others just could not be beat.
The present was secure. But at the height of their powers, they saw an opportunity to secure their future. Several members of the 1989 World Champions left the team via free agency that winter, including Designated Hitter Dave Parker and starting pitcher Storm Davis and second baseman Tony Phillips.
With the way the free agent compensation was set up then, the defending World Champions would have 2 first round picks, 2 special first round picks and 3 second round picks. The best team in baseball would have 7 of the first 66 players in the draft including 4 before the second round began.
With all of those picks, the A’s could afford to risk one and draft top prospect in the game Todd Van Poppel with the 14th pick. I wrote about THAT fiasco on July 28.
With their remaining first round picks and their first pick in the second round, they drafted college pitchers. Don Peters was picked with the 26th pick out of the University of St. Francis. Dave Zancanaro was picked number 34 out of UCLA. Kirk Dressendorfer was taken out of the University of Texas with the 36th pick. Their first pick of the second round was Curtis Shaw out of the University of Kansas.
When Van Poppel stunned baseball and signed with the A’s, Oakland suddenly had a bumper crop. They had the best arm in the drat and four other polished college arms that seemed to be nearly big league ready.
As Dave Stewart and company were dominating at the major league level, the next great A’s rotation was just a few years away.
The plan was to bring up the young arms just as Stewart, Moore, Welch et al aged out. The team would not miss a beat in their domination of the AL West.
Dressendorfer was a classic Texas stud, being a 3 time All American for the Longhorns, winning 45 of 53 decisions. His college dominance would get him eventually elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
The 21 year old spent the end of the 1990 season pitching for Southern Oregon in the Northwest League.
He made the leap from Single A to the majors as he started the 1991 season in the majors. In the rotation for the three time defending American League Champs, he won his big league debut on April 13, 1991.
He pitched into the 6th inning against Seattle. The lineup he faced included Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Omar Vizquel, Alvin Davis, Pete O’Brien and Harold Reynolds. He held them to 4 hits and 2 runs. The two runs came on a home run by Edgar Martinez. No shame in that.
After 5 2/3 innings, veteran Curt Young took over. Dennis Eckersley pitched the 9th for a 4-2 win. Do that 20 times a season and you are a 20 game winner.
He had a few good outings, especially a 7 inning performance, allowing 2 hits and 2 runs against the Yankees for a 10-2 win. And he had a few lousy performances, like allowing 6 earned runs in 3 innings against Cleveland.
It was a nice first audition where he won 3 and lost 3. After May 21st, he was sent back to the minors. He had his first taste of the big leagues and no doubt there were more to come.
There wasn’t. That was it. He spent the rest of 1991 in Tacoma and then the injuries started to pile up.
He pitched 3 minor league games in 1992, 5 in 1993 and 6 in 1994, none above Single A. After struggling through 1995, he made it back to Triple A in 1996 but could not win a game. He made his final appearances starting 7 games for Albuquerque in the Dodgers organization in 1997.
After that he was done.
He left baseball to work for a tech company. He worked in the Astros organization for a while and now works for another technology company, remembering his brief time in the majors fondly.
Van Poppel flamed out partially because of his restrictive contract. Dressendorfer pitched those handful of games and that was it. As for Peters, Zancanaro and Shaw, none of them pitched a single game in the majors.
The A’s plan for the new great rotation did not work as they had hoped. Using WAR as a metric the entire class drafted that year combined for -1 WAR. As best as I figured it out, that meant the great rotation cost them one win… or something.
It was a nice idea, but not all plans pan out the way you hope they would.