In the normal course I would never devote a post to the fact that a terrible, eighth-year pitcher has declared minor league free agency. Most terrible, eighth-year pitchers who declare minor league free agency, however, aren't John Van Benschoten.
Van Benschoten, as some of you will recall, was the Pirates' first pick in the 2001 draft. The only reason you might recall that (unless you're a Pirates fan, of course) is that the Pirates took Van Benschoten, who was a standout slugger in college, and decided to turn him into a pitcher. I recall reading about that at the time and wondering what in the hell the Pirates were smoking. I'll grant that my surprise was not based on any independent analysis -- I don't know now nor did I know then what truly makes a college slugger or a minor league pitcher great -- but everyone I read at the time who did know about such things thought that the Pirates were doing something stupid.
Not that stupid moves by Pittsburgh were that hard to come by in those days. Guys like Derek Bell and Pat Mears were getting multi-million dollar deals back in the Cam Bonifay era, and even decent players like Jason Kendell were getting wildly overpaid by a Pirates' team that couldn't afford stupid mistakes like that. The Pirates didn't draft well in those years either (and the good guys they did draft either didn't sign or were subsequently sent away), so when they had a chance to take a stud in the first round, it was important that they didn't mess it up.
But they messed it up. They made Van Benschoten a pitcher, and while he did OK in the minors for a couple of years, he started getting hurt almost immediately after he made the show. He missed all of 2005 and most of 2006 with arm and shoulder injuries, and by the time he came back in 2007, he was a wreck of a pitcher. This past season was equally horrific for Van Benschoten, and he currently stands as the holder of the highest all-time ERA for a pitcher with 75 innings under his belt.
Would he have been a good pitcher if he hadn't gotten hurt? I don't know. Would he have been a good and healthy hitter if he had been allowed to go that route? I don't know that either. I do know, however, that the Pirates took a pretty big chance with a first round pick, and as of today, Pirates fans can finally close the book on it.