Looking back on the 2001 MLB Amateur Draft, there were a number of players who made a legitimate impact in the majors, particularly in the top five. The first overall pick, Joe Mauer, has become one of the best catchers in the game when healthy. Second pick Mark Prior looked like he was going to be an ace until he got Dusty Bakered. Mark Teixeira, the fifth overall pick, has blossomed into a Gold Glove winning, power hitting first baseman. Even the fourth pick, Gavin Floyd, has been a solid, if unspectacular, pitcher in the majors.
Instead of taking Floyd or Teixeira, the Rays, picking third, took Middle Tennessee State pitcher Dewon Brazelton. He already had some injury concerns, having had knee surgery and Tommy John surgery while in high school. The Rays signed him on August 25th of that year.
Prior to the 2002 season, Brazelton was named the 57th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. He was aggressively assigned to the AA Orlando Rays, where he put up a 5-9 record with a 3.33 ERA in 26 games. He was then promoted to AAA Durham for one start, which he won by giving up 5 hits and 1 walk while striking out 6 in 5 innings. Brazelton then made his major league debut on September 13th, and would appear in 2 games, finishing 0-1 with a 4.85 ERA.
Baseball America dropped Brazelton in their prospect rankings at the start of the 2003 season, ranking him 74th in baseball. He began 2003 in he minors, compiling a 5-7 record with a 4.60 ERA across three levels. He walked 38 hitters and struck out 65 in 86 innings, which was enough to get him promoted to the Rays again. This time, he made 10 starts, ending with a 1-6 record with a 6.89 ERA. Control continued to be a problem, as he walked 23 hitters while striking out 24 in 48.1 innings.
2004 was split between Durham and the majors. Despite his typical pedestrian numbers in AAA, Brazelton was promoted again to the Rays, and put together his best season. Even then, it was not even close to good, as put together a 6-8 record with a 4.77 ERA. In 120.2 innings, he gave up 121 hits, walking 53 while striking out 64 batters. This performance, and a decent spring training, were sufficient for Brazelton to be named the Opening Day starter for 2005.
The 2005 season was an unmitigated disaster. Brazelton struggled from the start, first being removed from the starting rotation, then having the plug mercifully pulled on his time in the majors. In the 20 games he appeared in, including his 8 starts, he went 1-8 with a 7.61 ERA. What modicum of control he had completely deserted him, as in the 71 innings he pitched, he walked 60 batters while uncorking 5 wild pitches. Following the season, he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Sean Burroughs, essentially a swap of first round busts.
Brazelton had a good spring training for the Padres in 2006, going 1-0 with a 1.77 ERA in 5 starts, which landed him in the fourth starter role. However, once the season began, Brazelton reverted to form, going 6.1 innings and giving up 17 hits and 17 earned runs. He was sent to the bullpen, and after an ugly outing on May 9th where he gave up 4 earned runs on 3 hits and a walk without getting an out, was banished to the minors, never to see action in the major leagues again. He bounced around after being let go by the Padres, signing with the Royals, Pirates, and Cardinals, before ending his career in the independent leagues.
Dewon Brazelton does have an enduring legacy with the Rays, however. Due to his struggles after being rushed through the minors, the Rays have been far more cautious with their young pitchers, giving them time to acclimate at each level, and in the majors, before counting on them as parts of the rotation. This approach has paid off, as the Rays have been able to boast one of the best pitching staffs in baseball over the past few years.
As big of a bust as Brazelton may have been, he did provide one valuable lesson to the Rays – he showed them how not to handle young pitchers.