The Braves picked Derek Lilliquist in the first round of the 1987 draft after he led the University of Georgia to the College World series in Spring of 1987 (in fact, he made his first start of the College World Series that year on my 11th birthday). He was designated to the Gulf Coast Braves, where he pitched 2 games with 13 scoreless innings before being bumped up to Single-A Durham. In 3 games there, he had a 2.88 ERA, a 2-1 record, and 29 Ks in 25 IP.
The Braves bumped him past AA in 1988, straight to AAA Richmond. He went 10-12 there that year, with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. Pretty good, but he probably could have stood to repeat AAA. Atlanta didn’t seem interested in that at all, however, and promoted Derek to the majors in 1989 at age 23.
By the way, as Derek is wearing a batting helmet here, he was pretty good with the bat; his career major league line would be .213/.220/.278 with two home runs, pretty good for a pitcher, especially given that he only had 108 at-bats.
Lilliquist did earn his spot on the team, though. He had a strong Spring while former #5 starter Charlie Puleo stank. And Derek wasn’t bad in 1989! He won his first outing on April 13th, going 7.1 innings while giving up 3 hits, allowing 1 run, and striking out 5. It was probably his best outing of the year. Derek’s biggest drawback that year was that right-handers hit him well. Incredibly well. To the tune of .308/.343/.439; bad news given the majority of hitters are right-handers. He also showed the kind of difficulties you’d expect of a 23-year-old who wasn’t used to pitching so many innings, losing strength and control as the year went on before getting a bump in September.
He ended 1989 with an 8-10 record, a 3.97 ERA, 79 K in 165.2 innings, and a 1.425 WHIP. Not great, but not bad. At age 23, it seemed he would improve and perhaps help with the amazing rotation that the Braves were already starting to gather.
Unfortunately, 1990 was no good for the young pitcher. He fell to 2-8 with a 6.28 ERA with the Braves before they demoted him to Richmond, then dealt him to the Padres for Mark Grant on 7/12/90. He picked up with the Padres when they moved him to the bullpen, going 3-3 with a 4.33 ERA, but he ended up spending most of 91 with the Padres’ AAA team in Las Vegas, going 4-6 with a 5.38 ERA down there. Was it overuse? Hard to say. He returned to the Padres for six games and completely sucked. The Padres waived him, and he landed with Cleveland, where he was a much better reliever for a few years.
All in all, I just have to wonder what happened to Derek. He definitely had promise. Was he rushed too much? I mean, of course he was rushed too much, but did it completely derail him and he wasn’t able to recover? Career he ended up 25-34 with a 4.13 ERA, 17 saves, and a 97 ERA+. All of those seem a lot better than his uneven years would indicate. Seriously, look it up. He may have averaged out to a not-so-bad pitcher, but…yeah.
I don’t have any real connection to Derek, but I do remember at the time I had a feeling he wasn’t going to be much of anything, compared to Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery. I can’t remember why – he was just as hyped, and there were lots of people who thought he was a future star. I do feel bad for the way his career went, though. I guess at least he made it and stuck around for eight seasons.