Teams and fans lose their minds every year when their team is picking first in the draft. Fans and pundits have a million opinions on what the team should do with the pick. Pick the latest can’t miss phenom, trade down to stockpile talent, select the player who is ready to contribute now. The draft is how a team turns it fortunes around and reenergizes its fan base. The draft has an immediate impact on the success of the team. All of this is true, for football and basketball. The draft for baseball is different, and I would say better. Basketball and football are here and now sports. They are built on the highlight reel. Baseball is slower; it is not concerned on the highlights. The concern in baseball is building towards success, which is achieved over a long season.
Players don’t achieve instant success; they grow and mature into it, which is better because they can make mistakes without being under the full media spot light. Also allows them to not be overwhelmed and blow all their money like so many do in basketball and football. There are just as many fools with their money in baseball as there are in other sports; however the slow climb up the ladder enables players to gradually increase their pay. This stands in stark contrast to basketball and football where the players go from making nothing to college to making millions within months. I will never begrudge someone for making money, which is the point of a job. Some people work in a cubicle or with their hands in a plant, these individuals play a sport. They are elite at what they do and are compensated accordingly. Do I think some players are overpaid? Yes, but this is only in comparison to the others around them. Again though, they should make all the money they can.
Baseball has the minors. Basketball and football has college. Baseball you can be drafted out of high school, during your time in junior college (if you go that route), or once you are an upper classman at a four year college. Basketball you have to be out of high school before you can be drafted. Plenty of players are one and done, look at the University of Kentucky. You can be drafted any year after your freshman year, but the trend now seems to be if you do not leave school early you are not going to be drafted, or at least a high lottery pick. In football you can only be drafted after you have been out of high school for three years. More and more players are leaving college for the NFL as soon as they are eligible. These players who decide to leave school early for the NBA or the NFL are smart to do so if they can become successful at their profession. I doubt any of us would look down on a musician who left school to play for an elite orchestra. Make money while you can. Athletes have a small window of opportunity and need to take full advantage of this window.
Unlike basketball and football it is not unusual for a drafted player to not sign with the baseball team who drafted him. Baseball is more forgiving as it gives players time to consider their options and decide what path they want to take in their career. The MLB draft is not the finale in the way the NFL and NBA drafts are. Players have more control of where they will play. If they feel they can improve their draft position after high school they can go to Junior College, if they think they can still improve then they can go to a four year school, if they think they can improve after their junior season then they stay through their senior year. A player could potentially be drafted four before they run out of options as to whether or not to wait to sign with a Major League team. Some players are ready to turn professional right out of high school, others need a year or two, and others need four or five. Baseball allows them some flexibility in deciding when they are ready to move to the next level.
The Major League Baseball draft has plenty of future stars who are waiting to show themselves. If a top pick does not become an elite player, they are rarely labeled as a bust. Everyone in and around the game understands that baseball is a hard game, and to play it at the highest level is no easy task. As Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Willie Stargell both observed, hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is extremely difficult. For every Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones selected with the first pick there is Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, and Matt Bush. For every early round star there is a Ryne Sandberg (20th Round), Nolan Ryan (10th Round), Albert Pujols (13th Round), Mike Piazza (62nd Round), Roy Oswalt (23rdRound), Keith Hernandez (42nd Round), and John Smoltz (22nd Round). There is talent to be found in the later rounds. Scouting Departments must be attentive in their work, as a successful draft could be if two of the picks eventually make it to the Major Leagues. Scouting is and always will be an inexact science. A player can look good on paper and against high school or college competition, but not all of them can make the transition and be successful playing against professional talent. The closer you move towards the Major Leagues the tougher the competition and let more that is expected from a player. Only a select few and ride their raw talent to the Majors. Often it requires years of hard work and development to make it to the top.
The Major League Baseball Draft is here. Pay attention to it, because you can see the players you will be cheering in the future now. The top picks are there for a reason. They are the top prospects, but remember they are prospects. Nothing is guaranteed to anyone in baseball. The first pick can flame out or get hurt. A late round draft pick that was selected simply because someone called in a favor can turn into a Hall of Fame caliber player. The draft for baseball is about finding the few diamonds among the other shiny stones. These players will not be playing in the Majors this summer; rather those who do make it will show themselves in a few years. Baseball is a game which is about the cumulative not the instantaneous. The Draft shows the potential which teams believe players have. However only time will tell which players have the necessary skills, mental toughness, can avoid injuries, and get a little luck along the way to make it to the Major Leagues.