This year’s Major League Baseball First Years Players Draft marks the 50th year of the draft. While the MLB Draft does not receive the same fanfare as the drafts for the other major sports, it is equally important. The major difference is the arrival of those selected to the parent clubs is not immediate, and in many cases never happens. The first overall pick in the draft can be a bust, and the last pick in the 40th and final round could turn out to be an All Star. It is a slow motion venture that teams do not know the results from until years later.
The inaugural draft was held in 1965. The Kansas City Athletics used the first overall pick to select outfielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State University. He would go on to have a 19 year career with the Kansas City/ Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers. Monday was a September call up for the Athletics in 1966 and played in two All Star games (1968 and 1978). Monday is most famous for his swiping an American flag away from two protesters who were trying to set it on fire on the field during the 4th inning of the Cubs-Dodger game on April 25, 1976 at Dodger Stadium.
The New York Mets held the second overall pick, and selected pitcher Les Rohr out of Billings West High School (Montana). Rohr was also a September call up, making his Major League debut on September 19, 1967. He earned the win against the Dodgers for the first of his two career wins (both coming in 1967). Rohr pitched in 6 career games, compiling a 2-3 record with a 3.70 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. He made his final Major League appearance on September 19, 1969, exactly two year after his debut.
The Houston Astros held the fourth overall pick in 1965, and selected shortstop Alex Barrett out of Atwater High School (California). Barrett spent seven seasons in the minor leagues. He played at every level possible in the minors, but never got the call to join the Astros in Houston. Barrett’s career is like so many hopeful draft picks. They believe in themselves, yet everyone is eventually told they can no longer play the game. Some people are told in high school, some are told after more than 20 seasons in the Major Leagues, but at some point everyone is told they can no longer play. It is rare for a player to leave under their own terms, it is often forced upon them rather than their own decision.
The MLB Draft is how teams obtain many of the building blocks to build their team. Look no further than the Houston Astros for a recent example or the Atlanta Braves for an example over the long term. The Astros have restocked their farm system and turned themselves around from the doormat of all of baseball into one of the best teams in the American League so far in 2015. The Astros had the first overall selection from 2012 through 2014. Carlos Correa just made his Major League debut, and they have been able to avoid drafting a complete bust. Their inability to sign Brady Aiken in 2014 meant the Astros picked second overall in 2015, in addition to their fifth overall selection, so they can still get a quality player out of a bad situation.
Every team aspires to emulate the Braves of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Winning 14 consecutive Division titles means a team will be selecting late in the draft. Atlanta and Houston have signed some free agents, but they have not been the sole driving force behind both teams success. Teams must scout, draft, and develop young talent well if they have any chance to sustain success. Few teams have the deep pockets that the Yankees and Red Sox have, and even their ability to spend top dollar on free agents does not always equate itself to success as much of their success has been driven by home grown talent. Teams need the ability to bring up their own talent from the minor leagues to fill in hole during the season. Finding players like Chipper Jones or Ken Griffey Jr. (both first overall picked) is not always as easy as it would seem. Mike Trout was the 25th overall pick in 2009, he is arguably the best player in all of baseball and most teams wish they could have a do over. If it was easy to discern what players would make it to the Majors and which would not, there would be a longer list of top picks who went on to have Hall of Fame caliber careers than did not. Currently there are no first overall picks enshrined in Cooperstown., Jones and Griffey will soon be the first.
The MLB Draft is an inexact science. Teams do and will make mistakes in their selections. They select the best player available to fit their needs, but there is never a guarantee that a first round pick will become the player the team hopes they would. There is no guarantee that the players selected this week will make it to the Majors, but their journey begins this week. Teams and fans can catch a glimpse of their future, or what they hope is their future, this week when the dreams of hundreds of baseball players come true.