Tagged: Brien Taylor

The First Player Taken

The First Year Player Draft, better known today as the Major League Baseball Draft is upon us once again. Every team is searching for the next great player and every player believes they can become that player. Unlike the other major North American sports, especially basketball and football, the players drafted this week will not have an immediate impact on their new team. Instead the best players will spend several years in the minor leagues before they reach the Majors.

The path to the Majors has not always started with the draft. Before 1965, every team was able to sign any amateur player they wished. This allowed teams like the Yankees in the lead up to their run in the 1950’s to sign the best players through better scouting, and in some cases simply offering more money to a player than another team could offer. This not only stockpiled the Yankees farm system, but kept these players away from other teams.

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Rick Monday, the first player every selected in the MLB Draft. (www.asuwebdevilarchive.edu)

Major League Baseball created the First Year Player Draft in 1965 to create a more level playing field. Since then, the draft has gone through several changes through the years to its current configuration. However, the story behind these changes and tweaks are for another post on another day.

The draft is an inexact science which makes drafting well seem like winning the lottery. Ken Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 Draft and, to date, he is the only first overall pick to gain election to Cooperstown. Griffey should be joined shortly by Chipper Jones and potentially Alex Rodriguez; although I am not sure the voters are ready to welcome Rodriguez with open arms. It took 23 drafts before any team with the top pick was able to land a super star that was worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. If drafting was so easy, every team with the top overall selection would always turn out to be the next Bryce Harper, Adrian Gonzalez, or David Price instead of Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, or Matt Bush. Predicting the future is never easy.

Brien Taylor
Brien Taylor never played higher than AA due to a shoulder injury that derailed his career. (Star-Ledger)

The Kansas City Athletics held the top overall selection for the 1965 Draft after finishing the 1964 season with a record of 57-105. Kansas City selected Center Fielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State. Monday was selected ahead of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Although he is not enshrined in Cooperstown, Rick Monday did enjoy a solid career. He played 19 seasons with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs. Offensively, Monday was a solid player, posting a career line of:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
1986
7162
6136
950
1619
248
64
241
775
98
924
1513
.264
.361
.443

Defensively Monday played primarily Center and Right Field, and sparingly in Left Field and at First Base. Again, Monday was a solid player in the field throughout his career, with a defensive career line of:

G Inn Ch PO A E DP Fld%
1742 14267.1 4177 3978 118 81 45 .981

However, Rick Monday did not have the Hall of Fame caliber career the Athletics were hopeful for when they drafted him. Fortunately, Kansas City did not strikeout with their first selection. Monday received two votes (0.5%) in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and then was removed from the ballot. Plenty of players have long careers, yet never receive any votes for enshrinement in Cooperstown. A single or double is always better than an out.

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Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch hitters of all time, and he will soon join Ken Griffey Jr. in Cooperstown. (Curtis Compton/AJC.com)

The most memorable moment of Rick Monday’s career occurred on April 25, 1976. The play had nothing to do with baseball, yet is remembered as perhaps the greatest play in baseball history. Monday and the Cubs were playing the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Two fans jumped on the field in the middle of an at bat, ran into left Center Field and knelt down beside an American flag they had brought with them. The flag was doused in lighter fluid and the two people were attempting to set the flag on fire. Monday ran from his position in Center Field and snagged the flag away from the fans turned protestors and continued to run with the flag until he reached Dodger pitcher Doug Rau. Monday gave Rau the flag for safe keeping. The protesters, who turned out to be a father and his 11 year old son, were arrested, the father was charged with trespassing, placed on probation, and fined. The exact reason for the attempted flag burning remains unknown, though many theories exist. When Monday came to the plate for his next at bat he received a standing ovation from the Dodger crowd and the message board inside the stadium flashed, “Rick Monday…You Made A Great Play.” Many would argue the greatest in baseball history.

Rick Monday Flag
Rick Monday’s dash prevented the American flag from being burned on the field at Dodger Stadium. (James Roark)

Rick Monday was the first baseball player ever drafted. Thousands of hopeful amateur players have followed in his footsteps. Every player who has followed Monday has sought to fulfill their potential on the diamond and reach to pinnacle of the sport. Only a select few have made it to the top, and only a select few of those select few have impacted the game in such a way that they are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Kansas City Athletics did not swing and miss with Rick Monday. The ability to project a player’s development several years down the road is no easy task. Players fail to reach the Major Leagues due to injuries, lacking the ability to continue to develop like a team projected, personal issues, and a million other reasons. Surviving the minor leagues and reaching the top of the sport is no easy task.

Monday had a long and productive Major League career. He was not the best player to come out of the inaugural Major League Baseball Draft, but he also was not a disappointment. The most memorable moment of his career occurred on the baseball field, but had nothing to do with baseball. Whether it was due to his time with the Marines, his sense of national pride, or simply doing what was right, Monday left an indelible memory in his dash to prevent the burning of an American flag. When asked about his dash for the flag and it being what he is remembered for Monday responded, “If I am remembered only as a guy that stood in the way of two guys trying to desecrate an American flag at a Major League Baseball game, and protect the rights and freedoms that flag represents for all of us, that’s not a bad thing to be remembered for.” I could not agree more.

DJ

The Major League Baseball Draft

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.

Aaron Nola, 7th overall pick by the Phillies (twinsdaily.com)

Aaron Nola, 7th overall pick by the Phillies (twinsdaily.com)

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.

62nd Round pick and Hall of Fame caliber catcher Mike Piazza (www.cbssports.com)

62nd Round pick and Hall of Fame caliber catcher Mike Piazza (www.cbssports.com)

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.

D