Tagged: MLB Draft

Crime and Punishment

The Houston Astros got busted. They used cameras to steal signs and relay the information to their batters, gaining an unfair advantage over opposing pitchers. Their technological operation was undone by their $5 implementation. Come on, if you are using technology to steal signs, why bang a trash can to signal the batter. Do better.

MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred punished those involved in the sign stealing scheme. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season. Unsurprisingly, both were immediately fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. Houston forfeitedtheir 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020 and 2021 drafts, and must pay a $5 million fine. The wait continues for former Astros Bench Coach and now former Red Sox Manager Alex Cora’s punishment. Cora was the mastermind of the scheme, so his punishment will certainly be stiffer as he brought his scheme to Boston. MLB will not punish active players, but this does not include former players such as new and now former Mets Manager Carlos Beltran. It is highly doubtful the Astros, and Red Sox, were the only ones stealing signs, they just got caught.

Opinions vary on the appropriate punishment. Sign stealing is not a big deal, move along. Give the Astros the death penalty and strip them of the 2017 World Series. The most idiotic assertion is this is worse than Pete Rose and his gambling. Rose controlled the Reds while betting on them. Yes he always bet on Cincinnati to win, but there is a problem. Rose had an additional vested interest in winning. If he over used a pitcher in a game he bet on, his actions influenced the next day’s game which he may not bet on. Managing a team should not be based on daily wagers. The Astros gained an advantage knowing a certain pitch was coming. This altered the outcome of games. Both Rose and the Astros are guilty of stupidity, among other things. However their baseball crimes are not the same. 

astrostrashcan
The Astros MVP, complete with the wounds from getting hit to signal Houston batters. (ww.theathletic.com)

No perfect punishment exists. People will view the penalty as too lenient or too harsh. The teams Houston defeated have legitimate arguments that their opportunity to win was tainted. No one can change the past, but here is how to punish the Astros and dissuade future teams from creating sign stealing operations. First, Houston cannot hire a new General Manager or Manager until after the 2020 World Series. Obviously someone will assume both roles, but the Astros would have one less member of the front off and coaching staff. Second, Houston must host two home games which are not opened to the public. The Astros will pay game day staff for these days off. The games will be weekend games in June or July, not throw away games at the end of the season. Houston made millions winning, make them lose two games worth of income. Third, no regular season prime time games for two years. No Sunday Night Baseball. No special location games. No special attention. Fourth, make opposing players who had difficulty against the Astros and were subsequently sent down or released whole. If said player is within one year of reaching the 10 years necessary to receive an MLB pension, Houston must pay the player league minimum for the extra season and then cover their MLB pension for 10 years. If the player would not qualify for the MLB pension, Houston owes that player their highest one season salary each year for the next 10 years. These punishments are in addition to what was already handed down. Make the punishment long and annoying. 

Obviously none of these additional punishments will occur, but you can dream. Houston did not just steal signs, they literally cost players and coaches jobs. Hopefully their cameras can see that too.

DJ

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.

070412 braves CC6
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 Glorious Future

So much time and energy is spent talking about the mistakes teams make when drafting with the first overall pick in sports. The players who never turn into the superstars that many envisioned. The bulk of the time is spent in commiserating about such mistakes because it is rare for teams to use the top pick to select the best player in the draft when all is said and done. The Seattle Mariners with Ken Griffey Jr. and Atlanta Braves with Chipper Jones built a franchise around their top picks. The Houston Astros are doing the same with multiple top picks. The Washington Nationals had the first overall pick twice and have been successful both times with drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. No team will feel sorry for the Nationals’ success. However Washington is quickly approaching the difficult part of drafting well, paying to retain the talent.

Bryce Harper has found a spot few athletes find, people either love him or hate him. There are few people who feel ambivalent about him. Harper’s intensity on the field, chasing every ball hit to him in the outfield, crashing into walls, diving to make a catch, crushing home runs is the textbook definition of playing the game hard and, for many, the right way. That intensity seems to laugh at the notion of getting injured, Harper just wants to win and will do anything to help his team do it. What fan or team would not want a player who brings this sort of intensity to the game, along with elite skills? However, despite his great play on the field, plenty of people do not love Harper. He rubs people the wrong way. Harper brings his own flair to the game and the national media loves him. He has not been bashful in talking about the need for baseball to reenergize, nor is he afraid to tell reporters that their question is “a clown question bro.” The most recent incident was his ejection for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. He then ran back on the field to celebrate a Nationals walk off victory. Simply coming back onto the field after his ejection was a violation of the rules, which got him a one game suspension and a fine. Yet Harper went even further by getting the umpire’s attention by yelling, “HEY, DUCK YOU!” (edited for the family audience). Every player, coach, announcer, umpire, and fan knows you cannot argue balls and strikes. Regardless whether the umpire was right or wrong, Harper knew arguing would get him ejected. Plenty of players and coaches are ejected for arguing, but once the argument is over, it is over. There is no reason to continue the argument. The umpire was not even paying attention to Harper when he ran back out on to the field, rather it was Harper who got the attention of the umpire to continue the argument. There is plenty to love and hate about Bryce Harper.

Stephen Strasburg
The Nationals paid Stephen Strasburg, which sets the table for Washington to pay Bryce Harper. (www.washingtonpost.com)

Clearly the Nationals and Washington fans love Bryce Harper. The franchise wants to keep him in Washington for as long as they can. Harper does not reach free agency until 2019. This gives the Nationals a little time to figure out how they will retain his services for what will be a mammoth contract. Harper’s current contract runs through 2017, and is for two years, $7.5 million; clearly a bargain for his skills. Entering the 2016 season Bryce Harper is 23 years old, yet this is his 5th season in the Majors. In his first four seasons, Harper has been impressive. Offensively his stats look like this:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
510
2143
1830
328
528
98
15
97
248
37
279
449
.289
.384
.517
.902

Defensively, Harper has a career .976 Fielding %, with 39 Assists, and 24 Errors in 1,039 chances. He is not a one trick pony, he is an all-around great player.

His skills on the diamond and the stats he has amassed during his young career have garnered Bryce Harper plenty of accolades. He is a three time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015), the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2015 National League Hank Aaron Award winner, he won a Silver Slugger in 2015, and was voted the 2015 National League MVP. Not bad for the first four years of a career, regardless of age.

Bryce Harper Blood
Bryce Harper’s desire to win can lead to him injuring himself, but even then Harper will not let up his intensity on the field. (www.nydailynews.com)

The sky seems to be the limit for Bryce Harper on the diamond. His name is already being compared to some of the greatest players who have ever played the game: Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, among others. A player like Harper does not come around often, but the Washington Nationals now have the daunting task of outbidding the rest of Major League Baseball to retain his services. The Nationals put major money down on Stephen Strasburg with his seven year, $175 million contract, the highest ever for a pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery. Scott Boras, agent for both Strasburg and Harper, does not give discounts and will potentially use the Strasburg negotiations as a warm up for the Harper negotiations.

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals have roughly six options as Harper approaches and reaches free agency in 2019. Two of these possible options can be tossed out without much discussion: the Nationals allowing allow Harper to simply walk away as a free agent or signing Harper to a two or three year contract. Allowing Harper to walk away without getting anything in return will not happen for obvious reasons, he is the most valuable commodity in baseball, the Front Office’s’ job is to get a return on its investment. Second, the Nationals will also not sign Harper to a short term deal, because they do not want to simply kick the can down the road a few years into Harper’s prime, ultimately costing themselves even more money. The third option is to trade Harper. This is unlikely but injuries, internal issues between Harper and the organization, and/or a decline in production could see Harper traded away for multiple players in return. The Nationals could also trade Harper if they realize they will not be able to re-sign him. If the latter happens, Washington can almost name its price for Harper.

Mike Trout Smile
Mike Trout is poised to become a free agent in his prime, that contract could make anyone smile. (www.usatoday.com)

The final three options are the most likely. Bryce Harper could sign a contract similar to Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, or Alex Rodriguez. The Angels signed Mike Trout to a six year, $144.5 million contract; averaging $24 million per season. Trout will be 28 years old when the contract ends, meaning he will hit free agency in his prime. This medium length contract gives Trout the assurance that he is not stuck with the Angels if they continue to not progress towards winning a World Series. It also gives Trout another opportunity to sign a huge contract as the value of contracts continue to grow, hard to blame a player for making as much money as they can during their playing career.

The second type of contract Harper could sign would be similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s contract with the Marlins. Stanton signed for 13 years and $325 million. However, Stanton has a player opt out clause after year six (2020) that could make him a free agent entering his age 31 season. This style of contract gives Stanton, or Harper, the security of a long term contract regardless of production or injury, yet also allows them to reenter the free agent market should they believe their skills are or soon will be under paid. This also keeps teams accountable to continue building a contender, one that is competing for a World Series. The Marlins are not known for building and maintaining a winning team, if Miami goes through yet another fire sale and only Stanton is left he has the ability get out of town instead of spending his best years on a team perpetually rebuilding.

Giancarlo Stanton
Giamcarlo Stanton gives the Marlins a foundation to build around, but he can leave Miami if  the team is not winning. (www.bleacherreport.com)

The final option for the Nationals is to sign Harper to a contract similar to the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees; specifically Rodriguez’s contract for 10 years, $252.87 million with the Yankees. The contract was for the peak of Rodriguez’s career and guaranteed him a long career regardless of injury, lack of production, or in Rodriguez’s case PED suspension. The Yankees were never going to tear the team down and rebuild, it is not how they do baseball in the Bronx, instead they went after big free agents. However nearly every other team does or will rebuild at some point, signing a long contract can tie a player to a team for the peak years of their careers will no options for getting away from a team going nowhere.

Currently the best contract for Bryce Harper to sign would be one similar to Giancarlo Stanton. It protects Harper should he injure himself, such as Alex Rodriguez and his hips, or his production flames out for some non-injury reason. The contract would also enable Harper to pressure the Nationals to build and maintain a World Series contending team. No player, especially one as fiery as Harper wants to spend their career continually coming into Spring Training knowing that their team has no chance to make the playoffs, much less win a World Series. Ensuring there is an opt out clause in the contract would mean hitting free agency in his prime, and netting Harper yet another monster contract; if he so chooses.  

ARod
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have seen the good times and bad together. (www.newyork.cbslocal.com)

We can only speculate what the money will be for Harper and who will be paying him. The Strasburg contract signals to Harper that Washington is serious about winning and retaining homegrown talent. While the Nationals probably overpaid for Strasburg, primarily due to injury concerns, it shows the team is willing to pay for what it wants. The Nationals’ current front office is not the Yankees of George Steinbrenner or the Dodgers of a few years ago, they do not have an endless supply of money. Paying Harper will require the team to reallocate money from expiring contracts to pay Harper what will most likely be the largest contract in history both in terms of pay per season and overall. Harper signing a Giancarlo Stanton-like contract in 2019, or slightly before, will raise the bar for the second contract that he could sign if he opts out in his prime. It’s hard to conceive a situation where he doesn’t. If Harper were to sign a 10 year, $400 million contract in 2019 when he is 26 years old and then opt out after five or six seasons, he would return to the free agent market at 31 or 32 years old. This dramatically increases the importance of the first contract Harper signs because it will set the table for the second. There would be teams willing to give a 31 year old a long-term deal. Josh Hamilton, with all his personal struggles got five years, $114 million at 32 years old. Albert Pujols got 10 years, $240 million at 32 years old. Robinson Cano also got 10 years, $240 million at 31 years old. Harper should easily be able to sign a new contract for another 10 years and $400 million, if not more money. While Hamilton, Pujols, and Cano all signed with American League teams, thus enabling them to DH later in their careers, Harper could choose to remain in the National League and not use the DH like Barry Bonds, minus the PEDs. The competitor in Harper would most likely want to see if he could beat the legends of the game like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams using the same rules they played under; not padding his stats as a DH late in his career.

Assuming Harper wants to stay in Washington, how would the Nationals afford to pay Harper the largest contract in baseball history? The money would come from three current Nationals players who will reach free agency before Harper: Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, and Gio Gonzalez. Jayson Werth’s seven year, $126 million contract with the Nationals ends after 2017. Werth will be paid $21 million per year in the final three seasons of the deal. He will be a free agent entering his age 39 season, doubtful Werth will see another large contract. Daniel Murphy will reach free agency at the end of the 2018 season. There is usually not a ton of demand for a 34 year old second basemen, especially one making $17.5 million in the final year of his contract. The Nationals should be able to develop a respectable outfielder and second basemen between now and 2019. Gio Gonzalez will enter free agency after the 2018 season, when he is 32 years old. Gonzalez could be the price Washington has to pay to re-sign Harper. He is an excellent pitcher, but a player like Harper is a rarity and a team ought to do everything it can to retain such a special player. $12 million a year will be a discount for a pitcher like Gonzalez, who can get more as a free agent assuming he is healthy.

Bryce Harper Catch
Bryce Harper will run through a wall if it means helping his team win. (www.si.com)

The Nationals can lay the foundation for a deal with Harper by simply shifting the $21 million from Werth, $17.5 million from Murphy, and $12 million from Gonzalez to pay Harper. Letting two aging players go in Werth and Murphy would free up $38.5 million a season. The increasing salaries could make the $38.5 million a season within a reasonable jump in pay for an elite player. The Scott Boras factor could require a little more money, thus forcing the Nationals to choose between Harper and Gio Gonzalez, which should not be difficult. $50.5 million per season should be plenty for Washington to retain Bryce Harper, if Harper wants to remain with the Nationals.

$40 million per season ought to entice Harper, and any other baseball player, to remain in Washington. The Nationals would give up three players for one, which would be the smart move for the franchise. The Nationals will also be paying Harper somewhere between $5 and $10 million in his final season before free agency. Washington should be able to develop at least one of the three pieces it will lose to sign Harper. A young outfielder or a young starting pitcher or second baseman should develop in their farm system. The homegrown player should cost no more than $3 million per season, and even this is at the extreme. This would leave between $14 and $19 million for the Nationals to go out and sign a free agent starting pitcher and position player, both of which are possible.

The money will follow Harper wherever he chooses to continue his career once he reaches free agency. Despite all the things so many people hate about Harper, the Nationals love him and want to keep him in Washington at least through the peak of his career. Few players are compared to Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., and a slew of other Hall of Fame players at any point in their careers. Harper is 23 years old and is entering his fifth season in the Majors. He is truly a special player, one that the Nationals should do everything within their power to re-sign as he approaches free agency.

DJ

Hall of Fame Class of 2016

Congratulations to Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza on their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Both players are deserving of this, the greatest honor that a baseball player can have bestowed upon them. While the destination was the same, the path to Cooperstown could not have been more different.

Ken Griffey Jr. is the son of three-time All Star, Ken Griffey Sr.  He was drafted first overall in the 1987 MLB Amateur Draft. Griffey reached the Majors on April 3, 1989, less than two seasons removed from playing in high school. Griffey’s swing was beautiful, pure grace, often imitated but never duplicated. His combination of speed and power seemed to be effortless. The smile of Griffey’s face never waned. Ken Griffey Jr. was the face of baseball for a generation.  He was cool, and he brought swagger to the batter’s box. His love for the game made him loved by his fans and respected by his rivals. Ken Griffey Jr. will be the first player selected with the first pick in the Draft and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Griffey was an almost perfect baseball player, and his 99.3% of votes (the highest of all time) means he was almost the perfect candidate to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Seattle Mariners

Ken Griffey Jr. was nearly the perfect baseball player, his spot in Cooperstown is deserved. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Mike Piazza was and is tough. No player has ever made it to Cooperstown without being tough, but Piazza practically wrote the book on being the toughest. Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round (1,390th overall) of the 1988 MLB Amateur Draft. The Dodgers selected Piazza only after Mike’s father asked his childhood friend Tommy Lasorda to draft Mike as a personal favor. Piazza finally made it to the Majors on September 1, 1992. During his career, Piazza displayed his toughness by catching 1,630 games (13,555 innings); there is nothing easy about playing catcher in the Major Leagues. Piazza had power. His swing was muscle-driven and unique yet it could send a baseball into orbit. He was unwilling to back down from anyone. Even when Roger Clemens sawed Piazza’s bat off then threw the barrel of the bat back by him. The whispers about PEDs use have remained that, just whispers. The moment Piazza stepped on a Major League diamond, he proved that he belonged. For me, that goes a long way towards silencing those whispers. Mike Piazza seized the opportunity to play professional baseball through toughness and hard work. He went from being a draft pick the Dodgers took only to fulfill a personal favor to a Baseball Hall of Famer.

Mike Piazza Swing

Mike Piazza’s toughness took him from the 62nd Round to the way to Cooperstown. (www.espn.go.com)

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will welcome two new members in the summer of 2016.  Their paths to Cooperstown could not be more different, but that is what makes baseball so wonderful. A player whom everyone believed in and a player whom no one believed in can both forge careers then deservingly be enshrined among the greatest players to ever play the game.

Congratulations Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza! Thank you for everything you did on the diamond. Welcome to Cooperstown.

DJ

Building the Future

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 first 1st overall pick in MLB Draft history, Rick Monday of the Kansas City Athletics (www.asuwebdevilarchive.asu.edu)

The first 1st overall pick in MLB Draft history, Rick Monday of the Kansas City Athletics (www.asuwebdevilarchive.asu.edu)

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.

Vanderbilt Commodores won the 2014 College World Series and were crowned National Champions. Photo by Joe Howell.

2015 1st overall pick, Dansby Swanson from Vanderbilt University. (www.throughthefencebaseball.com)

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.

2015 2nd overall pick Alex Bergman from LSU. (wwwbaseballamerica.com.)

2015 2nd overall pick, Alex Bergman from Louisiana State University. (wwwbaseballamerica.com.)

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.

D

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.

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