It’s nearly draft time in Major League Baseball and the leeches looking to sell you things, invite webhits or garner viewers are out in force.
Now I must have my annual rant as to how silly it is to pay attention.
Predicting MLB stardom/productivity/failure is a colossal waste of time.
Regardless of the strategy utilized by various teams—college players; high school players; tools; stats; legacies—you cannot escape the simple fact that the games from amateur to pro are so different, you could conceivably place them in different categories of competition.
In the NBA and NFL, the games are essentially the same.
In MLB, it’s not.
They use aluminum bats in the amateurs. The pitchers have to account for the inability to jam the hitters by tricking them. This diminishes the use of the fastball—unless we’re talking about a lights-out 100+ mph bit of gas from a Stephen Strasburg-like prodigy—and reduces the velocity.
You can scout and project, but to think that the amateur results will translate to the professional ranks is ludicrous in most contexts.
They’re names, nothing more.
The media controls much of a drafted player’s profile. If they’re coming from a big college program, have had success in the College World Series, or Keith Law starts telling people how good they are, suddenly they’re in the public conscisousness.
Gerrit Cole; Anthony Rendon; Bubba Starling; Dylan Bundy; Daniel Hultzen.
Who are they?
I know Cole’s name because there was an article about him in the NY Times by Tyler Kepner—link. He was drafted in the first round by the Yankees out of high school and decided to go to college.
I’ve heard that story before. Repeatedly.
The young player who was primed to be the top pick in the draft, but announced his intention to go to college.
Todd Van Poppel.
In 1990, then Braves GM Bobby Cox was scared away from drafting him because of that ironclad decree that he was going to college.
Instead, the Braves settled for Chipper Jones, a high school shortstop.
The Athletics (under Sandy Alderson) used one of their extra first round draft choices on Van Poppel; lo and behold, money attracted his signature.
Van Poppel, compared to Nolan Ryan in high school (presumably because both were Texans) became an eminently hittable journeyman; Jones is going to the Hall of Fame.
Cole’s about to go in the first round again. Will he make it? Who knows? But because he’s such a revered prospect, he’s going to get chance-after-chance-after-chance not only because of the money invested in him, but for the drafting team to save face for drafting him.
Don’t discount perception in the course of a player’s development or the recognizability of names to drum up press coverage even if the player isn’t any good.
It ain’t a straight shot.
NFL and NBA players are going straight from the amateurs to the big time.
In MLB, they have to work their way up to the big leagues.
Of course there are some college players who are determined to be close to big league ready and will be up sooner rather than later, but that doesn’t happen successfully very often. Chris Sale did it last year for the White Sox, but the White Sox drafted him with the intention of using him almost immediately and told him so.
Sometimes they’re not ready; sometimes they have to be adjusted mentally or physically; sometimes their skills/tools/whatevers don’t translate.
There are a myriad of reasons why a player makes it or doesn’t and they’re all viable and only understood in retrospect.
Glossy and idiotic.
For what purpose do I want to read about a kid that I’m not going to see in the big leagues for 2 years (if they’re on the fast track) to 5 years (if they’re normal) or never at all (which happens more often than not)?
Bud Selig can come ambling out to the echo-chamber of the MLB Network studio and announce the names; the analysts can regurgitate stuff they’ve read or been told as a basis for the drafting of said player; fans can debate about things they know nothing about…and nothing will change as to the survival-of-the-fittest nature of the primordial climb to the big leagues.
These young players better enjoy their moment in the spotlight, because many times it’s the last bit of positive attention they’re going to get for playing the game of baseball.
They’re selling if you’re buying.
It’s cyclical. Go up and down the drafts at random and look at the first round picks; see how many made it and how many didn’t; think about why.
Baseball-Reference has the draft history right here. Take a look.
MLB, ESPN and other sites paying close attention to the draft and making an infomercial-style, glossy sales pitch and the masses are buying it.
That’s on them; and you if you choose to partake in it.
What I’d like to see.
I’d dearly love to see the draft eliminated entirely.
Think about it; it’s un-American to tell a person that he has to go to a specific place against his will. As much as Scott Boras is reviled for his manipulations of the draft and attempts to circumnavigate it with his diabolical chicanery, he’s not wrong.
Imagine if a law school student were subjected to a draft and forced to go to a city not of his choosing.
The government would intervene. The people would revolt.
But it’s allowed in sports.
Eliminating the draft would raise the prices of the top players and would truly indicate which clubs are smart and willing to spend to find players.
Short of that, how about allowing the trading of draft picks? Imagine what the Rays would do with their massive number of accumulated selections from departed free agents? They’d move up and down the board to get the players they want at a reasonable cost while bringing in multiple assets.
I’d love to see a team with the courage to say, “we’re not indulging in the draft; we’re gonna scour the international market worldwide and spend out draft money there to bring in 50 players for the cost of 1 and hope we hit on at least 5.”
How would that work?
It couldn’t be any worse and it would be far more interesting.
There are so many aspects to the draft from development to opportunity to intelligence to scouting acumen that you can’t account for.
Keith Law can play MLB’s version of Mel Kiper Jr. and presumably make a nice living at it; he can travel around, collect names of players in a word-of-mouth fashion and present the myth that this guy is the next Chipper Jones; the next Ken Griffey Jr.
It doesn’t happen that way. Reality intervenes very quickly, but once the reality hits, the “experts” and MLB draftniks are preparing their sales pitch for 365 days hence.
As long as the system stays the same, I’m going to scream at the wind on an annual basis.
The only thing I can say is, you fly back to school now little (Bubba) Starling. Fly fly. Flyflyflyfly….
I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.
Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.
I published a full excerpt of my book here.
It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.
It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.
If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.
Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.