The Reality of Legacies and Latter Round MLB Draft Picks

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As nice and uplifting a story as the Diamondbacks drafting of paralyzed former Arizona State player Cory Hahn in the 34th round of the MLB draft is, it also provides insight as to how little teams think of the draft’s latter rounds and the likelihood of finding useful on-field talent that can make it to the big leagues.

In another pick that got significant attention, the Yankees drafted Andy Pettitte’s son Josh in the 37th round out of high school. Because Pettitte’s son has committed to Baylor University, Josh Pettitte is not expected to sign with the Yankees. That’s probably a relief for them because a 37th round draft pick is not expected to be anything more than organizational filler. If Josh Pettitte was considered an actual prospect, he would’ve been taken by a team other than the Yankees well before the 37th round, commitment to Baylor or not. When the Yankees selected Paul O’Neill’s nephew Michael in the third round, they did so not as a legacy or a favor to the O’Neill family but because he can actually play. The Mets made a similar selection with Lee Mazzilli’s son L.J. in the fourth round. These are players who would have been selected by another club at around the same spot had the Yankees and Mets not made the selections. There’s no doubt that the legacy was a tiny factor in picking the players, but not to the degree that the Yankees selecting Pettitte and this is the difference between players selected in the first 10-15 rounds—for any reason—and those picked after.

For every late-round draft pick who makes it to the majors, there are thousands of others who don’t get past the low minors. Players who are drafted past the tenth round are not expected to make it. Once in a long while you’ll have the occasional freak occurrence like Albert Pujols (13th round), James Shields (16th round), Domonic Brown (drafted as a pitcher in the 20th round), Mark Buehrle (38th round), and Mike Piazza (62nd round as a favor to Tom Lasorda). By and large, the players who make it to the majors are those who are picked in the first 20 rounds with the numbers decreasing significantly as the rounds pass. Players taken in the first few rounds will receive repeated opportunities not just because of latent talent, but because of the money teams invest in them. That’s become even more pronounced with the slotted bonuses and limited amount of money teams are allowed to spend in the draft. They don’t want to toss money away on a player even if, after three or four years, he shows he’s not what they thought he was. In some cases, these players make it to the big leagues so teams can say, “Look he made it to the majors at least,” as if that’s some form of justification for an overall miss on a high draft pick.

Indicative of how little teams think of the latter rounds were the decisions to make these selections of players like Hahn and Pettitte. They create a story for a brief time but devolve into the realm of the forgotten because they weren’t meant to be remembered in the first place.

Should teams spend more time and money on the draft past the initial stages? Are there enough talented draft-eligible players to make it worth their while? It depends. Some clubs don’t want to spend the money and resources it will take to mine through the amateurs for 50 rounds to find perhaps five players that have a chance to contribute. Others, like the Cardinals, have made it a regular occurrence to draft players on the third and fourth days of the draft such as Matt Carpenter, Trevor Rosenthal, Allen Craig, Luke Gregerson, and Jaime Garcia. The Cardinals and then-scouting director Jeff Luhnow have been credited with the Cardinals’ fertile farm system, but perhaps the truth is more of a matter of the conscious decision not to waste late-round picks on legacies and heartwarming stories, instead choosing to draft players who they think might be able to help them at some point.

The Yankees and their apologists can point to the inexplicable luck the team had in 1990 with Pettitte the father (22nd round) and Jorge Posada (24th round drafted as an infielder) as reason to think Josh Pettitte has a chance, but that’s wishful thinking. They got lucky in 1990 just as the Cardinals got lucky with Pujols and the Devil Rays got lucky with Shields. On the same token, teams have repeatedly failed with top-tier picks for one reason or another be it injuries, miscalculation, off-field problems or bottom line bad luck. If the Yankees were going to draft a player in the 37th round who had a miniscule chance of becoming useful to them or the Diamondbacks were going to do the same thing in the 34th round, then why not draft the players they did and accrue some publicity? Overall, there’s no difference because a paralyzed player like Hahn only has a slightly less chance of making it than someone else who was drafted in the 34th round, so the Diamondbacks did something nice and it won’t harm their draft because on the field, it won’t make much difference either way.

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There’s No Rift In Anaheim

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Speculation about a rift between Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia and the new GM Jerry Dipoto rose greatly when—to the displeasure of Scioscia—hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired earlier this week. The two are clearly not on the same page as to how a club should be run. The chain-of-command that had been present with the Angels for Scioscia’s entire tenure is broken. The slow start combined with these structural changes could lead to a parting of the ways following the season.

It’s understandable from both perspectives.

Athletes in general will try to exert their will over their titular “boss”. In today’s game, there are no managers with the cachet to do and say whatever they want; to discipline their players; to run the club as if they’re in complete command. The days of Earl Weaver ruling his Orioles with an iron fist are long gone. Back then, Weaver was going nowhere. Everyone in the Orioles clubhouse knew it and reacted accordingly. Scioscia himself spent his entire playing career with the Dodgers and Tom Lasorda who was similarly entrenched.

It’s the way it’s been with the Angels for his managerial tenure.

But with a new GM and new club construction come changes everywhere—not just in payroll and playing style. Angels’ owner Arte Moreno had businesslike intentions when he signed Albert Pujols. After signing Pujols, the Angels agreed to a lucrative television contract with Fox Sports worth $3 billion for 20 years. He’s turned the Angels into a cash machine as George Steinbrenner did with the Yankees. But in the process, Moreno unwittingly made his cohesive club into a 1980s version of the Yankees with the requisite expectations of immediate gratification and demands to “do something” if those expectations aren’t met.

Hiring Dipoto as the GM was well-received following the resignation of Tony Reagins. Reagins’s tenure is pockmarked by the disastrous trade of Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells and his public firing of respected scouting director Eddie Bane, but Reagins also did many good things as Angels’ GM by signing Torii Hunter and trading for Mark Teixeira.

DiPoto is more of a stat-based, coldly analytical GM than Reagins and his predecessor Bill Stoneman were, but he does it with scouting savvy and the ability to express himself to the media and get his point across with the various factions that permeate an organization in today’s game.

But he wasn’t an “Angel”. He didn’t come up through the ranks with the Angels. He hasn’t been working with Scioscia, nor is he a part of the Angels’ culture. A new GM brings in a new set of principles and it’s clear that Dipoto won’t adhere to the oft-heard lament, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Time will tell whether that’s right or wrong, but from Scioscia’s point-of-view, his power base is gone and with it is a large amount of the sway he held in the clubhouse as a result of being seen not just as the manager, but as a boss.

For a manager like Scioscia to have his hand-picked hitting coach fired out from under him is emasculating, but the firing also altered his perception. The same players who kept inner turmoil in house and had each other’s backs are seeing the new dynamic of me-me-me overtaking the club. And that’s not good.

In order for there to be a rift, there had to have been a connection. With Dipoto and Scioscia, they’re working together; doubtless they respect one another; but they might not be suited to a long-term partnership.

That’s what both men have to decide upon in the next four—and the Angels hope—five months. (A fifth month would mean they made the playoffs.)

Judging by the first month-and-a-half, it’s going to be four. Then the Angels’ foundation will rumble and it won’t be because of an earthquake.

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Hatcher’s Firing Was Inevitable

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In an unavoidable decision, the Angels fired hitting coach Mickey HatcherESPN Story.

I called it on April 30th in the following clip from this posting.

(Arte Moreno’s) not a quick trigger owner, but if (the Angels are) not hitting by mid-May, Hatcher’s gone. This could expose a rift between manager Mike Scioscia and the front office. Scioscia’s influence has been compromised with the hiring of Jerry Dipoto and if one of his handpicked coaches and friends is fired, a true chasm will be evident. Firings will be shots across the bow of Scioscia and, armed with a contract through 2018 (that he can opt-out of after 2015), if he’s unhappy with the changes he’ll let his feelings be known.

There will be talk that Scioscia’s sway over the organization is on the wane. Hatcher has been a coach on Scioscia’s staff since 2000. Twelve years is a long time. Maybe it’s too long.

Outsider speculation is just that. It’s hard to imaging Scioscia wanting to fire his hitting coach and friend, but there could also be an element of realization and pragmatism that something needed to be done. We don’t know whether Scioscia had a heavy hand in the decried decisions the Angels made in the past such as doling lucrative and wasted contracts on Gary Matthews Jr. and Justin Speier and making disastrous trades for Scott Kazmir and Vernon Wells. Scioscia had significant say-so in the team construction and this current group—on offense at least—is not the type of team that Scioscia generally preferred to have. For better or worse, he’s a National League-style manager who learned his trade under Tom Lasorda. What that means is that he liked having starting pitchers who gave him innings, a deep and diverse bullpen with a hard-throwing closer, a few boppers in the middle of the lineup, speed and defense.

Perhaps the failed decisions listed above were what caused the change in course in the front office from the manager having major input and the mandate to say no, to his opinion being taken under advisement with upper management doing what it wants whether the manager is onboard or not.

That’s pretty much how it is throughout baseball no matter who the manager is.

Following the drastic and uncharacteristic acquisition on Albert Pujols, there’s a lack of definition to this current Angels group.

No manager would say no to Pujols and eventually the rest of baseball is going to pay for what Pujols is going through at the moment. He’s not finished. He’s going to hit. But was it a decision that Scioscia would’ve made? Or would have preferred to spend that money elsewhere on a better bullpen? Another starting pitcher? An infielder who can do it all? Given the template of the Angels and what they needed, Jose Reyes was a better fit for the team than Pujols was, but with the new cable network deal on the way and Moreno’s desire to be the focus of Southern California, he wanted the big fish and got him.

The firing of Hatcher is cosmetic. To suggest that anyone aside from Pujols receives credit or blame for what he does on the field is silly. We can’t judge with any certainty how much a hitting coach influences a player when he steps up to the plate. The media will try to anoint certain coaches a mythical, guru status when, in reality, it’s the hitters themselves who do the dirty work. Many times a hitter simply needs someone with whom he connects regardless of the information he’s receiving. If the coach says good morning to him in the right way or gets in the player’s face when necessary, it will be seen as the “turning point”.

Was it a turning point? Or did the hitter just happen to meet the perfect person to make him feel better mentally to go up to the plate in the state he—as the individual—needed to succeed? That state could be anger, it could be peace or it could be anything. We don’t know.

Did Charlie Lau make George Brett or was Brett going to shine through with or without Lau?

Did Lou Piniella’s adjustments with Don Mattingly convincing Mattingly to try and pull the inside pitches over the short right field wall at Yankee Stadium create Donnie Baseball or would he have done it once he grew comfortable in the big leagues?

Hitting coaches like Rudy Jaramillo have been lauded and hired amid great fanfare and not helped at all in the bottom line.

The hitting coach is a convenient scapegoat to wake up the team, to put forth the pretense of “doing something” and to send a message to the manager.

In the case of the Angels, it’s probably all three.

It might not help, but given the talent on the roster, they certainly can’t be much more of a disappointment than they’ve already been.

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