Wednesday, May 28, 2014

There's An MLB Draft Too?

There is always a great deal of publicity and conversation in the sports world regarding the NFL Draft and even the NBA Draft process each year.

But outside of it's most die-hard fans, few others may realize that Major League Baseball also conducts it's own draft process each year.

One of the main reasons that the NFL/NBA Drafts get more publicity is the nature of those professional sports and how they break in new players. The very best, the top draftees, and even many not at the very top of the selection process, become starters or key contributors for their pro teams in their first season of play, or shortly thereafter. So a player taken 1st overall in the NFL or NBA may start and even become a star right away.

In the MLB First-Year-Player Draft, the honor of being selected, even for those in the first round at the very top of the Draft board, is just the beginning of a process of professional development through the minor league systems that frequently takes years to unfold. Most fans of a Major League team have no clue what the player taken by their favorite team in last year's Draft even looks like. In fact, many have no clue of even the name of those players.

In MLB, even the best, such as Mike Trout shown in the picture above after being selected in the 2009 MLB Draft, will take at least a couple of years to play at the Major League Baseball level. That is, assuming they make it at all. There is no more difficult task in all of sport than to hit a baseball thrown by a pro pitcher. And for those pitchers, remaining healthy is a growing challenge and concern.

A look back at four decades of MLB Draft history gives you a good picture of just how unpredictable even the very top pick, the #1 overall selection, will be as far as eventually enjoying success at the highest level. Since going to the current system in 1965, only two of those top draftees are sure-fire Hall of Famers: Ken Griffey Jr (1987) and Chipper Jones (1990), with Alex Rodriguez (1993) to be a most interesting such case one day.

Among the top draftees, a number had strong careers, making an impact on the game for a number of years, though none to that Hall-worthy level. These players include the likes of Rick Monday (65), Harold Baines (77), Darryl Strawberry (80), and a handful of others.

In more recent years, only Joe Mauer (01) is likely to even be in the Hall of Fame conversation at this point. For players such as David Price (07), Stephen Strasburg (09), and Bryce Harper (10), all former top overall selections of recent vintage, it is way too early to even speculate on their talents translating into the longterm success needed to reach the Hall of Fame.

On the flip side, there have been many more notable "busts" selected with the #1 pick than there have been even eventual All-Star selections. Among those forgettable players selected first overall are Steve Chilcott (66), Dave Roberts (72), David Clyde (73), Al Chambers (79), Shawn Abner (84), Paul Wilson (94), Matt Anderson (97), Bryan Bullington (02), Matt Bush (04), and Tim Beckham (08), none of whom made their mark.

Perhaps the best example of the #1 bust potential was catcher Danny Goodwin, selected #1 overall twice, in both 1971 out of high school by the White Sox, and again in 1974 out of college by the California Angels. Goodwin reached the Majors, and played in parts of 7 seasons. But with just a .236 career batting average and 13 career homeruns, he was never a starter.

One week from tomorrow, on Thursday evening, June 5th, the MLB Network will televise the first two rounds of the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft. The process was first televised for that 2009 Draft in which Trout was selected, and has grown in popularity among fans ever since. It is an extremely watchable show, presented exceptionally well by the MLB folks.

Among the top prospects this year are high school pitchers Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek, college pitchers Carlos Rodon, Sean Newcomb, and Aaron Nola, high school shortstop Nick Gordon, college shortstop Trea Turner, high school catcher Alex Jackson, and college outfielder Michael Conforto. There is a high probability that, in some order, these prospects will be among the top 10-12 players selected.

Whomever is picked first overall, history says that the odds are good that they will eventually reach the Big Leagues. They most certainly will get a big payday on signing their first professional contract, which will be for anywhere from $2-7 million dollars. So it will be a happy day full of promise for these players and their families.

However, history also says that the odds of whomever is picked with the #1 overall selection having longterm success at the Major League level are long, and that the odds of their becoming a Hall of Famer are only at about 5% at best. The excitement for the teams and players involved will be just the beginning of a long process that will yield mixed results.

If you are even a marginal fan of our National Pastime, make plans to sit down and enjoy the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft with coverage beginning at 6pm next Thursday on the MLB Network with an hour-long preview show, followed by hours of coverage on the network of those first couple of rounds. It will be a night filled with interesting information on the possible stars of tomorrow.

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