Drafting Responses

Larry Levin

Monday, June 8 began the annual Major League Baseball amateur draft. What does it all mean and do you care?

Well, of course you should care if you’re a Cardinal fan. Look at how laden the current big-league team is with guys chosen directly from the pot of available amateurs. Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, (currently injured) Matt Adams, Michael Wacha, (oft injured) Jaime Garcia, and on and on. Very few successful teams have been able to populate their major-league rosters with native talent as St. Louis has.

But as was the discussion on Tuesday on MLB Radio, the draft doesn’t seem to have the slam-bam impact for fans that the NBA and NFL drafts do. What gives?

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There’s lots of conjecture about this, and here are some of the ideas floated:

1. The draft rarely provides immediate results. Most draftees don’t appear in the Bigs for several years. High school-level draftees often don’t show up for half a decade. While big bonuses are forcing kids to the majors more quickly than in the past, there’s still seriously delayed gratification. LeBrons and Peyton Mannings happen quite rarely. Wacha is about as fast as they come.

2. MLB doesn’t allow draft-pick trades. Until this year, they couldn’t even be traded til a year after they signed a contract. As we know from the NFL and NBA, draft pick trades are a huge part of the excitement around those sports’ annual choosing event. And with so many millions engaged in fantasy sports, wheeling and dealing has a societal electricity that can’t be duplicated by simple and rather mundane pick-a-player affairs with several minutes between each choice.

Fortunately, changes this year now accelerate the trade of drafted players to the end of the World Series in the same year. So while pick exchanges remain in the offing, at least the ease of transferability is improving and suggests a more marketable approach in the future.

3. Fans don’t follow amateur baseballers like they do football or B-ball players. How many dedicated MLB fans truly know who’s on the college or high school horizon? Granted, the College World Series has elevated in stature, but I’d daresay most fans know the AAA or AA prospects in their own team’s organization far more intimately than who’s playing for Vanderbilt or even Missouri State. 

4. This is kind of like #1 above, but even when guys are drafted, the answer may be…so what? Will the Cards’ Number One this year, Nick Plummer (HS outfielder from Michigan) be a boom or bust? Will the second-rounder, HS pitcher Jacob Woodford, prove up to his potential? Who knows? And in the meantime, the Cards and all others are reaching out to Latin America and the Pacific Rim for prospects or even pros in those regions’ leagues, who might be farther along in their development. A tremendous amount of patience is required.

There are baseball nerds far more insane than me who will watch video of every prospect, know their trends, analyze their potential, and track their development. And you know what? For many of those players, the fans who follow them, and the scouts who drafted them, will be sorely disappointed. The diamonds in the rough may rarely come from 62nd rounds (like catcher legend Mike Piazza), but mid-round stars are far from rare.

So the draft may always remain behind those of other sports. But hey, that’s doesn’t mean we don’t care!