If you’re like me, you eagerly wait for the MLB draft the same way that a kid would wait for the last day of school. Then again, you’re probably not me, Heck, you probably didn’t realize the MLB Draft was a thing unless you have a subscription to Baseball America, read MLB Pipeline, or read Minor League Madhouse (Yeah, I know, self-plug, haha.) It’s kind of disappointing, really. How is it that everyone knows about the NFL Draft and the NBA Draft, but the MLB Draft is pretty much the equivalent of the chess club? Well maybe it’s because there are a couple issues that prevent the draft from getting the visibility it deserves.
First of all, the MLB Draft is the only draft that takes place during the season as opposed to the offseason. You know why the NFL Draft has so much coverage? Because it is the most exciting event for fans until the season starts. The same thing goes for the NBA Draft. Sure you have free agency, but you also have the NBA draft. The fact that the MLB draft coincides with the season, heck, it even goes on while games are being played, makes it one of the most overlooked drafts in pro sports.
Another problem is that the players that are available to be picked don’t have the same athletic profile as an NFL or an NBA prospect. People know these names because they see them on ESPN or the other sports networks all the time. I can guarantee you Dansby Swanson made it on ESPN about a third of the time that Jameis Winston or Karl Towns did. And it gets even worse if you are a high schooler because of the fact that the majority of high school games are not televised by national networks. If you want to see Jason Groome pitch so you can see the future, check YouTube or make a trip down to Barnegat, New Jersey, because the chances you see him on national TV right now are almost none.
The third problem is that whereas NFL, NBA, and in some cases, NHL talent have a good shot at making the jump to the pros immediately, in baseball, it’s rare to see that happen. Because it can take an average of three years to see a first round pick make the majors, the interest is not there unless the fans are made aware of the hotshot prospect. Sure, JP Crawford is supposed to be the next Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia, but let me ask you, Phillies fans, how many times have you seen Crawford play live? And no, the Futures game does not count. Additionally, there is the chance that a first round pick does not make the majors, making the MLB Draft one of the biggest risks involving amateur talent. In the 50 years the draft has been held, no class has had every first rounder make the majors.
While there is no way to guarantee the success of the draft, there is always a way to drum up more interest in the event itself. So how exactly is that done? Well, here are some ideas that could get the ball rolling.
1. Televise more college and high school games on MLB Network and other channels.
If you want to get people interested in prospects, the best way to do so is to give the prospects more visibility. Sure, ESPNU will televise a college game every now and again, and the regional networks will do as well, but they play to a niche audience. And when ESPN, ESPN 2 and ESPN U do cover college baseball regularly, it’s usually after players are drafted, when the NCAA tournament is going on. By getting more networks involved before the fact, especially the national networks and the sports networks, there should be at least a slight bump in interest. Play it like college football does and have college baseball games on in the morning and afternoon on CBS and ABC. Show highlights on SportsCenter, and not just the occasional Top 10 Play, make sure that baseball fans know the future of baseball. Heck, if possible, drum up interest early by showing summer league games on ESPN 2. The possibilities are endless.
As far as high school, perhaps there should be more games available to stream online. If MLB.com were to offer a service to allow fans to watch games that high level prospects pitch in, then you can guarantee fans will watch it. Reading about high school prospects is the equivalent of hearing a folk legend, people rarely get to see what these players are unless there is video footage. By highlighting the top prep players in each draft class through a stream, fans will be able to see what guys like Riley Pint or Jason Groome or Blake Rutherford actually are.
Come to think of it, if ESPN and MLB Network both decided to air the MLB draft, I’m sure there would be a major viewership spike.
Watching games may be a fun way to see the talent that does come up, but there’s more to evaluating players than seeing them perform, which brings me to my next point…
2. Create an MLB Scouting Combine.
Believe it or not, this was proposed as an idea last year in the wake of the Brady Aiken saga, and it may be the only time that prep and college players get to be evaluated side by side. The idea that players can have certain measurable categories that can be evaluated against other players in the same vacuum allows for a more open approach to scouting. Additionally, if medical tests are included, teams are not left in the dark about records, and open communication between players, agents, and teams is encouraged. The other fun in it would be seeing who would be the “workout warriors” of the combine, which players would see their stock rise enough to jump them into the first round. Sure, players do see their stock rise during their seasons, but it’s not as fun to watch as seeing Aaron Donald completely defy expectations.
Now there is a certain timing issue that may lead to the question of when the combine could be scheduled, and with the MLB Draft already competing with the NCAA Tournament and the MLB season. This brings up my next point…
3. Move the draft (and possible combine) to the end of June/early July.
College coaches’ biggest complaint about the MLB draft is that it’s scheduled during the tournament, meaning that players could get distracted by all the hype that comes with being selected. Sure, it’s nice to have a celebration with your teammates like Dansby Swanson and Walker Buehler did last year, but to be honest, wouldn’t it be better to have the draft right after the College World Series? With all the distraction behind them, players can focus on the future, and teams will be able to gather more information on the players as they go through the College World Series.
Of course, one of the main issues with this is that a month of negotiating time for contracts would be cut, and considering the fact that there are over 1200 players chosen in the draft, and teams do try and sign each player, there would have to be some quick negotiations done in order to get all players in a draft class accounted for. Considering teams want to get players in the system as soon as possible, it’s reasonable that they possibly just send their draft picks to extended spring training, and then if they feel they are ready, add them to a low level part of the organization.
Now how about the actual draft? How do we make more people watch it?
1. Give the draft its own day.
Now when I say the draft, I mean the rounds that are televised. No, we don’t need to do 40 rounds in one sitting.
Part of the problem with the way the draft is scheduled is that nobody really sees it, what with the competition being baseball games. By having there be a day off, you can bet more people would consider tuning in to watch the draft. In fact, encourage people to watch the draft by printing it on team schedules. In fact, promote it heavily, after all, this is the future of baseball that people should be seeing.
2. Invite fans to see it live.
Part of the reason why the NFL, NBA, and NHL drafts are so successful is because they encourage fans to attend the draft in person. And that’s why you see so many hardcore fans dressed up in their team colors, cheering for their team’s picks. The MLB draft, on the other hand, is almost like that exclusive party that very few people are invited to. It’s just the draft attendees and their families, the MLB Network personalities, the team representatives, the Commissioner, and maybe a few special guests. If you want to promote the future, don’t make it a stuffy cocktail party, make it an open experience. I’m sure there are plenty of fans that would give anything to sit in the left field seats at Studio 42 to watch players walk on stage and receive the jersey and handshake from Rob Manfred.
In fact, why restrict the location to Studio 42? Why not move the draft to a ballroom and set it up like Studio 42? Or even better? Have the draft at an actual MLB Ballpark, like Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Wrigley Field or Fenway Park? If the NBA can have their draft at the Barclays Center every year, and the NHL can move their draft to whatever NHL Arena it is in every year, why restrict the MLB Draft to Secaucus, New Jersey? And speaking of invites…
3. Invite more college players.
This one is admittedly tricky and relies on a few scenarios to break the right way, but in my opinion, the MLB draft would get even more viewership if more college players were able to attend. Ever since the draft has been televised, very few college players have been able to attend. To prove my point, here are all the players that have attended the MLB draft in person since it started being televised in 2007:
2007: Josh Vitters (HS), Philippe Aumont (HS), Ross Detweiler (HS)
2008: Aaron Hicks (HS)
2009: Mike Trout (HS)
2011: Larry Greene (HS)
2012: Carlos Correa (HS), Andrew Heaney (NCAA), Gavin Cecchini (HS), Courtney Hawkins (HS), Clint Coulter (HS)
2013: Clint Frazier (HS), Dominic Smith (HS), Tim Anderson (JUCO), Nick Ciuffo (HS), Billy McKinney (HS), JP Crawford (HS), Aaron Judge (NCAA), Ian Clarkin (HS), Jon Denney (HS)
2014: Nick Gordon (HS), Michael Chavis (HS), Jake Gatewood (HS), Monte Harrison (HS), Derek Hill (HS), Grant Holmes (HS), Kodi Medeiros (HS)
2015: Brendan Rodgers (HS), Ashe Russell (HS), Garrett Whitley (HS), Mike Nikorak (HS)
So out of 31 players that have attended, two have come out of college, or a little over six percent. Now of course, there is a logical reason, considering the fact that the draft and the NCAA tournament conflict with each other, and the best chance to be at the draft is if your team does not qualify for the tournament. So going back to those factors that break, in the best case scenario, what could happen is that if the draft is moved, more collegians could be invited. In the worst case, that is, the draft isn’t moved, the collegians from the smaller schools, like Kyle Lewis or Matt Crohan, would get the invite.
If more collegians are invited, there is a possibility that more fans will be willing to watch, as these are the players that have the best chance to be seen. The question is which collegians would be able to come?
4. Let teams trade picks.
The MLB draft is the only draft of the Big 4 sports leagues that doesn’t allow trading of draft picks. Well, technically they do, but the picks that can be traded are only competitive balance lottery picks. The lack of trading means there’s almost no reason to be excited for the draft, especially if a team has no first round pick at all. And in some cases, it can be a real disadvantage. A team with a terrible minor league system who is this close to contention would greatly benefit if they were allowed to trade draft picks, and the draft would be even more interesting if, say, the Yankees were allowed to trade up.
While only a couple trades have been made with CB picks involved, the opportunity to expand that to, say, maybe the first 5 rounds of draft picks would make for a more interesting show. Imagine if a team is willing to offer a major league caliber star prospect in exchange for a high pick, or if teams trade picks in order to move up or down. Instead of just waiting for players to be picked, it would be a lot more fun to watch.
While these changes aren’t going to come around that quickly, if at all, it still should send a message. The future of baseball is just as important as the past and present. If the draft is given the exposure that it should get, then more fans will be willing to watch it and see what the future holds for their team.
*Publisher’s note: You can also find this article on my blogging colleague Steven Inman’s Mets-centric blog www.Brokemets.com. I highly recommend reading it, especially if you are a Mets fan. My heartiest congratulations to Steven for graduating from St. John’s University.
With a week remaining before the 2014 MLB Draft kicks off, the Mets have a very big decision to make. Armed with the tenth pick, which was protected from being lost to a team that let go of a big money free agent, the Mets have myriad options for their next big prospect.
Before going into who the Mets should take, let’s take a look at the first round strategy of GM Sandy Alderson.
Ever since Alderson took over as the Mets’ GM, he’s opted to take high ceiling talent out of high school; in fact, of the five first round picks he’s had (this includes the compensatory picks he’s gotten from losing Pedro Feliciano and Jose Reyes), only one, catcher Kevin Plawecki of Purdue University, came out of college. The players he’s taken in the first (and compensatory) rounds are as follows:
2013: Dominic Smith, first baseman, Serra High School, Los Angeles, CA.
Smith, who was viewed as one of the top hitters in his class, was valued for his stroke as well as his fielding ability. He’s been compared to Adrian Gonzalez, and in a particularly weak year for first base prospects in MLB, he’s ranked second, although he’s made strides to justify that ranking after a slow start in Low-A Savannah. Given the team’s unsurprising trade of former top pick Ike Davis and commitment to Lucas Duda (who will be 31 or 32 by the time Smith makes his MLB debut) it’s almost a certainty that Smith will be playing first base at Citi Field in the latter half of the 2010’s.
2012: Gavin Cecchini, Shortstop, Alfred M. Barbe High School, Lake Charles, LA
Cecchini is a big time hit or miss prospect who was taken for his value as a defensive star. Although he’s had a slow start to his career due to injury, the fact that he’s only 20 years old serves as a reminder that high school talent often takes more time to develop, meaning he could conceivably be held in the minors until 2017, much like Smith. Cecchini seems to be destined to make up half of a double play combo with one of two top international prospects: Dilson Herrera, who was acquired in the Marlon Byrd trade, or Amed Rosario. Whomever is the odd man out in that group is either going to be traded or coerced into playing third base. Should Cecchini lose out on the shortstop battle, he could be tried out as a third baseman, in fact, his older brother Garin is a top third base prospect for the Boston Red Sox.
Kevin Plawecki, Catcher, Purdue University
When Kevin Plawecki was drafted, one of the big things that stood out about him was the fact that he’s a guy who constantly gets on base. A guy who also rarely strikes out, Plawecki reminds some Mets people of Daniel Murphy, except he’s slower and plays a more challenging position. As I’ve made mention before, teams are starting to understand the importance of carrying two starting level catchers on the big league club, and Plawecki with Travis d’Arnaud could actually prove to be a solid combination. Should the Mets opt to deal him, he may have some value for a team that could use a starting catcher, as evidenced by the Mets’ discussions during the offseason between the Diamondbacks.
2011: Brandon Nimmo: Outfield, Cheyenne East High School, Cheyenne, WY
Alderson’s first pick as a Mets GM is either going to be one of the biggest gem finds or a major novelty gone bad. Nimmo, who gained fame for not playing high school ball (Wyoming doesn’t sanction baseball as a sport in interscholastic competition), was valued for his athletic upside. Nimmo has overcome a predictably slow start in the minors and is currently tearing the cover off the ball in High A St. Lucie, enough to land him in the top 100 prospect list at the final spot. Should he continue that pace, expect him to make a return appearance to the Futures Game in Minnesota.
Michael Fulmer, Pitcher, Deer Creek High School, Deer Creek, OK
Fulmer is the only pitcher that Alderson has drafted in the first round, and for good reason. 2011 was a great year for Oklahoma prep pitchers, and Fulmer has followed Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley’s success pattern. Although he suffered a setback from his development after injuring his leg, he should be with the major league club by 2017, likely as a long reliever/spot starter.
Sandy Alderson’s strategy deviated from his predecessor, Omar Minaya, who drafted low ceiling/high floor talent. Although most of Minaya’s choices were destined to be average (or in the case of 2007 and 2008 first rounders Nate Vineyard, Reese Havens and Brad Holt, marred with injury and unfulfilled promise) Minaya does have the claim to fame that his final first round pick, Matt Harvey, is one of the best young pitchers in baseball.
Moving on, the question remains: Who should Alderson select with the tenth overall pick?
Generally, given the amount of time prospects take to develop, coupled with the choice between high school, JUCO and college talent, general managers go with the Best Player Available. Although Alderson didn’t necessarily need a first baseman, and many experts thought he would have gone after a college outfielder like Fresno State’s Aaron Judge, Smith was the best player available.
If we went by the best player available based on Baseball America and MLB.com’s top 200 and 100 prospect lists, then the Mets would have two different choices: Baseball America’s #10 player in their top 200 is LSU ace Aaron Nola, who’s bounced up and down the draft board, going as low as the 20’s and as high as top ten. MLB.com has University of San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer as their ten pick. Zimmer has stayed pretty consistent, getting picked in the top 15 in most mocks.
Looking at the Mets’ top 20 prospects, which is what I use as a basis for my mock drafts, it’s clear that once Noah Syndergaard makes his big league debut, the Mets will not have a legitimate top ten right handed pitching prospect. With Rafael Montero and Jake deGrom likely up for good, and Syndergaard coming up, Alderson, unless he invests his pick in a bona fide arm, will not have a top pitching prospect to advance through the system and excite and distract the fan base. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the options that Alderson has:
First, let’s get one thing abundantly clear: Carlos Rodon will not fall out of the top three. Despite his struggles this year at NC State, Rodon’s still got an impressive resumé, as well as covetable attributes that will make him a top pick. The same goes for Brady Aiken, the prep star from Cathedral Catholic. His stock has risen to the point where he’s in the conversation to be the top pick as well. That, and they are also left-handed pitchers. Tyler Kolek, the consensus top right handed pitching prospect, will also not fall out of the top five.
Let’s take a look at the pitchers that are in range, and that’s 5th best player to 15th best player on Baseball America’s and MLB.com’s lists:
Jeff Hoffman, East Carolina (6)
Erick Fedde, UNLV (8)
Aaron Nola, LSU (10)
Touki Toussaint, Coral Springs Christian High School, Florida (13)
Tyler Beede, Vanderbilt (15)
And now MLB.com’s list:
Grant Holmes, Conway High School, South Carolina (12)
In my two mock drafts, I had the Mets taking a right handed pitcher for the reason stated above: They will need to add a right handed pitching stud in order to balance out their top ten prospects. In the first mock, I picked Touki Toussaint: a high school arm whose raw talent, coupled with his loose arm could make him a deadly young pitcher with #2 starter potential. However, given Alderson’s Moneyball background, which actively discourages the drafting of prep arms in the first round, the chances of Toussaint wearing a Mets jersey seem slim.
In the second mock, I had the Mets taking Tyler Beede. Beede is a familiar name, as he was a first round pick three years ago by the Toronto Blue Jays. However, Beede decided against going pro and went to play for Vanderbilt. Beede’s game is great, but some mechanical fine tuning could make it better. He’s been consistently challenging both Nola and Rodon as the top college pitcher this year, and his Golden Spikes nomination last year indicates he has high level pro potential.
If I were Alderson, I’d want a battle tested pitcher, a pitcher that has faced top flight competition. Right off the bat, that eliminates Toussaint and Grant Holmes, a big pitcher from Conway High School. Because high school baseball talent is relative to the state that it’s played in, even if Toussaint and Holmes were among the best talents that year, keep in mind they were facing typical prep talent. Not every South Carolina and Florida prepster is going to play division one ball in college, and even if they did, they wouldn’t all play in the power conferences like the SEC or the ACC.
The second aspect of a battle tested pitcher is the college conference they play in. The Mountain West and Conference USA, once upon a time, were college hotbeds, but now they’re essentially a tick below the real power conferences. Sure, pitchers like Hoffman and Fedde may get the opportunity to play a power conference team here and there, but ultimately, unless it was consistent, it’s a waste of time for Alderson to even think about Fedde and Hoffman.
This leaves it to two pitchers: Nola, and Beede.
Nola, the ace at LSU, is a pitcher who, while he isn’t going to blow you away with any special pitch, has great command and control of his offerings. He won’t be an ace at the major league level, but his dependability will be an asset to any team that needs a pitcher who can go deep into innings.
Beede, on the other hand, is an anti-Nola. His fastball is his best major league offering, going from the low to mid 90’s, and his ceiling is a front-end starter, possibly as high as #2. What Beede lacks in his game is pitch consistency. While Beede does have devastating offerings, like his fastball, curve and change up, they are only effective if he can consistently locate the strike zone.
So who should Sandy pick if it comes down to Nola and Beede?
In a perfect world, Nola will fall to the tenth spot where Alderson can nab him. His consistency and even strength in his offerings mean that either he’s going to be an above average hurler with little to no need to tinker, or, if there is room for improvement, establish a dominant pitch or make each pitch better. Nola’s mechanics are excellent and he is battle tested against the highest possible level of competition in college baseball. It seems that Nola is one of the very few high ceiling/high floor talents, and although Alderson isn’t the type of general manager who goes for safe picks, getting that combination will pay off rather quickly.