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.
For the past four years, there has been one common occurrence in the MLB draft: That occurrence is the Highly Anticipated Prep Shortstop (or HAPS, for short). The common characteristics is that the shortstop in question is (obviously) a high schooler, has the potential to make the majors in three years instead of the traditional four or five years, is a top prospect usually by the end of his first year or the middle of his second, and garners a lot of praise from opposing scouts.
The past four years of HAPS are as follows:
2013: JP Crawford, Phillies
While it’s still too early to be determined, Crawford had been highly visible throughout his high school career, and when he was drafted, it was to a team that was looking to replace a legendary shortstop with a newer model. Crawford’s first minor league season saw him completely own the Gulf Coast League and skip entirely over short ball in favor of the more advanced Low A. Crawford also ended the season as the #4 prospect in Philly’s system, behind only Roman Quinn, a fellow prep shortstop drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, as well as 3B Maikel Franco and P Jesse Biddle, who have made the 2014 top 100 list on MLB.com. Even though Crawford effectively was a HAPS by default, as last year’s middle infield class was very weak, Crawford has at least proven that he is still a very solid lock to follow the progression that fellow HAPS have gone through.
2012: Carlos Correa, Astros, and Addison Russell, Athletics.
Thanks to what could have been regarded as one of the best prep shortstop draft classes in baseball history, 2012 had not one, but two HAPS propects. Carlos Correa, who was the first overall pick, drew some attention at the end of his debut year, but in his second year, he justified why he was a first overall pick. After having a monster season for the Quad Cities River Bandits, Correa was rewarded by being voted in to the 2013 Futures game World Roster, as well as being named the Astros’ top prospect by the end of the season. At the start of the 2014 season Correa was named the top prospect in the Astros’ system again, ahead of such players as Mark Appel, Jonathan Singleton, and Lance McCullers, and was also named the #8 prospect in all of baseball.
Russell, who I’ve consistently noted was the catalyst for the death of Moneyball drafting in Oakland, has done nothing but impress in his first two years. Named the best prospect in Oakland’s system immediately after the 2012 season, Russell again went on a tear at Single-A Stockton, and was also selected for the Futures game as a member of Team USA. Russell ended the season in AAA Sacramento, completely jumping over AA, and although he obviously had issues handling the rapid increase in competition level, the prevailing theory is that Russell could be in the majors by the end of the 2014 season.
2011: Francisco Lindor, Indians
The Indians have repeatedly stated that they do not intend to rush Lindor to the major leagues, to which I call bull. Lindor has been nothing short of amazing ever since he stepped on the field. At the end of the 2012 season, his first full season in minor league ball, Lindor had established himself as a #1 shortstop prospect, the #1 Indians prospect, and the #13 prospect in baseball. This included an invite to the Futures game in Kansas City, where he played for the World Team. Lindor followed up his great 2012 with an even better 2013 where he went through two levels of ball, topping out in Double-A, and once again being invited to the Futures Game in New York. He once again ended the season as the top shortstop prospect, the top Indians prospect, but increased his overall prospect ranking to #5. At the beginning of this season, Lindor has already established himself as a top ten prospect yet again, however, he dropped his shortstop ranking to #4, perfectly reasonable given his competition was Xander Bogaerts, Correa, and Javier Baez, who has started to put himself in the HAPS conversation, especially after showing a dominant power swing in Spring Training. The reason why Baez isn’t in it right now is that while he’s advanced at the same rate as Lindor, he hasn’t had Lindor’s wow factor. Still, if Baez can be as consistently impressive as Lindor has been, he could put himself in the HAPS conversation.
2010: Manny Machado, Orioles
The man who started it all, Machado blazed through the minors, made his major league debut a mere two years after being drafted, and made his first All-star team in 2013. While Machado’s best season ended on a sour note after he broke his leg, he has definitely entered his name into the elite infielder category. I know that Machado technically is a third baseman now, but in truth I’m grading him as a shortstop because of his A-Rod like conversion to third. And to continue, Machado was a shortstop when he was drafted, and only played a few games at third base in the minors, in Double-A Bowie, which incidentally was his last minor league stop before he made his debut. Will Machado ever move back to shortstop? Maybe, maybe not, but regardless, Machado is still one of the best young players right now.
The 2014 draft isn’t until June, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for early speculation. In what is considered yet another meh prep middle infield class, there are only two definitive first round prep shortstop talents, one of which has equal value as a pitcher. The two shortstops in question are Clovis High School’s Jacob Gatewood, and Olympia High School’s Nick Gordon.
Gatewood, like Crawford before him, has had eyes on him since last year. A well rounded guy with an emphasis on power who draws comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki and Starlin Castro, Gatewood, barring a bad senior season has the projectability to be a top ten pick, and could raise his stock to top five, maybe even top three if he continues to play at the level he has. In my initial mock, I had him going to Colorado as a potential replacement for Troy Tulowitzski, whom I feel will leave Colorado before 2020. In the thin air of Colorado, Gatewood would thrive despite the humidor baseballs, and he would have the potential to be a Machado-like talent.
Gordon has a baseball pedigree thanks to his father and brother, Tom and Dee. He has project ability as both a pitcher and a shortstop, but scouts have said that Gordon will stick to shortstop. While not as dominant at Gatewood, Gordon is still a top 20 prospect who could actually outperform his brother. I had Gordon going to San Diego. In theory, if Everth Cabrera can’t get back to his pre-Biogenesis self, it’s a possibility that the Padres will try and look for a replacement in the coming years. Gordon would benefit from the expansive park in San Diego, as he thrives on being a slap hitter with speed, much like Cabrera was.
Between Gatewood and Gordon, my belief is that the former makes the best case for the HAPS of 2014. He certainly has made a name for himself starting last year, and he has a legitimate shot to become one of the best shortstops in the post-Jeter and Rollins shortstop era. His power is not to be ignored, and if he signs early and tears it up in rookie or short ball, he could find himself in the top 100, maybe even top 25 very early in his career.
As much as I wanted to wait until all the free agents with draft compensation signed, I feel that it’s time to make the first mock draft of the year for MinorLeagueMadhouse. While picks are usually done as either Best Player Available, Easiest To Sign, or General Manager’s Draft Philosophy, I’ve decided to go by need in the minors. To be more precise, which position in the top 20 is the weakest, or, if there is a clear cut pick, or if the general manager has a philosophy that they have publicly disclosed (like Jeff Luhnow of the Astros or Sandy Alderson of the Mets,) So without further delay, here is the first mock draft of the year for Minor League Madhouse.
1. Astros: Carlos Rodon, LHP, NC State
Carlos Rodon is the consensus number 1 pick in the draft right now, and nothing short of a Rick Ankiel-type meltdown will change that. The Astros have a strong enough pitching presence in the minor leagues right now, but Luhnow will be hard pressed to give up on the potential that Rodon has. With a major league caliber slider and fastball, as well as a preference to strike out hitters. Rodon, who helped NC State make the College World Series last year, is definitely going to fit in what could be the best future rotation in the league.
2. Marlins: Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd High School, Texas
The Marlins have reaped the benefits of one high school arm that they drafted, why not go for another that looks Major League ready? Kolek is arguably one of the best prep arms in this year’s class. He has a fastball that is better than some collegiate pitchers, in addition to a well rounded arsenal of secondary pitches. Kolek’s only knock is is command and control, which is common for flame throwing prep arms, not to mention he’s behind on his development thanks to an injury he suffered in his sophomore year, but in showcases, he’s looked like the genuine article, and would be a perfect developmental athlete, as he can only get better.
3. White Sox: Alex Jackson, C, Rancho Bernardo High School, California
Last year, I pointed out that Chicago’s weakest position in the minors was catcher. And they did have the opportunity to grab a catcher early with Nick Ciuffo and Jon Denney on the board. However, they whiffed on both. Now, they have a golden goose in Alex Jackson, who comes from the same high school as Cole Hamels. Jackson is a well rounded high school catcher, although he does need improvement in commanding a game. He has plus power, decent speed, basically, he has the chance to be one of the better prep catchers in the last few draft classes. If Jackson fails behind the plate though, he could make it as an outfielder, where his arm would be his best strength.
4. Cubs, Jeff Hoffman, RHP, East Carolina
The Cubs have bolstered their position player ranks in the past few drafts, now it’s time to go back to pitching. Hoffman, who pitches for a smaller school in East Carolina, is tall and gangly, but pitches like he’s in prime athletic shape. Hoffman’s fastball is something to behold, and his curveball is almost at the same level. He controls the ball well, but he will need to work on his finesse if he wants to be a high end starter.
5. Twins: Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic High School, California
You can never have enough pitching, especially when it comes to lefties. Brady Aiken is a bit of a reach for the Twins, but given that they don’t have a top ten left handed pitching prospect at the time of this writing, it may be a good idea, both position wise and money wise, to go after him. This isn’t to diminish Aiken’s skill set, the young Southern California hurler is definitely even and well rounded in his skill set. He’s a jack of all trades pitcher, with no set primary pitch, which is good, as it serves as a reminder to the better days of Johan Santana. Aiken’s athleticism is also a plus, although now that his future has been set as a pitcher, he should focus primarily on that. Still, Aiken and 2013 pick Kohl Stewart would headline a young, and powerful pitching class should the Twins decided to pick him.
6. Mariners: Trea Turner, SS, North Carolina State
The Mariners don’t seem to have a problem with a specific position, what they need, however, is speed. NC State shortstop Trea Turner is the answer to that problem. Turner has major league legs, and while his hitting is developmental right now, he is somewhat respectable in that category. Turner is still fully transitioning from third base to shortstop, which is fine, but if he wants to advance a few levels, he will need to improve on his fielding. Still, Turner profiles as a #1 or #9 hitter in an American League lineup, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for him.
7. Phillies: Michael Gettys, OF, Gainesville High School, Georgia
Byron Buxton was the star of the 2012 draft class and Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier were the stars of the 2013 prep class, now, Michael Gettys becomes the next high level hitter from the state of Georgia. Gettys’ game is focused now on his legs and his arm, but his hitting, when properly developed, could make him into the next prep hitting star. Given Ryan Howard likely will retire when Gettys comes around, and there really isn’t a power presence to back him up yet, it would be a good idea for the Phillies to capitalize on the Georgia Prep slugger trend.
8. Rockies: Jacob Gatewood, SS, Clovis High School, California
We got an early peek at Jacob Gatewood last year at Citi Field’s high school home run derby, and he certainly put on a show, but besides that, Gatewood is a well polished athlete who despite his body, has the potential to be one of the better hitting shortstops in history. Tall and lanky, he does have the potential to lead the league in home runs, especially in the thin air of Denver. Given the injury history and likelihood that Troy Tulowitzki may not finish his mega contract extension, taking Gatewood would be a wise insurance policy for the Rockies. He and 2012 first rounder David Dahl could make a lethal power combination for years to come.
9. Blue Jays: Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
Surprised that Toronto would try again? You shouldn’t be. Beede was drafted by the Blue Jays out of high school as a first rounder in 2011, but he turned down the money to honor his college commitment. Three years later, Beede has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the SEC and after a historic campaign with the Commodores, brought himself into the Golden Spikes conversation. Beede’s offerings, particularly his fastball, are devastating to hitters, but what he needs improvement on is his control. Beede has the chance to continue the legacy of excellent Vandebilt pitchers started with David Price and continued with Sonny Gray this past year. If he can improve his control, he should be in the majors by late 2015-early 2016.
10. Mets: Touki Toussaint, Pitcher, Coral Springs High School, Florida
If what Keith Law speculates from his interview with Sandy Alderson is true, then Alderson must be talking about Touki Toussaint. Here’s a guy who has come out of nowhere, established himself as a truly different pitcher who, with some help, can control and even expand the strike zone with his fastball and major league curve. Touki has the potential to make an impact in any rotation, and his curve should allow him to strike out plenty of batters, provide catchers are able to handle it. The only knock on him is his lack of experience; Toussaint did only start playing his sophomore year of high school, and his international background; while he is from the Caribbean, Haiti isn’t exactly a baseball hotbed. Still, his arm is very loose and worth looking at, and having it in the same rotation as Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and Matt Harvey would be scary.
So this is part one. Stay tuned part 2, which is due to come out some time next week.