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.
Like any publicity obsessed blogger, I often take a detour through my stats page to see the amount of reads I get in a given day, views from around the world, and links I get to other sites.
My mock drafts have been viewed by team-centric message boards and blogs, my opinions on controversial topics (Like Ben Wetzler-gate) have been analyzed, and recently, college football fans have debated whether or not a prized quarterback recruit will go play there or opt to be a baseball player.
The intent of this article is not a massive ego stroke, believe me, I love the attention, but I’m not a whore for it. No, rather, it’s answering the question, would said athlete, Allen High School shortstop and quarterback Kyler Murray, consider turning pro or enroll at Texas A&M.
Kyler Murray is perhaps one of the greatest beneficiaries of Lamarckism due to both his father’s and uncle’s athletic abilities. Although undersized as a quarterback, he’s made himself into one of the most sought after recruits in college football history, eventually deciding to sign with Texas A&M. In baseball, he’s considered a raw talent with a very high ceiling, a speedster with some hitting ability, and the talent to play shortstop.
Murray’s also a trailblazer in the fact that he played in the Under Armour showcases for both baseball and football, a feat that had never happened before.
Kyler Murray is no doubt one of the more interesting athletic recruits in the nation. Not only that, but he also has major leverage thanks to his uncle Calvin being a sports agent.
But that doesn’t address the question: Where will Kyler go?
To answer this question, one has to look at the past five years, where at least one major dual sport athlete was drafted out of high school.
To begin this half-decade journey, one only needs to look at current Dodgers prospect and former LSU quarterback commit Zach Lee.
Lee was the original Kyler Murray, a top prep multisport athlete considered a tough sign due to a commitment to play for Louisiana State’s baseball and football teams. In his senior year, the McKinney High School product posted NFL-style numbers, and was named the offensive player for the year in his district. It was safe to say that in order for him to sign, a team had to be willing to pay big for him to drop his commitment.
Concerns about his signability dropped him from an early first round pick to a late pick, even in mocks. In fact, some mocks took him out of the first round entirely.
Finally, on draft day, Lee was taken 28th overall by the Dodgers, and signed with a hefty $5.25 Million bonus at the deadline.
Since being drafted, Lee has been moving at a typical pace for a prep player, and expects to be in the majors by this spring. He most recently finished in AAA Albuquerque, going 7-13 with a 5-44 ERA, extreme numbers even by PCL standards.
Bubba Starling and Archie Bradley only increased awareness of the highly valued dual sport prep athlete.
Starling was a star quarterback and outfielder for Gardner-Edgerton High School in Kansas. Considered arguably one of the best athletes in memory, he had both pro baseball scouts and University of Nebraska football and baseball fans salivating. Starling was a no-doubt first rounder in baseball, mainly because he was a five tool player, rare for a high schooler.
Archie Bradley was also a highly touted two sport star from Broken Arrow High School. Considered one of the top prep athletes in Oklahoma history, Bradley was named one of ESPN RISE’s Elite 11 quarterbacks, in a class that included Teddy Bridgewater, Everett Golson, and Cody Kessler, among others. He had a commitment to the University of Oklahoma as a two sport star as well.
Both Starling and Bradley ended up being top ten selections, with Starling going to the Royals fifth overall, and Bradley going to the Diamondbacks seventh overall. Because of their leverage as potential college athletes, they were able to sign big contracts with bigger bonuses, incidentally, this would be the second to last year that bonuses went unregulated. Since then, Bradley had become arguably one of the top pitching prospects with the Diamondbacks, with a major league debut projected at 2015. Starling’s development has been more protracted, having just finished his last season in Wilmington, the high-A affiliate of the Royals.
In 2012, Hueytown High School quarterback/pitcher/outfielder Jameis Winston was a highly touted dual sport athlete. A top talent, Winston supposedly would have been a high draft pick had he not been so intent on playing football at Florida State. The Texas Rangers would draft Winston in the 15th round, and in an attempt to get him to sign on, offered to let him play football at Florida State. Winston refused, and has since become one of the top quarterback prospects in the NFL draft, and a former third team All-American utility baseball player.
Of course, Winston hasn’t ruled out professional baseball either, and has considered a baseball and football career, like Bo Jackson, another former Heisman winner.
Before Kyler Murray, however, Texas A&M fans had to look forward to Kohl Stewart as Johnny Manziel’s replacement. Stewart was a highly rated two sport star who was set to play both sports. There were questions about his health, however, as he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. This however did not deter the Twins, who took him fourth overall. Stewart signed rather quickly, with a signing bonus set at $4.5 million and in his first two seasons, has made it to Low-A Cedar Rapids, a good pace for a prep pitcher
Lee’s Summit High School outfielder Monte Harrison was an immensely talented wide receiver as well and was considered a tough sign from the beginning. His strong commitment to play football and baseball for Nebraska dropped him to the second round. The Milwaukee Brewers drafted him, and he signed quickly, however. Harrison had a so-so year to start his career, but is one of the Brewers’ top prospects already given the strength of the Brewers’ system.
Even if a prep baseball player isn’t a dual sport athlete, teams will often look for ways to ensure a commitment to them as opposed to a college. Look at the Chicago Cubs last season. In order to get highly rated prep pitcher Carson Sands, the Cubs spent their first three picks on high floor college talent, catchers Kyle Schwarber from Indiana and Mark Zagunis from Virginia Tech, and pitcher Jake Stinnett from Maryland. Knowing full well they could sign their first three picks for less money, they treated Sands as their first round pick and signed him for about the amount of a late first rounder.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for football fans, but in the business of sports, money rules everything. Draft a player high and offer him the moon, while still being within the limits of the bonus pool, and a player will sign. It doesn’t matter if the player could be the best quarterback in university history, the player will go where the money is. Unless Kyler Murray explicitly tells teams not to draft him because he wants to play football in college, ensuring that he drops to a day 2 or 3 pick, you can bet there is going to be at least one team willing to pay whatever amount is necessary to get him on their team as the shortstop of the future.
And now for the final part of MinorLeagueMadhouse’s 2014 mock draft.
21. Rays: Dylan Cease, LHP, Milton High School, Georgia
The Rays do not have a shortage of prep arms, that’s for certain, but given the weak corner infield talent in the draft, which is something the Rays system could use, it’d be better for them to stick to something they know how to develop. Dylan Cease is a fastball pitcher with other options, but they need to be smoothed out. For instance, his curveball is clocked at 70 MPH, which is a couple ticks faster than an average curveball. Cease is deceptive, his body doesn’t look like it can take the rigors of pitching, so Cease has a sort of natural deception when he throws. However, like TCU’s Brandon Finnegan, he is conscious of his delivery, but because he’s young, he does have time to determine if he’ll be a better starter or reliever.
22. Indians: Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
Every year, a highly rated college pitcher takes a tumble. Two years ago, it was Mark Appel, last year, Arkansas’ Ryne Stanek and Indiana State’s Sean Manaea, and this year, it could be Aaron Nola. Avoiding the possible reasons why he could fall, Nola’s game isn’t reliant on strength, but rather, craft. His command is superb, and his pitching arsenal is very effective. However, his big knock is that he doesn’t really have a standout pitch. Now, in the high school ranks, that would work, as the development of a high school pitcher allows for the selection of a dominant pitch, but in Nola’s case, because of his potential accelerated development, he doesn’t have as much time. Still in comparison to Indians top young pitcher Trevor Bauer, who does rely on strength, Nola does seem to have durability on his side.
23. Dodgers: Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State
The Dodgers system is stronger than you think, despite the big free agency and trade splurges over the past two years. But there’s still the question of who will take over for Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier when they go? Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig are good bets, but the third outfield spot remains unclear. Enter Michael Conforto. Conforto may not have Pederson’s baseball pedigree, or Puig’s range, but he does have the athletic pedigree. Conforto’s father was a linebacker for Penn State, and his mother was a gold medalist in synchronized swimming in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Conforto does have power that matches Matt Kemp’s pre-injury potential, and he could fit in the 3 or 4 spot in the Dodger lineup. Conforto does have a natural swing as well, which is good for a power hitter. If Conforto can improve his defense, expect his stock to rise, as Sporting News feels that he could be the top college hitter in 2014.
24. Tigers: Nick Burdi, RHP, Louisville
Detroit has an affinity for flame throwing relievers, see Joel Zumaya, Jose Valverde and Bruce Rondon for reference), but they still can’t seem to get a quality closer. Nick Burdi may be the answer. Consistently clocked in the high 90’s with the potential to reach triple digits, Burdi’s ceiling is as a closer. What Burdi does lack, however, is a good tertiary pitch behind his fastball/slider combination. Sure, he’s working on a change up, but it’s still in the development stages as of the beginning of the college baseball season. Still, Burdi has the potential to be an Aroldis Chapman-type closer if he can hone the lesser parts of his game.
25. Pirates: Matt Chapman, 3B/RHP, Cal State Fullerton
There are two ways that this pick can go. If Chapman isn’t used on the mound at all this year, he’ll make a solid infield prospect, however, if he is used on the mound more, scouts may see him the same way they saw former Fullerton teammate Michael Lorenzen. Matt Chapman has been used his entire college career as an infielder, but in summer leagues, especially Team USA, he was tried on the mound as a closer, and surprised people with his fastball. Chapman does have a strong arm and is a top defender, which should give him a few gold gloves, but his hitting needs to improve if he wants to succeed at the Major League level.
26. Athletics: Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville
The A’s are weak in terms of southpaw prospects. Although Billy Beane has shifted away from the moneyball philosophy of drafting collegiate talent in the past two years, Kyle Freeland may have enough upside for Beane to take a look at him. Like Sean Manaea last year, Freeland started getting attention while pitching for Hyannis of the Cape Cod League. His fastball does have movement on it which causes batters to overcompensate, and his slider often takes on the personality of a cutter. His body does have an effect on his mechanics, and scouts are wary of him being in the rotation, but in all likelihood, his effort to compensate could provide him with some leeway on certain evaluators. Freeland’s stock can only rise more if he can figure out how to pitch to win at Evansville.
27. Braves: Monte Harrison, OF, Lee’s Summit West High School, Missouri
If there were any prospect that could be judged as a hard sign, it would be Missouri prep product Monte Harrison. Harrison has plenty of tools, he’s a great hitter, an even better fielder, not to mention he has a strong commitment to the University of Nebraska for baseball and football (as a wide receiver). Given Atlanta’s track record with high school outfielders, (see Jeff Francoueur and Jason Heyward), they could be one of the teams that would be willing to incur penalties and future pick forfeiture so that they can get this young man signed. The big flaw in his game, however, is his patience. If he can curb his strikeout numbers, he could rise to a top 15 pick riding on his athleticism alone.
28. Red Sox: JD Davis, 1B/RHP, Cal State Fullerton
NC State isn’t the only school with two potential first round talents. JD Davis’ right handed power as a first baseman and fastball as a pitcher could intrigue Boston to go after a second straight two way player after Trey Ball. Davis is kind of like Mike Napoli, but he’s young and doesn’t have the durability issues the former has. He has an excellent fielding arm, and already has a feel for wood bats, as evidenced by his second place finish in the Cape Cod League Home Run Derby. Davis could rise through the minors quickly and when Napoli is eventually named a designated hitter, could take his spot.
29. Cardinals: Kodi Medeiros, LHP, Waikeka High School, Hawaii
Kodi Medeiros is an enigma. His small stature, lack of control on his secondary pitches, and windup, not to mention he’s in uncharted territory as a prep player from Hawaii should have teams backing away, but the Cardinals could actually use a prep lefty like him for their rotation down the road. Medeiros’ biggest redeeming quality is his fastball, which while normally a low 90’s offering, can go up to the mid 90’s on occasion. Although his command is an issue, the movement on his secondary pitches has led to him acquiring the strikeout pitcher label. Medeiros would have some familiarity if he was drafted by the Cardinals, as he was teammates with second baseman Kolten Wong’s brother Kean, an infielder in the Rays organization.
The order of the compensatory picks has not been released, and until they are, this will serve as the conclusion of the 2014 mock draft. Stay tuned for version two, which will be released by the start of the College World Series.