The NFL Draft has become a sports spectacle and a ratings bonanza for ESPN. Thursday night is dedicated just to Round One. Rounds Two and Three have their own night on Friday, and the draft is then completed on Saturday with the remaining Rounds Four through Seven. The NBA Draft lags just behind in the television ratings, but has the benefit of being self-contained in one evening with just two total rounds.
But what of the Major League Baseball Draft, which is scheduled for June 6-8? Well, the real question might be “who cares?”
There are many reasons why so few really care about baseball’s amateur draft, the first being the lack of pre-draft exposure and hype of players. NBA-eligible players have March Madness. NFL-eligible players have ESPN’s College Game Day, national television coverage for weekly games, and then bowl season. There is no grand stage upon which those eligible for the MLB draft get public exposure during their playing days before the draft. At most, a small segment of the true MLB prospects get some air time during the College World Series.
A second cause for the “who cares” attitude about the draft is that we will likely have to wait until sometime between 2017 and 2020 to fully assess the quality of this year’s MLB draft class. That makes viewing the draft on television far less exciting than its counterparts in football and basketball. It is difficult for the average fan to get excited about its team’s picks when there will be no immediate benefit for the upcoming season.
For the NFL draft you can expect to hear Mel Kiper Jr. question whether a team should draft for need or the best player available. The same strategic approach is often considered for the NBA draft. Team need is virtually never considered in the MLB draft, where present need at the major league level cannot be met through the draft.
It is also noteworthy that under the current collective bargaining agreement, international players are not eligible for the MLB draft. That will not change for at least the next few years and, unlike the NBA, could create a slew of issues if international players were subject to the MLB draft in the future. Therefore, unlike the NBA and certainly the NFL, the top prospects eligible to be drafted for baseball do not necessarily represent baseball’s true top future prospects. This is particularly true given the dominance of the Latin American players who are not eligible for the MLB draft. In the United States, baseball may be that National Pastime but in the Latin American countries, it is the national obsession.
So, let me see if I can spark at least some interest in this week’s Major League Baseball Draft. I have called upon Alex Trebek for a fictitious round of Baseball Jeopardy.
Alex Trebek: Today’s category—MLB Draft. And players, be sure that you respond in the form of a question. Let’s play.
Contestant #1: I’ll take MLB Draft for $100, Alex.
Alex Trebek: Answer— Bryan Bullingham and Timothy Beckman all have this in common.
Contestant #1: Who are examples of busts with 1st overall pick in MLB draft since 2000?
Alex Trebek: Correct.
Contestant #1: I’ll take MLB Draft for $200, Alex.
Alex Trebek: Answer—RHP Barrett Loux has this distinction over RHP Matt Harvey. (Yes. That Matt Harvey, who along with Shelby Miller, are presently more dominant on the mound than Stephen Strasberg.)
Contestant #2: Who did the Diamondbacks draft with the 6th overall pick of the 2010 MLB draft just before Matt Harvey was selected with the very next pick by the New York Mets.
Alex Trebek: Correct.
Contestant #2: I’ll take MLB Draft for $300, Alex.
Alex Trebek: Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Jay Bruce and Andrew McCutchen.
Contestant #2: Which players were drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft AFTER Justin Upton was drafted by the D-Backs and still remain with the team that originally drafted them?
Alex Trebek: Correct again.
Contestant #2: MLB Draft for $400
Alex Trebek: The answer is Christopher Gruler, Adam Loewen and Clint Everts.
Contestant #1: Which players were selected in the first five picks of the first round of the 2002 draft BEFORE Zach Grienke, Prince Fielder, James Loney, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Nick Swisher, Joe Saunders, Denard Span and Jeremy Guthrie.
Alex Trebek: Correct
Contestant #1: MLB Draft for $500
Alex Trebek: The answer is AJ Pollock
Contestant #3: What outfielder did the Diamondbacks select in the 2009 MLB draft instead of Mike Trout, who was selected eight picks later by the Angels.
Alex Trebek: Correct.
Alex Trebek: Players, you are all tied with $500 going into Final Jeopardy. Today’s Final Jeopardy category: D-Back History. And the answer is “One.” Players, good luck.
[insert Jeopardy music here}
Contestant #1: How many players were named World Series MVP in 2001?
Alex Trebek: Ooooh. Sorry. There were two players who shared the award, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson
Contestant #2: How many saves did Byung-Hyun Kim blow in the 2001 World Series?
Alex Trebek: Ooooh. Sorry. He blew two saves in consecutive games.
Contestant #3: How many of the 18 first round Diamondback draft picks between 1996 and 2012 are still on the current major league roster?
Alex Trebek: You are correct! That player is AJ Pollock. As a side note, the only other first round draft picks since 1996 that are still in the Diamondback organization are catcher, Stryker Trahan, and pitcher, Archie Bradley.
Contestant #3, you are the Baseball Jeopardy Champion.
[cut to commercial]
I assume you get the point. The draft is filled with more busts than bonanzas and draft sequence is not necessarily the best predictor of future success. Just ask Mike Piazza, who was selected in the 62nd round (#1,390 overall) of the 1988 draft.
This week’s MLB draft will perhaps make news for a day or two but that will end the discussion. Given the Diamondback history, we are not likely to see the top picks playing at Chase Field any time soon and those players are far more likely to establish their careers with organizations other than the Diamondbacks. But do not allow that to dissuade you from being interested in this year’s draft. The Diamondback’s first round pick is at #15. In past years, players such as Chase Utley, Scott Kazmir and our former Stephen Drew were each picked at this slot.
So I suggest we take this story and put it into a time capsule. Let’s open the vault sometime in June of 2018. Will we know by then at least some of the following players: pitchers Jonathan Gray (Oklahoma), Mark Appel (Stanford), Kohl Stewart (St Pius X HS in Houston), Braden Shipley (Nevada) or Sean Manaea (Indiana State); Infielders Kris Bryan (San Diego), Colin Moran (North Carolina) or Dominic Smith (Sierra HS in Gardena, California); outfielders Clint Frazier (Loganville HS in Georgia) or Hunter Renfroe (Mississippi State)? Will we marvel at who the Diamondbacks snagged with the 15th overall pick of the 2013 draft or will we question how they could have possibly passed on future all-stars selected after the 15th pick?
Time will tell.