Draft Day Glamour Short-Lived
Draft Day Glamour Short-Lived
I was about 13 years old when the MLB draft became a big deal. What I mean by that is everyone wanted to own a Todd Van Poppel baseball card. Van Poppel was drafted by Oakland 14th overall in the 1990 draft. He was big news because it was the first of what is commonplace now: agents using school and the media to push their client to a desired situation. Any surprise said agent was none other than Scott Boras?
Sports Illustrated even ran an article about the kid with the 95-mph fastball. Many thought Van Poppel was going to go #1 overall to Atlanta, but they got spooked by Boras’ demands and took a high school shortstop by the name of Chipper Jones. I think it worked out well for them in the long run. Van Poppel going to the World Champs was considered the rich get richer, but he turned out to be more style than substance, ending his career with 40-52 record and 5.58 ERA pitching for six clubs.
A year earlier first round picks Ben McDonald and Frank Thomas were in the big leagues. This received a great deal of exposure, as well. Even so, there wasn’t much excitement surrounding the June draft. There was the time Brien Taylor was drafted by the Yankees or when the Mets drafted Mookie’s kid, Preston, and Kirk Presley, a descendant of Elvis. Minor league coverage was scant. There was the Gregg Jefferies phenomenon, but unless you were a Baseball American junkie you didn’t know anything about the draft or prospects unless the local radio, newspaper or broadcaster had something to tell you about him.
Times have changed. Fans follow players from draft day to the big leagues. Bryce Harper collected his first game-winning hit last night, but that shouldn’t be a surprise since he’s been in the sports public’s eye since he was 16-years old and on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
MLB has done a good job promoting and building content around their amateur draft. They try to make it on par with the NBA and NFL, and in a lot of ways it’s a bit more entertaining. I like their setup of a small room, the commissioner coming to the podium and each team having a celebrity representative. The analysis isn’t overboard, as you get some stats and comps. Unlike the other sports, they only do the entire first round, which is probably even overload since a majority of the kids will never sniff the big leagues. Heck, we probably won’t ever hear from a lot of them again after Monday night. That’s where the leagues diverge. While a first round pick in the NBA lives the life, most kids drafted by an MLB club will be lucky to have the kind of big league exposure of a Todd Van Poppel, and to earn about $7.5 million along the way.
Look at the 1990 first round that saw Van Poppel picked 14th. This draft saw 22 of the first 26 picks appear in the big leagues. The most productive were Jones, Mike Mussina, Alex Fernandez, Carl Everett, Mike Lieberthal and Jeromy Burnitz. This is a very uncommon result.
Fast forward ten years later, and the number falls to less than fifty percent, 14 of 30. The big impact names were Chase Utley, Adam Wainwright and Adrian Gonzalez. Does anyone remember Adam Johnson? He was picked #2 by the Minnesota Twins.
The point is I liked the draft coverage when it was more a Baseball America niche. I think the league is sending the wrong message to its fans and players by hyping them at an early age. The Mets selected a kid shortstop by the name of Gavin Cecchini, out of high school in Louisiana. We will see him in Brooklyn, where he will get more than enough press, but Citi Field is at least five seasons away, if at all. The Yankees went for upside and took a hard-throwing RHP out of Santa Fe by the name of Ty Hensley. Even though many consider him a “steal” at 30, the Bombers track record of pitching development makes you wonder if he will make it to Double-A Trenton, much less the House That Ruth Built.
It’s important to put this draft and kids into perspective. You can rate value, signability and upside all you want. It now is up to the kid to embrace minor league life, and physically and mentally develop as a baseball player. The league doesn’t show you the lousy road trips, crappy pre and post game meals or $1,200 monthly salaries (before taxes) that are part of the low-minors. I haven’t even mentioned the politics and bad coaching that are part of the journey. Some of those first round picks will get nice signing bonuses, but there is a chance they may need that to actually pursue their dream. Imagine that, using your own money so you can work for someone else. How many of you would do that upon graduation?
The league glamorizes the draft and makes the kids feel like stars. Many will report to minor league outposts in a couple of weeks and realize that was their last five-star treatment by the league for a while, maybe ever.
Where is the MLB Network, ESPN or other media outlets for that full feature film?
Oh, I forgot, you won’t see that full-length feature for a long while- maybe never.
That sounds about right.Mike Silva