Importance Of The Upcoming MLB Draft For New York's 2nd Team

Owen RangerContributor IMay 30, 2008

 Baseball's amateur draft is all the rage right now as teams are trying to win with younger, cheaper, homegrown talent instead of trading for established stars or overspending in free agency.

The rise of sabermetric-powered teams, beginning with the Oakland A's, has really made the process of drafting players a much more exact science. More and more teams are targeting productive players over the phenoms who may be athletically gifted but have raw baseball skills.

Take a look at the 2005 Draft. So far, it has produced established major leaguers Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitski, and Alex Gordon, who were all first-round picks.

Also, Jay Bruce and others may soon join them as rising stars.

As the NFL tells us in April, the draft matters, and this particular draft matters plenty to the New York Mets.

The Mets are historically inept at identifying major league talent in the first round of the amateur draft. The 2008 draft held on June 5 and 6 will be the 44th in Major League history since outfielder Rick Monday became the first-ever pick (by Oakland) in 1965.

Casual baseball historians would have a tough time recognizing more than five or six names among the 20 picks in the first round: Monday (first), Billy Conigliaro (fifth), Ray Fosse (seventh), Gene Lamont (13th), and Bernie Carbo (16th).

There is not a Hall of Famer in that group, and Conigliaro is only recognizable for his last name.

So perhaps the Mets can be forgiven for choosing lefty pitcher Les Rohr from Billings, Montana with the second overall pick. The English-born Rohr pitched in a grand total of six major league games, last appearing in 1969.

But unfortunately, Rohr began a pattern that has continued to this day. Drafting first overall the following year, the Mets selected catcher Steve Chilcott just in front of an outfielder named Reggie Jackson.

Jackson's legendary career has been well-documented, while Chilcott, who suffered injuries in the minors, holds the distinction of being one of two No. 1 overall picks (the Yankees' Brien Taylor is the other) to retire without ever suiting up for a major league game.

But Chilcott is merely one piece of a greater (or lesser) legacy. In 43 years of first rounds, the Mets have drafted precisely three players who could be considered stars: John Matlack (1967, fourth), Darryl Strawberry (1980, first), and Dwight Gooden (1982, fifth).

They have also drafted a few other serviceable major league players: Aaron Heilman (2001, 18th), Scott Kazmir (2002, 15th), Lastings Milledge (2003, 12th), and Mike Pelfrey (2005, ninth).

Of those players, Kazmir was given away for cents on the dollar, Milledge is now playing elsewhere, Pelfrey looks like he may have been overrated, and Heilman has struggled mightily since being taken deep by Yadier Molina in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.

So why is all of this relevant now?

It is relevant because the Mets are an old team, with only three regular position players (Jose Reyes, David Wright and Ryan Church) and three starting pitchers (Johan Santana, John Maine, and Oliver Perez) under 30.

Yes, I know Pelfrey is under 30, but let's wait until he's shown he can stick in the rotation.

This team's window is closing fast, and the farm system has been gutted over the past few years via trade and the team's adherence to the slotting system. Their only highly ranked prospect is 20-year-old outfielder Fernando Martinez, who is still in AA ball.

And this year, thanks to Tom Glavine's departure, the Mets hold three picks among the first thirty-three (No. 18, No. 22, and No. 33). They have said publicly that they need to restock their system after the Santana trade, but their troubles go further back than that.

They have traded away prospects Scott Kazmir, Mike Jacobs, Matt Lindstrom, and given away draft picks in free agency. Also, they have historically made poor choices with their early-round picks.

And now that teams are locking up their young players through arbitration and free agency, the team won't be as able in the future to simply trade and spend their way to success.

They will have to go the road less traveled (for them, at least) and use the draft and their own developmental system to ensure success in the coming years.