The perception surrounding Thursday’s Major League Baseball Draft is that this event does not have the ‘make or break’ consequences of the NFL and NBA drafts.
In some respects, that is certainly true. No team is truly counting on its first few picks to start for them next year. With years to develop prospects, a league designed to make trading players much easier, and the most liberal free-agency system in professional sports, a team can certainly miss on entire drafts and not see a negative effect on the major-league level for years, if ever.
That is true, at least, for some teams. Big market, even medium-market teams have the monetary flexibility to go out and get free agents, or make trades to get better in a hurry.
Small-market teams, even with increased revenue sharing, and a sport that is awash in cash right now, have a much finer margin for error. An organization that drafts poorly and cannot (or will not) tolerate a payroll outside of the lower third of the league simply must draft well, if only to produce legitimate prospects that can be traded for even more, younger prospects.
Here is an example of just how an organization could have been changed by simply drafting better. Unfortunately, the team I follow is one of the best to use for this scenario.
My Kansas City Royals have not only drafted poorly, but they have made few quality trades, and only recently have begun to spend any sort of money. How different would the Royals look if they had been better and luckier in this past decade’s drafts? Take a look:
C – Brian McCann (drafted instead of Adam Donachie in 2002 Round 2)
1B – Casey Kotchman (drafted instead of Colt Griffin in 2001 Round 1)
2B – Chase Utley (drafted instead of Mike Stodolka in 2000 Round 1)
SS – J.J. Hardy (drafted instead of Roscoe Crosby in 2001 Round 2)
3B – Alex Gordon
LF – Grady Sizemore (drafted instead of Scott Walter in 2000 Round 3)
CF – Curtis Granderson (drafted instead of Dave Jensen in 2002 Round 3)
RF – Nick Markakis (drafted instead of Chris Lubanski in 2001 Round 1)
DH – Billy Butler
SP – Zack Greinke
SP – Luke Hochevar
SP – Rich Hill (drafted instead of Danny Christensen in 2002 Round 4)
SP – Shaun Marcum (drafted instead of Brian McFall in 2003 Round 3)
SP – Micah Owings (drafted instead of Chris Nicoll in 2005 Round 3)
BP – Jonathan Papelbon (drafted instead of Miguel Vega in 2003 Round 4)
BP – Bobby Jenks (drafted instead of Zach McClellan in 2000 Round 5)
BP – Huston Street (drafted instead of J.P. Howell in 2001 Sup Round 1)
BP – Manny DelCarmen (drafted instead of Mike Tonis in 2000 Round 2)
BP – Joakim Soria
Okay, okay—I know. Drafting in hindsight is simple...too simple. Take any NFL team, redo their last seven or eight drafts, and you pretty much have a Pro-Bowl lineup.
Without too much work and very little cheating, I could have gone back over all the rounds in the last ten years and given the Royals a lineup almost completely made up of All Stars.
Let’s even up the scales a little bit and try again. Throw out all of the first rounders, as there were almost certainly major signability issues associated with those picks, and, in addition, we will limit one draft pick switch per year, and that switch must be to a player who went in one of the next five spots after the Royals’ original pick
Under that scenario, we could add Grady Sizemore, J.J. Hardy, Curtis Granderson, Tom Gorzelanny, Hunter Pence, and Micah Owings to the current Royals roster. How much differently would Kansas City be perceived, and how many more wins would they have? Ten, fifteen wins over each of the last two or three seasons?
Throw out three of those picks, and the Royals could still have either Sizemore or Granderson patrolling centerfield, flanked on one side by Hunter Pence and with J.J. Hardy at shortstop instead of Tony Pena Jr. Almost certainly the Royals would be contenders this year in the A.L. Central.
Yes, drafting in reverse is an easy task. So easy, in fact, that it is really quite silly. What it lacks in application to reality, however, it more than makes up for in the illustration of just how important the seemingly ‘low-risk’ Major League Draft truly is.
Ask the Rays, who are contending with a team made up almost entirely of their own draft picks, how important the draft is. Ask the Royals, who have just four major-league players from their top 30 picks over the last six years, just how badly they would like even a handful of those picks to do over.
The difference between a good draft and a bad draft is quite simply the difference between using the 74th pick on Scott Walter and the 75th on Grady Sizemore. Yep, I think the baseball draft is pretty important after all.