I’ve been very fortunate the past couple of months to talk to some of the best scouting directors in the game for MLB Trade Rumors.
I wrote a series of stories under the header of “Inside The Draft Room” which were lookbacks at some of the better drafts of the past 20 years. Not necessarily the best drafts – that is always a subjective discussion – but definitely some of the better ones.
I talked to a couple guys I used to work with – Tim Wilken and Jason McLeod. Sadly, neither was about a particular Cubs draft.
With Mr. Wilken, the story was about the 1997 Blue Jays draft. That year, “only” four of Toronto’s picks made it to the majors – but those four players (Vernon Wells, Michael Young, Orlando Hudson and Mark Hendrickson) – had a combined 50 years of big league service time.
With Mr. McLeod, the story was about the 2005 Red Sox draft – and a first-time scouting director having five picks between No. 23 and No. 47. All five of those selections, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and Jed Lowrie, made it to the majors.
The other scouting directors I spoke to were people I had little-to-no prior contact with – and all were super to talk to. They couldn’t have been nicer. They were honest and forthright and allowed me to tell some great stories.
I spoke to Duane Shaffer, whose 1998 White Sox draft included the first four selections getting extensive big league time – and a 38th-rounder in Mark Buehrle who went on to be the best player selected in that year’s draft.
And there was a great conversation with Eddie Bane about the 2009 Angels draft – which included Mike Trout as the club’s SECOND first-round selection … at No. 25. That’s right … the best player in the game wasn’t even his own club’s first pick.
That, of course, led to a discussion with Tom Allison about the 2009 Diamondbacks draft – since Arizona had two first-round picks that year. The Diamondbacks passed on Trout but did select Paul Goldschmidt in the eighth round. The team had a stellar draft that year, but as revisionist history shows, Trout and Goldschmidt were “thisclose” to being teammates. Of course, if teams knew for sure what Trout and Goldschmidt would become, those two would never have gotten past the first few picks.
I talked to Damon Oppenheimer about the Yankees 2006 draft, which included Ian Kennedy and five current big league relievers in Mark Melancon, Dellin Betances, George Kontos, Zach McAllister and Dave Robertson. That bullpen – if kept together – is one most teams would covet.
Finally, I spoke to Logan White about the Dodgers 2002-2003 drafts. Those two drafts included a bunch of guys that knocked the Cubs out of the 2008 playoffs – James Loney, Jonathan Broxton, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley and Matt Kemp. That was reason enough to talk to him.
So … what did I learn from all these conversations?
I learned the obvious: No matter how much work goes into it, the draft is largely a crapshoot based on the success (or lack thereof) of the No. 1 pick.
The baseball draft is not like the NFL draft or the NBA draft. Selected players are not major-league ready. So it’s all about projection. It’s all about acquiring as much information about each player. It’s all about continuous homework. It’s all about following your gut. It’s all about keeping your fingers crossed that the player stays healthy. It’s all about being lucky.
During my time with the Cubs, there wasn’t one draft where the scouting director wasn’t excited about the first-round pick. And some of those first-round picks went on to have successful big league careers. More often than not, though, there were a lot of post-draft letdowns.
I remember the excitement of selecting U.S. Olympian Ty Griffin in 1988 – my first year writing a draft selection press release – and the sadness when those expectations were never met.
And I remember the enthusiasm in thinking we found one in Lance Dickson in 1990 – only to have his career derailed by injuries just months after the draft.
And, of course, I remember the joy the day we selected Jon Garland in 1997 – and the quizzical feelings 13 months later when he was traded to the White Sox for Matt Karchner. Karchner was a serviceable reliever; Garland went on to spend 13 years as a major league starter, winning 136 games.
There is a reality in all this … a draft cannot be judged right away. And a draft cannot be judged solely on the first-round pick.
Case in point: One of the best drafts in Cubs history – if not THE best – took place in 1984. Sadly, scouting director Gordy Goldsberry is long gone; otherwise, I would have interviewed him for the series. The Cubs picked third that year, selecting Drew Hall – who would go on to record a 9-12 record with a 5.21 ERA in parts of five big league seasons.
The pessimist would say “Bad draft. That’s the best you could get out of the No. 3 pick?”
But you have to look past the first round – since some guy named Greg Maddux was taken in the second round and another guy named Jamie Moyer was picked in the sixth round. Between the two of them, 48 seasons in the majors and 624 wins. I guess you’d say the Cubs had a decent draft that year.