Major League Draft Determines Success Down The Road

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Draft Day Is Dream For Every Baseball Player

By John Ventola

Transactions such as player trades and free agent signings play important roles in overall development of major league teams, but the annual player draft held each June is the lifeblood of any organization. All 30 teams attempt to discover the next Mike Trout or Bryce Harper for everyday play, while hoping to secure a Clayton Kershaw-type arm to hold down their top starting pitcher role. An inexact exercise at best, some sure shots turn into busts, while some long shots can turn into long-time major leaguers.

Today, and for the next few days, it is time again for major league organizations to make their choices, contact their selectees, and begin the bargaining process of signing players for their

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Lifelong Dreams Will Be Answered In Draft

franchises. Unlike professional football and basketball where draft choices immediately compete for team positions, all baseball players go into a three to four year process to reach the major league level. Of course, Trout and Harper-type skill sets cut down that time frame, and place those type of talents on a big league roster in short order. Not often do you see 21-year-olds starting, and starring in The Show.

Trout and Harper are the exception, not the rule. Many of the players chosen today will never see a major league ballpark without buying an admission ticket. However, they will get their shot at progressing through levels of minor league baseball.

Baseball executives have adjusted their vision of what to expect from the draft. It is still based on spotting a talented player, and trying to get them under contract, but the vast improvement of college baseball has allowed player development to occur on campus instead of instructional and developmental leagues. That, and the fact talent is now available around the world for free agent signing, broadens the talent pool. The eye test, stop watches, checks and cross checks are all still used, but talent evaluation can be such an uncertainty.

While an 18-year-old can flash occasional talent to warrant a large signing bonus out of high school, teams can now watch a youngster mature, play competitive college

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Improvement In College Game Gives Youngsters A Different Avenue

baseball, and compete in summer leagues. Three years of growth and honing of skills in a top-notch program can often be more beneficial than bus rides between small minor league towns. Particularly when a youngster is most vulnerable, and experiencing everything away from home for the first time. College is college, minor league baseball is a job. And poor performance at a job can sometimes lead to frustration, and curtailment of development.

Latin American players have played a big part in major league baseball since the 1950s. Outstanding everyday players from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela filled rosters, and young talent was signed as early as 15-years-old for developmental leagues. The Latin players overcame language barriers, and succeeded at a high rate in professional baseball. The Roberto Clementes, the Luis Aparicios, and many more shined brightly, and became an important part of the fabric of America’s National Pastime.

Now, gifted talent from Japan and Cuba has made its mark.  Ichiro Suzuki burst on the major league scene as a 27-year-old with Seattle. Through fourteen and a half seasons he has a .317 lifetime average and is nearing one hundred hits short of the magical 3,000 mark. Cuba’s Yasiel Puig has uncanny ability and needs only to calm down his temperament to become one of major league baseball’s top stars. Japanese and Cuban players dot major league rosters.

The question still persists. Do you invest in an extremely talented high schooler, or do you draft a college level player that has had a larger body of work to evaluate. If only every scout and baseball executive had that proverbial crystal ball.

Baseball owners have long believed that live, young arms will lead a team. Sadly, there

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Arms Race Still Vital To Baseball Success

are not many freakish arms like that belonging to long-time fireballer Nolan Ryan. Ryan threw seven no hitters in his illustrious career, but even he went through a maturity process in his early New York Mets days. Whether overuse, too many breaking pitches, or other reasons, baseball is now faced with pitchers forced into Tommy John surgery at an alarming rate. Washington Nationals Stephen Strasburg was projected to be the next Nolan Ryan/Roger Clemens, but after arm surgery he has only shown a glimpse of what was expected.

Today high school and college baseball players will hear their names called. Based on performance evaluations pitchers and shortstops, two key positions in the diamond sport, are expected to dominate the early picks. Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman, two of four SEC players selected as finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, symbolic of college baseball’s top player, should join outstanding Florida high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers in the top ten picks. Swanson and Bregman led Vanderbilt and LSU, respectively, and should make it to the big leagues in a couple of years. Playing in the most competitive college baseball conference in the country only made the two talented youngsters better.

Last year’s No. 1 pick, pitcher Brady Aiken, could not come to terms with the Houston Astros and will again be available for the draft after sitting out the year from competition

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Shortstops, Pitchers Should Top Draft

. Aiken, however, underwent Tommy John surgery in March, and the question is did the surgery tighten him up, make him stronger, and less vulnerable to arm woes. He could be a bargain this go around.

Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer and UC-Santa Barbara’s Dillon Tate are two college arms set to go high, while high school pitchers Kolby Allard, Justin Hooper, Ashe Russell, Mike Nikorak, and Cole McKay should also go the professional route.

Outfielders Andrew Benintendi of Arkansas and Missouri State’s Tate Matheny, son of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, should join high school outfielders Trenton Clark and Daz Cameron in the early choices.  Fulmer and Benintendi were the other two SEC players chosen as Golden Spikes finalists.

Locally, LSU is headed back to Omaha for the 17th time in school history with a team that will be decimated position-wise by graduation and the draft. Coach Paul Mainieri may miss the experience this year’s team had next year, but the program long ago

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LSU Will Have To Reload Next Season

reached the status of top-notch players wanting to play in Baton Rouge. Talent has been sitting patiently and chances will present themselves next year, but the competitive SEC will demand an influx of new, skilled athletes.

Losing star hurler Aaron Nola to the draft last season led Mainieri to sign one of the best pitching classes in the country. While one hurler sat out the season injured, two others failed to live up to high expectations, and one left campus to sign at the deadline, Alex Lange produced, and was named the national Freshman Pitcher of the Year. LSU signee Cole McKay, a 6-5 righty out of Spring Branch, Texas, is not expected to make it to campus, projected to go in the top twenty picks of the draft.

College baseball fans have the upcoming College World Series to enjoy. Afterwards they can turn their attention to the Who Will Stay, Who Will Go game. The draft, and the money offered, will determine that game’s outcome—-and the collegiate baseball outlook for next year.

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