The latter is the focus of what has to be a first-of-a-kind initiative.
Via a contest called "One for the Birds", the Cardinals are offering a set of prizes to the fan who offers up the "most compelling argument" in favor of a small college amateur player. In turn, the organization hopes to select that player in this June's First-Year Player Draft.
The contest runs until April 1 and the winner will receive two tickets to a pair of Cardinals 2008 regular season weekend games at Busch Stadium, airfare for two, hotel and a merchandise package, not to mention the renown that may come with such a unique recognition.
I caught up with Cardinals Senior Quantitative Analyst Sig Mejdal, who agreed to answer questions about the organization's thinking behind the contest.
Sig, whose idea was this contest and how did it originate?
It was originally my idea, but (Director of College Scouting) Dan Kantrovitz and (Director of Baseball Development) Mike Girsch helped shape it. The idea came from work that the three of us did to identify top NAIA, D2 and D3 players. We were able to identify a few guys that would not have been on our radar in only a couple afternoons of work. Nothing we did was extremely difficult and so it was impossible not to imagine how many more players we could identify if we were to leverage the energies and thoughtfulness of interested baseball fans.
When was it hatched?
The idea of having a contest like this came about a year and a half ago.
How much resistance did you meet from Cardinals staff? Lawyers? MLB?
There was no resistance at all. It was certainly an unusual idea, but the organization has been completely encouraging. Some in fact, are quite excited about what may come of this. The lawyers were all for it too. There were of course a few iterations of the rules and wording that went between our lawyers and the MLB lawyers. When we got agreement amongst everyone, we went live with it.
Have other clubs commented? Do any of them offer anything similar?
I haven't heard anything from other clubs and I don't know of any of them doing anything similar. I would guess that none of them are doing this.
Some might consider this a slight to traditional scouts. Did you fear a backlash and has there been any negative reaction?
The goal of this is to identify players that might be "under the scouts radar" for whatever reason. We plan on sharing the most interesting of these players with our scouts. If there schedule allows, then they will be able to evaluate them. We aren't going to draft a player without taking advantage of our scouts' skills.
This isn't replacing the work and value of the scouts; it is just trying to point to some players that they may not have planned on seeing. We are literally all on the same team, and if we can generate some quality leads for them that can ultimately help our organization, I would expect them to be interested. The scouts I have talked to have been positive about it.
Does each submission have to be by individual or can people to work together to come up with a player nomination?
In the 2007 draft, by one count, the Cards selected about 13 players from small schools eligible for this contest. Are you looking to increase that roughly 25% take, and if so, by how much?
Not necessarily. Our hopes are to identify and draft at least one player who we would not have known about; to leverage the fans' thoughtfulness and interest in order to improve our draft. We never have a quota on how many players we draft from D1 or smaller schools or whatever. We just take the best talent available and let the final percentages fall where they may.
Does the existence of this contest signify additional interest by the Cardinals in small college players? Did early performances of such guys as Riportella, Gregerson, Shorey, Rauschenberger, Dickson, Broderick, Cruz, Vera, Kinney, influence the decision?
I think the Cardinals have interest in talented players who are likely to have successful professional careers. If there is an opportunity to find those players in small colleges, I think it is safe to say, that we will look there.
As far as influencing the decision, those players' performances didn't really play a part. Like I said, it came from some work we did on an earlier draft and the success we had in identifying players that our scouts ended up having interest in. Now, we had no resistance from those in baseball operations, so perhaps the success of the players you mention did play a part in others' minds.
Why exclude high school players? Would this potentially provide too many nominees or is there some other reason?
We are interested in using all the information available to best paint a picture of the player before we give the scout the opportunity to see the player. That information includes the player's on-field performance. As you know, the high school numbers don't contain as much predictive information as the performance of college players and so our picture of them, in general, is not as complete as that of an older player might be.
What is the size of the universe of small colleges with baseball programs? In other words, how many eligible schools and players are out there across America?
I don't have an exact total but I know there are a few hundred D2, D3 and NAIA colleges with baseball programs. Your guess is as good as mine as far as how many junior colleges have baseball programs. You can imagine though, that this is a significant universe.
Players who rack up strong numbers or who play for well-known small college programs seem likely to become known to scouts. Does this contest hope to identify athletes who have had injuries or fallen out with coaches (and not gotten playing time)?
That could be a couple reasons that they are "under the radar." I could better answer this after the contest.
What if a discovered guy is signed after the draft as an undrafted free agent? Would he still qualify as a contest-eligible referral?
Our intent is to draft at least one of the players that we get the initial lead from our fans. We should be able to do that. Our lawyers had us specify that in case we don't draft one, that the winner is the one that had the biggest influence on a player – although we didn't end up drafting him. There is always the chance of that, but I am confident that the winner will come from a player that we actually draft and that we attribute the fans input to be the most valuable.
How many nominations would you consider a success?
I don't know. If this effort were to identify (within a reasonable amount of effort on our part) a single player for our organization, then I would consider it a success. I really don't know the amount or quality of the nominations that we are going to get in order to identify a player for us, so it's hard to answer that one. I can't wait to find out though.
What will determine if there will be a second year of this contest?
Really, it will be a cost benefit analysis. We don't know the cost (in time) that this will be for us, nor the benefit we can garner from this. We have guesses, but we really don't know. Only one way to find out, though…
To learn more about the "One for the Birds" contest, click on this link.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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