On June 6-7, 2006, the most unique draft in professional sports returns. The MLB draft comes back, and for a Giant team that is very much looking at the future, having the #10 pick makes this date an ever important one for the future of the franchise. But why is the draft in baseball so different than most other sports?
Why It’s Different
The most obvious thing that sets the MLB draft apart from other sports is baseball’s deep and intricate farm system. In sports like basketball and football, people don’t just look for players to come into the pros and contribute immediately, they’re expected to. But in baseball, the learning curve is such that many players don’t get their first shots in the major leagues until 4 or 5 years after they are drafted. The long time for a payoff has many factors, from young pitchers being able to get by with one good pitch that won’t work alone in the majors to that young hitters are mostly experienced using only metal bats,.
The long development time also increases the risk of drafts not working out. Any draft is a risky business, but in baseball, anything from injuries to lost interest in the game can affect a player’s development. It also places an importance on having the right developmental system to teach young players.
The other very obvious difference is the length. Baseball’s draft is actually scheduled for 3 days, but it’s usually done in 2, like football’s draft. But where football has only 7 rounds, baseball’s draft is scheduled for 50 rounds. And although teams have up to 3 minutes to decide between picks, they rarely take that long and picks can come as often as 15 seconds apart. Over 1500 players end up being drafted on in each draft, and that’s a lot of work.
That leads to the next difference, that being that players can be drafted in baseball, but can choose to return to school if they so choose or not sign at all if they don’t like an offered deal, effectively costing the team that drafted them a draft pick. This happens fairly often, including to the Dodgers, who lost their #40 pick overall last year by selecting pitcher Luke Hochevar, who wanted more money than he was offered. Hochevar sat out the year, playing for an indy league team, and will be up to be drafted again this year.
What this means is that signability is a concern. Signability has become a dirty word among a lot of fans, and has generally become another way to say ‘cheap’, but it’s an important concern. If a team takes a player who wants more than they’re willing to pay, or someone deadest on playing college baseball, there are no do-overs. Sometimes, this leads to some late round gems (such as 2002’s Travis Ishikawa, who slipped from signability concerns but who Brian Sabean lured away from school with a then-record signing bonus). But in costs of draft picks, for nothing, it can also really cost a team.
One large misconception about the draft is that picks can be traded. That is not true, but teams can lose picks to other teams for signing certain free agents in the preceding offseason.
What To Expect From The Giants
The Giants drafting strategy has become quite misunderstood the past couple of years. A confusing move, signing outfielder Michael Tucker before the free agent arbitration deadline, was intentionally made to give away the Giants’ 2004 first round draft pick, a move General Manager Brian Sabean was a cost-cutting move so he could focus on signing major league talent. This was quickly derided around baseball and by Giant fans as cheapness, and has yet to be forgiven. 2005 ended up with the Giants losing their first 3 draft picks and not picking until the 4th round, a record setting event, only reinforcing the belief that Sabean hated the draft.
This is still a bit of a misconception. The moves made in 2004 and 2005 were made to focus on winning with the major league team. The 2005 picks that were lost came from signing top free agents Omar Vizquel, Mike Matheny and Armando Benitez, 3 players whose immediate big league value shouldn’t be debated much. If Sabean had waited to see if these players would be available later in the offseason when they might not have cost compensatory picks (which was no guarantee), they could’ve been left out in the cold on free agents and searching for scraps.
The truth is that Sabean, who was in charge of scouting with the New York Yankees in the early 90’s, picking and signing many of the players behind the Yankees’ run in the late 90’s and beyond, is not allergic to the draft, but he doesn’t swear by it either. He was not afraid to collect three first round picks in 2001, nor use an unthinkable amount of money in 2002 to sign Ishikawa when other teams had given up on him.
So what can Giant fans expect in 2006? Well, overall, expect the Giants to stay away from the big risks, or players who will demand an obscene amount of money (such as Boras clients like Hochevar, who won’t sign for less than $4 million). Also expect the players to lean towards ‘safe’ players, players who are likely to become major leaguers, but don’t have the huge upside some other players might have (but they also have risks which might mean they won’t reach the bigs at all).
But that doesn’t mean the Giants are going to go for a lesser talent. General Brian Sabean used two of the draft buzzwords in a recent statement, saying "We're comfortable we'll get a real good pick, with talent first, and not worry about signability." That may or may not sooth fears of a safe but lesser pick, and it may indicate that the Giants are looking ahead, when they will have a lot more payroll space free to spend with.
One strategy that will likely be repeated with the early picks that might upset some is that the Giants are looking like they’ll go with pitching with the first pick. This year, however, that’s not some grand design, that’s just the way the draft is this year. "Quite frankly, there doesn't seem to be as many impact players available as pitchers," said Sabean. Unless Long Beach State third baseman Evan Longoria fall to #10 (and it’s highly doubtful he’d even fall to #4), there are no position players that wouldn’t be very risky pick, if not an overdraft entirely at #10. The Giants had seemed to push back their priority on pitching the past two years, picking three straight outfielders in 2004 and an outfielder first also in 2005. But in 2006, if they are going to get the best player available, it will be a pitcher.
Who Will They Draft?
Here’s five players that have been connected with the Giants for the draft this year. It’s very likely they will take one of these five.
Daniel Bard, RHP, JR., UNC
Before the season, Bard was thought to be in direct competition with his teammate Andrew Miller for being the top pick in the draft. A few months later, an inconsistent season has his stock dropping quickly. Bard’s once impressive stuff that had touched 98 a year ago has been low 90’s all season. That has been matched with inconsistent performances all spring. But his fastball curveball combo remains very impressive. The question is, was his junior year (his second straight with inconsistency) just a young kid still learning how to pitch, or will his control problems plague him as a pro? Or worse, does his drop in velocity and loss of command signal a hidden injury? Few pitchers have the upside of Bard, but there are also few pitchers with as many warning signs of future problems. Bard has been connected to the Giants in mock drafts on both MinorLeagueBaseball’s official site and on BaseballAmerica.com, but he could be off the boards before the Giants pick.
Kyle Drabek, RHP/SS, HS Sr., The Woodlands HS, Texas
To put it simply, there is no high school player with the upside of Drabek. There may not be any single player in the entire draft who matches his upside. That’s not in dispute. However, heavily reported ‘makeup concerns,’ of which the media has not been comfortable publishing, has Drabek not even being considered by the top teams, and dropping possibly far into the first round. Kyle is the son of former big leaguer Doug Drabek, the Cy Young winner with the Pirates, and on the mound, he’s shown better natural tools than his father. His fastball is 94-95, and can go higher. But it’s his curveball, a slow spike that clocks in the low 80’s, that has teams wowed. He also has a slider and changeup that are still developing. Basically, as an 18 year old, he’s got more and better pitches than many 22 year olds in the minors. He is also quite possibly the best high school hitter in the draft, but the mound will be what makes his career. Don’t be fooled, there is a lot or risk in taking Drabek. His makeup on and off the field will always be an issue, and the Giants have shown a habit of drafting players that have a good makeup. But several publications have linked the Giants to Drabek, saying that they are very interested in him. For that matter, if there’s any team who knows how to handle a difficult second generation major leaguer, it’s San Francisco. If they take Drabek, the people who criticize the Giants for not taking risks in hopes of finding great talent. in the draft will have nothing to complain about.
Chris Marrero, 3B, HS Sr., Monsignor Pace HS, Florida
Marrero came into the 2006 high school season as the high school position player with the highest expectations, and he ended up not being the best performer on his own team. Even so, it’s hard to not like a young third baseman with five strong tools. He can play excellent defense, and hits with pure power in all directions. While some people may see him turning into a left fielder or first baseman, he could also be a third baseman long term, and that is a position the Giants have some serious need in. He also ranks a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale on power, and power is also a big need in the Giants system. While most think that Marerro, with his off year, might be an overdraft at #10 overall, it’s not impossible the Giants will take a chance on a young player of this caliber. The Giants have been reportedly very interested in third basemen, and Marerro has the highest ceiling of any in college or high school.
Matt Antonelli, 3B, JR, Wake Forest
From the high upside to the safe pick. Antonelli has moved up the draft boards, but does not have as high a ceiling as many others, but he’s a player with a very projectable talent and has little risk. His 2006 season has shown a strong improvement in power, which has helped his stock. However, he is still more of an athlete than a third baseman, and a move to the outfield or second base is very possible. There’s more a question of his power in his ability to stick as a third baseman than his ability to learn to play. But he has an excellent batting eye and plate discipline, and can punish mistakes. He also has good speed for a third baseman. If the Giants draft Antonelli, they will get a good top of the order hitter who might develop the power to be a 3 spot hitter who will very likely be a good major leaguer someday. But he would also not be an awe-inspiring talent many Giant fans want to see this year out of the draft.
Reynolds is the opposite of Bard, instead of starting his college career strong and having trouble more recently, he entered Stanford with high expectations, and has only begun fulfilling them this year. Reynolds is a fastball artist, working equally well with a 2 seam fastball in the high 80’s and a 4 seam fastball in the low 90’s. He also has a solid curveball and change up to work with, and excellent fastball control for a player his age and size. At 6’7, he has the height to work with and seems to be getting stronger. In a 9 inning start, he pumped his fastball up to 94 in the 9th inning. No one has climbed up draft boards quicker than Reynolds this season, but there are still concerns that this is just one great year and that will lead to an overdraft. There were also concerns before this year that he wasn’t aggressive enough, but he’s shown a newfound killer instinct on the mound, and appears to have learned not just how to pitch, but how to use his fastballs to work off each other. He has the best natural build of any right handed college pitcher in the draft, and that could get him picked in the Top 10 overall. But if he’s on the board at 10, it will be hard to pass up the local prospect from Pacifica.
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