Understanding the Major League Baseball Draft From WhatIfSports.com image

Doing Our Homework on the MLB Draft

Jim Bowden explains the ins and outs of MLB's Draft
By Ryan Fowler, WhatIfSports.com
June 9th, 2010

On the Clock

MLB Draft What have you done for me 5 minutes ago?

Americans thrive on instant gratification.

We still want our pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, our coffee to hit the bottom of our cups in 60 seconds and oil changed in 15 minutes or it's free. Our technology has evolved to the point where we can demand movies to play on our television on our watch. We crave news to break right in front of our eyes and if that can't be arranged, once news does break, to have the information instantly beamed to our desktop or smart phone. Call waiting should be outlawed because nobody wants to wait any longer.

In fact, that analogy was far from instant, so I'll get to the point. The Major League Baseball Draft has 50 rounds and over 1500 picks packaged over a three day period.

Insert AOL dial-up tone here.

Instantly, I get lost in the minutiae of the Tampa Bay Rays 2007, 37th round pick out of Molasses, Kansas. Unlike the NFL and NBA draft, packaging the MLB's amateur draft isn't easily accomplished when constantly appealing to an audience who is constantly asking, "What have you done for me 5 minutes ago?"

Except in the South and out West, college baseball's popularity falls somewhere between golf and MLS; even then I may be doling out too much credit. We do not identify with these sandlot heroes. The ping of their bats do not resonate inside our baseball world because outside the NCAA World Series, the television exposure is still limited. At the end of the day, the game is not the same.

Strike one against the MLB Draft.

Holding the Draft in the middle of the baseball season is tough to justify. Baseball fans have the winter hot stove to keep them warm, but three solid Draft days in November could turn the hot stove into an elementary school kiln (remember the oven where your crappy clay projects baked before you presented them over to your mom and dad for display). An in-season Draft is information overload (see: 50 rounds) for baseball fans to consume, all while stressing which pitcher or slugger their team needs to acquire before the deadline to have a shot at the wild card. The instant gratifciation begins at 7 p.m. that night; not waiting until 2014 to see Pitcher X throw a simulated game at Triple-A Toledo.

Stirke two against the MLB Draft.

"The average good major league player takes three to four years to get to the big leagues," former MLB general manager Jim Bowden said. "That's a good player."

Strike three against the MLB Draft.

"The difference between the NFL and NBA is that in the NFL and NBA, these guys are jumping right into the pros and they are performing at a high level right now," Bowden said.

I'll reiterate: right now. Cue up Van Halen.

Must See TV

MLB Draft The Draft was conducted by conference call in 2005. The 2010 Draft was on MLB Network.

However, Bowden believes baseball is on the brink of accelerating the leisurely pace the sport's draftees and young stars take while moving up to the big leagues. Baseball fans are currently embracing these phenoms during the 2010 season, possibly without knowing what an anomaly it is.

"I think Mike Leake and Stephen Strasburg getting to the big leagues so quick along with Justin Smoak and Ike Davis is going to help the sport," Bowden said. "Because fans are witnessing how much quicker players are getting to the big leagues than they used to."

In turn, an organization earns a faster return on their initial investment and the team's fan base builds an identity with their young star sooner.

So, the instant gratification between fan and baseball draftee may be growing in the seasons to come as more young players avoid the minor league quagmire and hit the big leagues faster. But the appeal of tuning in to the MLB Draft in June is still far from the NFL and NBA extravaganzas created by the buzz of the fans. Bowden disagrees.

"I think Major League Baseball has come along way," Bowden said of the Draft's television exposure. "We televised it last year. MLB.com continues to grow. ESPN and Fox Sports are covering it more than they ever have before. We are headed in {the direction of the NFL and NBA draft coverage}."

Though it might currently be living in the primetime shadows of the NFL and NBA Drafts, Bowden says the Draft, the trade deadline, the GM and winter meetings are the four most important dates of the baseball season.

"The misnomer in the game is that people think the general manager is out there scouting and evaluating all the players in the Draft," Bowden said. "That's a misconception. There are some general managers that don't go and see any players. I would say most GMs go and see their first round pick."

The bulk of the MLB Draft is run by a team's scouting director. They are in charge of scouting supervisors, national cross-checkers and regional cross-checkers. This is the crew that spends their time scouting and collecting as much data on the available draftees as possible.

"The scouting directors try to get as many opinions as you can to make the right decision," Bowden said. "For the most part scouting directors are making the call with the approval of the GM and, at times, the president and owners."

The "War Rooms", as they are often affectionately referred to, are highly organized beehives of activity.

"If you have 400 players, you rank all the players 1-400," Bowden said. "You rank by position, signability, medical background, make-up, character, their hitting, fastball, speed. You verify the list with your supervisors and cross-checkers. When draft day comes, you take the best available player on your list."

In his experience, Bowden says using any early draft picks on a high school standout is a risk with little reward.

"Historically, the worst gamble in the first round has been high school pitchers," Bowden said. "There are exceptions like Clayton Kershaw. You can see high school pitchers throwing 93-95 miles per hour with a great curveball. After you draft them, three years later, they are throwing 87-88 mph with a flat breaking ball. What you see isn't necessarily what you get."

Then again, if you are a general manager blessed with patience, a diamond gem may find his way to your organization four years down the road.

"The one thing about the human body is that it changes the most from 18-21 years-old," Bowden said. "Stephen Strasburg doesn't get drafted out of high school. He goes to college and then becomes the number one draft pick."

Speaking of Strasburg, if you missed his big league debut on Tuesday, I'm sure if you flip on your television, you can enjoy a replay.

After all, the game will be an instant classic.

Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at rfowler@whatifsports.com.

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