Despite what Billy Beane wrote in Moneyball way back in 2009, scouts are important. Players do not just materialize out of thin air. There are no open tryouts from which a 25 man roster is selected. Scouts scour the world for talent and, with some luck and an unimaginable amount of hard work, some of that talent rises to become the best players in the big leagues.
Scouting is valuable. Scouts dug up Miguel Cabrera and scouts insisted that drafting Mike Trout was a good idea. No matter how much results vary (thanks in no small part to the benevolence baseball Gods), scouts make the game go ’round. It is a really tough gig, as the differences between “star in high school” and “washed out in A-ball” are nearly imperceptible.
Scouting in real time is hard. Scouting after the fact? Easy as pie!
The Los Angeles Angels selected Mike Trout with the 25th pick in the 2009 amateur draft. Which means 24 other players were selected ahead of Trout, the man some consider the best player in baseball. A high school senior playing “cold weather” baseball is not the most attractive type of player at draft time. The native of New Jersey faced all the same challenges of players from the Northeast encounter: the shorter season and weaker competition makes evaluation tough for high school position players.
So Trout slipped. He slipped below the well-heeled starlets at the top of the first round like Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler and below “high floor” college players like Dustin Ackley. He slipped below “tough signs” like Matt Purke and very good looking pitchers like Shelby Miller.
Then the Angels were ready to pick. LAA had back-to-back selections as compensation for losing Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez to free agency. The Angels zeroed in on two high school outfielders. They took Randal Grichuk first and Mike Trout next.
2009 Rule IV Draft – First Round
Randal Grichuk just finished his first full season in High-A. Mike Trout is a MVP finalist. The draft isn’t always a straight meritocracy when “signability” looms but it is as close as you get in the sporting arena. Yet 23 teams passed over the best player in the game.
Teams have different priorities when they build their draft board. Nobody likes to whiff completely on a pick but some teams can afford to take high ceiling projects while others prefer the safety of known commodities. Picking and choosing among high ceiling athlete-type players is incredibly difficult. There is so much projection that smells an awful lot like guesswork. So many intangibles enter into the equation – not to mention unforeseens and unknowables.
Under Alex Anthopoulos, the Toronto Blue Jays built one of the best minor league systems in baseball, thanks to the work of the innumerable new scouts he added to the Jays staff. Before AA and his regime came in, the Jays draft record was spotty – just like every team.
The 2007 draft saw the Jays loaded with multiple first round and supplemental round picks. J.P. Ricciardi and his staff put in their work and made the below picks.
2007 Blue Jays Rule IV Draft Picks
Two high school players and a three college players in the first two rounds. The college players worked out best, as J.P. Arencibia is an every day catcher and Brett Cecil gave the Jays some mixed work as a starter before converting to relief. The two high school upstarts did what most high school players do: they fizzled on their way through the minor league grinder, never (not yet, anyway) making it past Double-A.
The highlighted picks stop at number 56 overall for a reason: the Florida Marlins picked their own high school project late in the second round. With the 76th overall pick, the Marlins selected a raw kid from California with a “great body and raw power” though he featured “not much feel for the game. Raw plus power only at this time.” That player (and his scouting report) turned into Giancarlo Stanton, as you might assume.
The Blue Jays and every other team in baseball would love a do-over on their 2007 draft pick or their 2009 draft pick. Once we get outside the top five picks, most years turn into a complete crapshoot.
Players that develop into superstars are already outliers – they ran the gauntlet of the minor leagues and distractions and injury so to allow their talent to carry them to the highest echelons of the game.
There is no formula unless you have pick 1.1 and the answer is clear. Teams can only put their work in and hope they made the right decision.
Which isn’t to suggest misses like Trout and Stanton don’t keep talent evaluators up at night. Draft day decisions haunt careers and allow doubt to creep into the mind. “We missed on Player X, let’s not do it again on Player Y.” A tough racket indeed. One made much easier with the added bonus of hindsight.