June 7, 2011

The lameness of the MLB draft

by Dan Bilicki In: Baseball

Is there anything less built up or exciting in sports than the MLB draft? There’s very little hype, it happens during the season and if you’ve heard of more than four or five guys that get drafted, chances are you’re either a scout or involved in a seriously deep fantasy league.

This is nothing like any other sport. In NBA, there’s a lottery, workouts and a ton of hype leading up the draft. Heck, it’s one of the main storylines for potential picks in the NCAA tournaments – how their play will translate in the bigs. In the NFL, they’ve now blown out their draft into a three-day marathon of coverage, including putting Round 1 in prime time on a Thursday night.

Major League Baseball’s first and second rounds were held on a Monday night, at the same time as a NHL Stanley Cup final game and while many baseball teams were in action. Way to attract attention to your draft and your heroes of the future.

But then again, in baseball unlike the other sports, the chance of drafting a bust is incredibly high. Remember, half of the guys taken in the first round are kids coming out of high school. How can you possibly project a 17-year-old pitcher out into a pro? Who knows if he’ll develop facial hair, let alone a curveball.

There’s also very little instant gratification with MLB draft picks. In the NBA and NFL, guys taken near the top of the draft aren’t just expected to make the team, they’re expected to start and make an impact or risk being labelled busts. In baseball, guys take two or three years to make it to the bigs.

Finally, when was the last time that an NBA or NFL player was drafted or not drafted strictly because of their signability? Because there’s no rookie scale or salary or bonus limits in baseball, a kid from high school can demand an outrageous amount of money from the team that drafts him and there’s not really any risk for him. Worst-case scenario, he goes to pick for a college team and then re-enters the draft next year. Picks can even hold teams hostage if they don’t feel like playing for a certain franchise.

The worst part about this is that there are very few fixes to make the draft better. Adding a rookie pay scale and using slotted salaries and bonuses would be one, but there’s little else. It’s kind of pointless to run more features on picks because who knows if they’ll work out and the average person wouldn’t read them. And because of the developmental systems, we might never see a kid make the leap directly to the bigs. If Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper couldn’t do it, no one can.

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