(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, seen here)
Every year, over one thousand young players see their lifelong dreams become a reality when their name is called in Major League Baseball’s June draft. High school, college, and international players pour their entire beings into their craft for this one moment that can lead to a lifetime of memories and success as a professional baseball player. The days preceding the draft are filled with palpable anticipation and anxiety from the amateur players and their families, as the next 20 years of their lives may be dictated by the team that selects them.
I think we should make them wait just a bit longer.
In reality, hosting the first-year player draft in early June is a rather inopportune time for many potential draftees. Nearly every player being considered as a potential draftee is undoubtedly aware of their potential selection well before the draft, as interviews, personality tests, radar guns, and video cameras follow them for months on end. The anticipation swells as draft day draws near, but the thoughts of what the day may bring inhabits the minds of these prospects for months.
The draft typically coincides with NCAA regionals and super regionals, leaving players to experience the peak of their draft anxiety during the most important games of their young careers. The last thing these student-athletes need while competing in the most dramatic and intense games amateur baseball has to offer is to think of all the professional and financial ramifications that come with being drafted. Aside from the pressure that comes with the NCAA postseason and the large role these prospects play in helping their team win a championship, many players assume their performance in these games will substantially affect their draft stock, even if this largely is not true.
If the draft was to be pushed back until after the College World Series is complete, players may not be the only ones who benefit. It’s no secret that one week a hitter might look like Babe Ruth and the next he looks like he’s hitting from the wrong side of the plate. This fickle nature of baseball makes scouting and projecting players one of the most difficult tasks in professional sports.
Hosting a combine similar to other sports, like football, would make life easier on scouts and front offices by allowing them to evaluate players in a more controlled environment. Scrimmages would certainly be included at the combine to showcase the in-game ability of the players, but batting practice, bullpens, defensive work, and speed evaluation allows scouts to break down the raw tools of the athletes. Even including uniform strength tests could serve in gauging the overall identity of the prospect. While hosting players for personal workouts has been a very common practice in professional baseball, bringing all of the top players together at one time would allow them to showcase their skills against the best talent their class has to offer.
As raw data and metrics have taken over the sport, truly judging a player’s talent is not complete simply with just the “eye test.” Organizations now look factors such as spin rate from pitchers and exit velocity from hitters as critical elements in evaluating the overall value of a prospect. As a result, every MLB stadium is now stocked with tracking technology to help front offices make the most informed personnel decisions as possible. Today, simply showing up to a game with a radar gun, a stopwatch, and a clipboard does not fully equip a scout in finding the best players, yet that’s often the case when scouts arrive at college games. A player combine would allow organizations to use their cutting edge technology and detailed information to evaluate the players they’re relying on to be the superstars of the future.
Players from smaller schools that don’t get to play in the most competitive leagues may see the biggest boost in their draft stock from a player combine. Playing at lower levels of competition leaves scouts questioning the validity of the stats these players put up as well as the likelihood of their success continuing once they reach the professional level. Giving the opportunity to face off against the best of the ACC, SEC, and other power conferences have to offer would help these players from smaller schools prove their worth as well help scouts see their full potential. Instead of staying away from players due to an unproven track record, teams will now be able to have a clearer view of the best players in the class, regardless of where they come from.
Ideally, this event could take place in early August, then have the draft follow a week later. This would allow players that go deep into the NCAA postseason have an opportunity to reset and prepare for the combine so they can perform at their peak level. Moreover, many players are battling through an injury of some sort by season’s end and giving these prospects a respite before their professional careers begin would reduce the possibility of lingering injuries. Organizations can also take some time to examine everything they saw and measured from these prospects and make the most informed decision possible.
Obviously, pushing the draft this far back would effectively end short-season rookie ball leagues where many draftees initially start out. A remedy to this loss would be to start more leagues like the Arizona Fall League that begin in September and run into early December. Players would not only get to play close to 100 games in their first year, but teams can entirely focus on these games once the MLB postseason concludes. The games may be hosted in warm-weather states like Florida and Arizona, even using the spring training and minor league facilities that already exist.
With more information available and less stress on the prospects, moving the draft back and including a combine makes sense for both the teams and players. Organizations will have a better idea exactly how a potential draftee will fit in their system and players will have shown off all the tools they possess once draft day arrives, giving Major League Baseball a more efficient and prudent draft.