Man Your Battlestations: MLB Scouts Plot Draft Strategy
What’s the Latest?
Tonight is the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft and Tony Blengino, a former executive who worked for both the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners organizations, has a fascinating post up at Fangraphs detailing life in the draft room. Even though the draft typically takes place in early-to-mid June, team employees have been occupying their respective draft rooms since mid-May. Scouts spend up to 20 hours a day in these war rooms compiling and analyzing data in order to build the best possible strategy heading into draft day.
The MLB draft consists of 40 rounds of thirty picks by thirty teams (plus a few other bonus picks sprinkled in). That means draft room dwellers are tasked with ranking over a thousand players. Big draft boards are assembled. Scouting reports are finalized. Cases for favorite players and against not-so-favorite others are made. As an organization’s future hinges on picking the right players, the weeks leading up to the event include a lot of long hours and a whole lot of stressed team employees.
What’s the Big Idea?
Some international readers may not be entirely familiar with the sports draft process. Unlike club soccer (or football, to most folks who aren’t ignorant Americans like me), sports leagues such as the NFL and MLB do not have the ability to directly sign young domestic talent. A draft is held in the spirit of competitive balance (or in the spirit of billionaire owners imposing bonus restrictions on top talent) and each team takes its turn picking names off the big board.
Many of the players picked in the first round are generally considered blue-chippers by most teams’ scouting departments. It’s in the later rounds where scouts earn their bonus money. Future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round (402nd overall) of the 1999 draft. The great catcher Mike Piazza was famously drafted in a round that doesn’t even exist anymore, the 62nd (1,389 players were picked before him). Finding these sorts of diamonds in the rough is no easy feat considering the vastness of North American amateur baseball. That MLB draftees tend to spend several years in a team’s farm system adds an additional wrinkle to the difficulty of projecting a ballplayer’s future potential.
Blengino’s article, linked again at the bottom of this post, explains various draft strategies and the ideas both big and small that go into deciding which players to select and when. It’s a rather fascinating phenomenon, especially where the philosophies of old-school baseball scouting merge with the new-school emphases on data and statistics. Front offices are always on the lookout for new ideas that may offer them an advantage in such a massive, momentous event.
The 2014 Major League Baseball amateur draft airs tonight at 7 p.m. EST on the MLB Network. It will also be live-streamed on MLB.com.
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