The Rule IV major league baseball draft used to be an afterthought, so it’s nice to see the process gaining more notoriety. One reason for the increased level of interest has been the proliferation of amateur baseball coverage. Once the exclusive domain of outlets like Baseball America, the field now includes a variety of respected observes, including Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein and countless others who specialize in keeping tabs on draft day prospects.
Because more fans now have at least a cursory knowledge of the players being selected, it’s only natural that more attention would be paid to the draft. Sometimes, however, a small amount of knowledge can be even worse than ignorance.
As much as baseball would like to have its draft attain the same level of recognition as the NBA’s and NFL’s events, there are too many obstacles to overcome. For starters, even though more fans have heard of the names being chosen, very few have ever seen them play. What’s more, even the very best prospects are still ticketed for at least a year or two in the minors, which dilutes the event’s impact. Finally, unlike the NBA and NFL, actual games are being played at the same time, so when faced with watching their team or the draft, most fans probably opt for the former.
For all the reasons cited above, the baseball draft is really a different animal. However, that hasn’t stopped many from reacting to various selections in a similar manner to followers in the other sports. The Yankees’ selection of Dante Bichette Jr. with the 51st pick in last night’s supplementary round is a perfect example.
When it finally came time for the Yankees to make their first pick of the night, most people were expecting, or hoping, the team would take one of the more high profile names, like Josh Bell and Daniel Norris, who had fallen into their lap. However, when the relatively unknown Dante Bichette Jr. was announced, the initial reaction was disappointment followed by anger. With certitude, so many people who had never even heard of Bichette were now convinced the Yankees had made a poor selection.
At the crux of the initial reaction was Bichette’s absence from all the major scouting services’ top rankings. Although Baseball America’s scouting report skewed positive, others like Keith Law warned about flaws in his swing, but overall, the main consensus seemed to be that much less was known about him than the several others ranked ahead. Apparently, unfamiliarity breeds contempt?
With all due respect to the likes of Law, Goldstein, Jonathan Mayo, Jim Callis and the various others who do a great job covering the amateur game, baseball draft watchers do not have the same level of authority as the Mel Kipers of the NFL and NBA worlds. Although many will take that as a provocative statement, it isn’t meant as a relative assessment. Rather, it’s a commentary about the subject matter these analysts are endeavoring to cover.
In the 2011 NFL draft, 255 players were selected. In the 2010 NBA draft, 60 players were picked. This year’s MLB draft will include over 1,500 amateur prospects. Even if analysts had the benefit of seeing these players compete regularly in high profile conference competition, getting a handle on all of them would still be a daunting task. Unlike in the NFL and NBA, however, those who cover amateur baseball players don’t have that luxury. Instead, they are forced to rely on word of mouth and the limited scouting trips that their bandwidth will allow. As a result, a pretty strong consensus can be formed about the very best players in the baseball draft, but relatively little is known about the vast majority of the remaining eligible players.
Making matters even more difficult for those who scout amateur baseball is the universally accepted notion that assessing talent in the sport is much more difficult than in any other. That’s why so many top draft picks wind up contributing very little in the majors, if they even make it at all. So, when you start with a relative crapshoot and then extend the odds by increasing the sample population, it’s easy to see why “expert” is such a loose term when it comes to the major league baseball draft.
So, does that mean Dante Bichette Jr. is actually a good draft selection? The only honest answer is time will tell. Presumably, Yankees’ scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and his team have done all the necessary due diligence to support the pick. Considering they have likely seen Bichette play much more than those offering casual opinions, a certain benefit of the doubt seems to be owed. Otherwise, what critics of the pick are really doing is calling into question Oppenheimer’s ability as a scouting director.