06/05/12 12:45 AM ET
Successful Drafts are product of sound process
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
That's the most important thing to remember as analysis of the First-Year Player Draft roars up to speed. We don't know whether Byron Buxton will turn into Justin Upton or Chris Lubanski. So much will happen to every player drafted between now and their "ETAs" in the Major Leagues, there's simply no way to know.
Some will get hurt. Some will just not develop. Some will become far more than anyone expected. The development curves of baseball players are unlike those in any other team sport.
So teams can make the best possible estimation, based on what their scouts tell them and what their analytics reveal. They can minimize their risk if they so desire, or they can maximize their potential reward if that's the top priority. But every one of these young men is a gamble. Some of those high-ceiling players will be only average players, and some of those high-floor players will become stars.
Here's the thing, though: Not only do we not know what they'll become, we really don't even know with much confidence what they are right now. That's hard to accept, but it's true. Sure, the vitals are indisputable. We can know heights and weights and 40-yard-dash times and high school or college stats. But even those numbers are of limited value in assessing players.
But before you think all is lost, that it's guesswork, there is one absolutely fair and reasonable way to measure any and every team's Draft: the process. It's always fairer to evaluate the decision than the outcome, and as we look at the players that the 30 teams select, we can judge the clubs on how came to those decisions.
And by that standard, there were some definite winners already on Monday. The Kansas City Royals, with a system rich in high-end hitting talent, drafted a polished pitcher who could get to the Majors quickly. The Washington Nationals, who have built a serious contender based largely on pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff, took a pitcher whose ability could well have made him "1-1" if he were healthy.
The Pittsburgh Pirates continued to move aggressively to draft pitchers with top ability but potentially daunting bonus demands, continuing to stock an organization that has a hard time competing for top talent on the free-agent market. And the Houston Astros, in dire need of any and all talent, went for the highest-upside player in the Draft and then took a potentially tough sign, but highly rated pitcher in the compensation round.
It's the reasoning we can assess. And in every case here, the reasoning was excellent. The Royals know they have a window, and they know it's coming soon. They've been amassing talent, waiting on it, building for a future that may finally arrive soon. Given the opportunity to add a pitcher, Kyle Zimmer, who could join that emerging core in the near future, they seized it.
"I think he's got the talent to pitch up here right now," Kansas City director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg said. "But he's got a lot of seasoning he's got to get through. My guess is his talent and his makeup will allow him to get here when he needs to, but I'd say within two or three years."
Washington, meanwhile, has its starters. The talent is in place for a run right now. Whether a pick arrives in three years or four is somewhat immaterial. Instead, the Nats stayed with their recent willingness to go hard after talent -- even talent with injury risks, which describes Lucas Giolito in a nutshell. Giolito could have been a candidate to go No. 1 overall if not for an elbow injury, but that didn't scare off Washington.
Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. But it's not a guess. It's not a flyer. It's a calculated risk based on a team's philosophy and its research. If Giolito never makes a pitch in a Washington uniform, that doesn't make it the wrong decision.
Pittsburgh likewise has a pattern. From Jameson Taillon to Gerrit Cole to 2012 pick Mark Appel, the Pirates have moved aggressively with a willingness to spend on their picks. The Bucs know that even big Draft bonuses are cheaper than big free-agent contracts, so they're willing to pursue a pitcher like Appel who was expected to go No. 1 or 2 overall.
"We don't know why [other teams] chose players over him; different teams have different interpretations of players," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. "Our worst-case scenario is the ninth pick next June [as compensation for not signing Appel]. Best-case scenario, he joins Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon and all the pitching in our system. I'm optimistic we have a legitimate shot to sign him."
And then there's Houston, defying all of the pre-Draft projections to take Carlos Correa, a player who caught several teams' fancy during pre-Draft workouts. The Astros trusted their eyes over all the buzz, passing on Appel and Byron Buxton to select Correa. Then they struck in the compensation round to take Lance McCullers Jr., a pitcher widely believed to have first-round talent but not sure to sign.
"We're very excited to add a player of Carlos' caliber," said scouting director Bobby Heck. "He profiles as a power-hitting middle-of-the-field guy, and to get that type of power at shortstop -- his work ethic, how he was brought up and the family environment he comes from, the student he is -- it's a great pick for us, as well as a great long-term investment for the Astros."
These guys are all investments, and that's the thing to remember. Some investments work out, and some bottom out. But if you maximize your chances at success, you've done all you can. Some teams did just that on Monday night.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.