The Urena Express: 6/30/21

Steven Urena

By Steven Urena

I’m not going to bore you with who I think are the best prospects. A simple google search will give you what you need to know. If you want to take a quick glance at who ESPN thinks will go in the Top 10, I listed them below. Let me give you a hint, the hitters hit bombs, and the pitchers throw cheddar.

  1. Pirates: Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake HS (California)
  2. Rangers: Henry Davis, C, Louisville
  3. Tigers: Brady House, SS, Winder-Barrow HS (Georgia)
  4. Red Sox: Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
  5. Orioles: Kahlil Watson, SS, Wake Forest HS (North Carolina)
  6. Diamondbacks: Jordan Lawlar, SS, Jesuit HS (Texas)
  7. Royals: Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
  8. Rockies: Benny Montgomery, CF, Red Land HS (Pennsylvania)
  9. Angels: Jackson Jobe, RHP, Heritage Hall HS (Oklahoma)
  10. Mets: Matt McLain, 2B, UCLA

 Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

 The MLB draft is one of the biggest crapshoots in sports. Clubs dump millions of dollars on kids hoping that a few of them can make it to the show one day. In 2019, the average team spent almost 9 million dollars to sign their draft picks! 

About 1,200 players are drafted a year. Of the 1,200 drafted, 900 usually sign. Over 700 of the players signed will NOT make it to the show. Typically, the odds of a drafted player making it to the major leagues from a draft class is just over 17%. That’s just players who spend time in the Show and not players who have a career. 

Below are a few of the Dodgers’ best players and their draft information. 

Clayton Kershaw: Dodgers, 2006, 1st Round, 7th overall
Walker Buehler: Dodgers, 2015, 1st Round, 25th overall
Trevor Bauer: Diamondbacks, 2011, 1st Round, 3rd overall
Cody Bellinger: Dodgers, 2013, 4th Round, 124th overall
Justin Turner: Reds, 2007, 7th Round, 204th overall
Corey Seager: Dodgers, 2012, 1st Round, 18th overall
Max Muncy: A’s, 2012, 5th Round, 169th overall
Mookie Betts: Red Sox, 2011, 5th Round, 172 overall
Will Smith: Dodgers, 2016, 1st Round, 32nd overall 

Five of the nine players are college picks. The others signed out of high school. Only Seager and Betts were drafted in the same year but by different teams. Five of the nine are first rounders. Turner is the only player on the list that was drafted after the fifth round. Five of the nine players were drafted by the Dodgers. One can see that big leaguers come from all walks of life. This further proves how hard it is to become an everyday big leaguer.

First rounders usually make it to the show. Keep in mind, their club is spending a lot of money just to sign them. In 2020, the first pick (Spencer Torkleson, Tigers) signed for 8.4 million and the last first rounder (Bobby Miller, Dodgers) signed for 2.2 million.

Early rounders will have way more opportunities to make it than late rounders (deservedly so, of course). Just about 75% of first rounders make it to the show. Players drafted after the 10th round usually have a less than 10% chance of making it to the majors. Stay in school kids!!!

Let’s not forget about international players. Over 28% of Major League players were not born in the USA. International players are usually signed at a bargain. Fernando Tatis Jr. signed for $700,000. Ronald Acuna Jr. signed for $100,000. Juan Soto signed for 1.5 million (if he was in the states he would have easily doubled that amount). The hungry and determined international players definitely make it harder for USA born players to crack big league rosters.

There’s something about the draft process that intrigues me. That’s what compelled me to read Moneyball. If you’re like me and you love baseball, READ MONEYBALL! You can buy a used copy on Amazon for $8. In fact, if you really want to read it, I’ll send you the $8 but know that I subbed a high school English class for one semester. I am going to expect a book report. 

My first thought before I read Moneyball was if someone finally figured out how to predict the future. Is there an objective way to evaluate talent and predict who will be a big league star? The short answer…nope. Billy Beane and his Moneyballers did not crack the code. What they did do was change baseball forever. Beane and his geeks stopped listening to old scouts who dreamed on young kids with big upside. They found the most effective ways to gather tangible data and apply it to draft picks.

The A’s favored college kids (their stats were more likely to carry over into pro ball). Beane hated drafting high school kids because the biggest tool used to evaluate them was their talent and their upside. College kids were much more polished and were already who they were. Scouts did not have to hope that college players developed. There is less risk in college kids. This does not mean the A’s do not draft high schoolers but they do so with much more caution. 

The A’s stopped trying to “sell jeans” and picked who they thought could succeed in the big leagues, not those that simply looked the part. Beane was convinced that players seldom change and will continue to be who they are when they become professionals. Scouts loved projects and thought they could teach kids the tools they need to succeed. Beane knew from experience, it did not always go as planned. The A’s looked for hitters that knew how to control the strike zone and made consistent contact. They felt swinging at quality pitches and drawing walks was valuable and that power could come later. Scouts often wanted pitchers that threw hard but Beane figured out that a pitcher’s greatest tool is deception and deception comes in many forms, not just blowing fastballs by hitters. 

Google the A’s picks and the search will show that most of their picks still did not pan out. However, the A’s were on to something back in 2002 and the draft is where they find the talent they need to compete at the big league level. They still have not won the last game of the season but they still “get on base” (make the playoffs) more than some teams with bigger payrolls.

Here’s my biggest question, why are so many prospects a bust? Moneyball has a chapter called, “The Curse of Talent.” In the chapter there’s a quote, “Whom the Gods wish to destroy they first call promising.” 

Here’s my first theory…players with God given talent are often like pretty girls. They get used to everyone doing everything for them. They become spoiled and entitled and don’t ever see the need to change so long as they keep being heroes on the field. They are intoxicated with themselves and we all know intoxicated people do foolish things. 

Some prospects (mommy’s special angel) leave home for the first time and have to fend for themselves. Some kids are great on the field but off the field they are crumbling. They lack responsibility, discipline and work ethic and ultimately it becomes their demise. They come back home to mommy and wonder why they were so unlucky when the fact is he was not able to deal with the responsibilities of being an adult at 18 years old. Fortunately, people like this go back to their hometown and never pay for a drink because to their buddies, Single A might as well have been the big leagues. 

Here’s my second theory…kids who have been studs their whole lives do not know how to fail. Imagine a high schooler being selected by an MLB team. He’s 18 years old and has been good at sports his whole life. He never developed any coping mechanisms because he never had to cope with anything. He threw the ball faster and hit the ball farther than anyone on any of his teams. Baseball came easy to him and so when failures showed up (rarely) it was no big deal because he usually out-talented every person on the field and he could make up for it. Cold streaks almost never happened and he could always rise to the occasion. Things change when you start playing grown men.

Baseball is a game of failure. Some kids just can’t deal with it. They’ve been glorified since t-ball and all of a sudden the 0fers start piling up along with the strikeouts and BOOM! The cocky 18 year old has lost his confidence. Their failures are front and center and they start to press. For the first time in their life, they are experiencing real failure. Some players develop zero self-worth because they look at their stats and see failure after failure. All of a sudden, for the first time in the young prospects’ life, baseball stops being fun. Players start to figure that maybe they were just not cut out to be a big league star and start going through the motions. One day they could have been the next big star, the next, they’re just another poor and hungry minor leaguer filling a roster. 

Moving up the ranks in baseball is tough. Some players have it all but they could just never figure it out. Quite honestly, players also need to get lucky. Several minor leaguers have the talent to play in the show but what separates them is between the ears and chances are they got more than a few lucky breaks. It’s different from football or basketball because baseball players have to perform day in and day out. Build on success and learn from failure 6 days a week. Some guys got it and some guys don’t. Whatever the mental make-up is that allows you to deal with the ups and downs of pro ball is not something that can be measured or taught.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the mental tools needed to play baseball are far more superior than the physical ones. How can scouts really know if a kid has the mental makeup to handle the rigors of pro ball? Stats, spin rate, exit velocity, footspeed, size and psy tests can only tell MLB clubs so much. The player still has to work his way up the ranks, show he’s got what it takes to compete at the big league level and stay healthy. Baseball can be a cruel, cruel world. Many are called, few are chosen.

The Urena Express appears every Wednesday at
Contact Steve Urena at:
Twitter/IG: @theurenaexpress

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