Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
2007 First-Year Player Draft
2007-06-07 11:01
by Mark T.R. Donohue

2:57 MDT Well, I've enjoyed my time with all of you very much, but I didn't sign on for the sandwich round ("The Sandwich Round," by the way, would be a good name for a band), and with the Yankees' intriguing selection of "college project" Andrew Brackman, the first round proper has come to a close. Also, if I don't let the TiVo change the channel now, I'm going to miss a very important "Star Trek: Voyager" rerun. So what have we learned? That watching the draft on TV is more fun than watching the Rockies lose, as they are now so doing in their rubber home game against Houston. Also, there is indeed an MLB product more ridiculous than those annually aesthetically offensive All-Star warmup jerseys -- MLB draft pick jerseys! With a special arm patch and everything!

2:48 MDT Hey, what do you know, the Giants used their second pick in the first round to take a position player. A high school guy, too. Uproar! Consternation! OK, well, this isn't nearly as much fun as watching that one guy who gets invited to the NFL draft and doesn't go until the 29th pick and has to sit there by himself looking miserable for three hours. But this is baseball's first year doing this on TV, it's going to take some time to really build the drama.

2:41 MDT The ESPN guys couldn't resist making the obvious horse joke about Twins selection Ben Revere, but so far they have been able to restrain themselves from speculating about whether he will make his way to the Metrodome by land or by sea. And he went to Lexington High School! Is he for real, or is this some deeply subtle attempt by MLB to stimulate young minds' interest in American history?

2:21 MDT Here are the major first-round trends: High school guys long on athleticism and short on defined skills. Lefties. Really, really tall pitchers. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

2:03 MDT Hey, you know what has been missing from this draft telecast? The team representatives. One of the changes MLB made in preparation for taking the draft to television was requiring each team to send someone in person to draft HQ in Orlando. Obviously, anyone with any decision-making importance whatsoever would need to be back at the team's offices working the big board, so most of the teams sent random retired players. Yet this magnificent opportunity for unintentional comedy moments has somehow been almost entirely botched by ESPN2. One of the best things about the NBA Draft Lottery is the rococo assortment of current and retired players, anonymous middle management types, and mascots who sit stiffly behind their podia like panelists on "The Match Game." This year in an attempt to create positive Oden/Durant vibes for Da Bulls I made a custom Steve Schonwald bobblehead, but no good came of it.

1:58 MDT Bud Selig pronounces Los Angeles "Los Ange-LEES." I didn't think it was possible that my opinion of him could sink any lower, but there you have it.

1:45 MDT The preview show that I foolishly made fun of before I even watched contended that the middle to late first round would be mostly the territory of college players, but since Cleveland took Beau Mills at #13 it's been a run on high school guys. At 15, 16, and 17 you have three teams that probably thought they would be having better years this season than they are: Cincinnati, Toronto, and Texas. Normally a team picking late had a good season the year before, and generally in baseball the good teams stay good and the bad teams stay bad. A team already in contention, logically, has more incentive to take a college player even if his ceiling is lower than an equivalent high-schooler's might be. The college guy can help sooner. Maybe even this year! And then there's the option, safer for college picks than 18-year-olds, of trading guaranteed money for a major league contract (which doesn't guarantee that a pick will go immediately to the bigs, but makes the path much clearer). That's a new trend, the modern equivalent of the loopy old Bonus Baby rule, one of 1950's baseball's more amusing antiquities. Before there was a draft, teams could sign anybody they wanted for however much they had to give. To try and put a bit of a check on the big-market teams a rule was enacted that required any prospect signed to a contract above a certain dollar figure had to go directly to the big-league roster and stay there (for two full seasons). Fun offseason essay question: If Sandy Koufax had actually gotten two minor league seasons, would he have been even more awesome, or would he have had to retire sooner?

1:27 MDT Here's another cool thing about the draft being on TV. We know the most obvious of examples of teams who have patterns in the draft. For example, the Braves love to take regional guys, like they just did with Georgia high-schooler Jason Heyward. (The suits keep saying Heyward has raw power, which worries me... in my understanding Raw Power is a guaranteed O.D.) The Astros have a pattern of scoring by picking up pitchers other teams dismiss as too short. The Giants always, always, always take pitching. And the Devil Rays favor wifebeating drug addicts. But maybe now the increased transparency the televised draft provides will give us an insight into the more obscure draft strategies of some of the other teams. Seriously, with fifty rounds, were I a GM, I would be unable to resist the temptation to start trying to spell out dirty words using the first letters of the last names of picks after Round 35 or so.

1:19 MDT Marlins, #12, Matthew Dominguez. High school third baseman. Here's a question: How meaningful are any of the positions attached to these players today? They don't really mean all that much, right? When it comes to the draft, there are really two categories, hitters and pitchers. Obviously if you draft a hitter who throws with his left hand he's not going to suddenly turn into a shortstop in the minors but other than that I think all of those definitions are fairly mutable. And here's another question: Remember a couple of years ago when ESPN started putting accent marks over the appropriate letters of every even vaguely Latin-sounding player name? And remember how annoyed you were to read "Eric Chavéz" when he's about as Hispanic as I am? (OK, bad comparison, it might not be genetically possible to be less Hispanic than I am. But you know what I mean.) Ought to be a simple rule in place here: If you were eligible for the first-year player draft, no accent marks allowed. Unless you're Puerto Rican.

1:10 MDT And the Mariners move to further develop their Toronto Raptors-like international character, selecting Phillippe Aumont, a righthanded pitcher from the fabled Canadas. And ESPN2 did deliver the goods with a live interview, but apparently Aumont's pre-draft English crash course took, because his accent wasn't even as funny as Tony Parker's. Merde.

1:05 MDT Interesting duality at #9 and #10: The Diamondbacks, who have been taking nothing but hitters for years, took a pitcher (high school righty Jarrod Parker), and the Giants, who never take hitters... also took a pitcher. The guy San Francisco took, another lefty and a high-schooler, probably has the inside track for best name of the first round: Madison Bumgarner. I myself have garnered a few bums in my time, but never in Wisconsin. Hey-o.

1:01 MDT You have to love the subtle humor evidenced by whomever it is that writes the copy for the little info crawl going on the bottom of ESPN2's draft broadcast. They have a Cubs logo up and it says "Notable 1st-round picks: Mark Prior ('01), Kerry Wood ('95), Shawon Dunston ('82)." Ow, ow, and ow again, anonymous Worldwide Leader intern!

12:54 MDT With the eighth overall selection in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Colorado Rockies select Vanderbilt closer Casey Weathers. I like this pick. They're not dumpster diving by any means and with a solid record in one of the most competitive conferences in college baseball Weathers is a good bet to continue the recent trend of dominant NCAA relievers getting to the majors quick fast in a hurry. I would like him better, obviously, if he was left-handed and/or French Canadian, but nobody's perfect.

12:49 MDT With the Brewers' selection of outfielder Matthew LaPorta, the Rockies are on the clock! Boy, I hope they take the Quebecois guy and they interview him and he sounds like the awfully French-accented person on the Tribe Called Quest song "Luck of Lucien."

12:43 MDT It's the year of the lefty! About time. College southpaw Ross Detwiler goes #6 overall to the Nationals. You know, I know well enough that the level of competition in high school and college and aluminum bats and so forth make amateur statistics almost completely useless, but I'm still surprised that so few stats have been mentioned thus far in the broadcast. ESPN2's viewing audience probably would be impressed by the sick numbers really talented high school pitchers routinely post. Instead, we're hearing about quality pitches and projectability. I'm not sure how I feel about catering the broadcast towards the Baseball America crowd. Come on, who doesn't want this thing to grow to the point where we get two full days of wall-to-wall MLB draft coverage?

12:38 MDT "Signability" has been less of a concern so far than expected -- four of the first five picks, with the Orioles now taking Matt Wieters, have been the consensus best high school hitter and high school pitcher and the best college pitcher and college hitter.

12:31 MDT The Pirates, who have a tradition of trying to develop slight pitchers with marginal stuff, especially if they're left-handed, have selected Clemson's Daniel Moskos, a slight lefty with marginal stuff. Throwing it to commercial, the ESPN host guy said "Congratulations to the Pirates on their pick." I don't get it, what have they accomplished? Are we praising them for spelling the guy's name right on their little card? Weird. Anyway, Moskos is one guy the Rockies have been mentioned in connection with quite often. Cross him off the list.

12:29 MDT Here's one thing the baseball draft has over its counterparts: It's way more unpredictable. The Cubs have taken Josh Vitters, a high school third baseman, despite most analysts' feelings that they would go with pitching. Vitters' Cubs hat fit OK.

12:22 MDT Surprising no one, David Price of Vanderbilt is the first pick taken by the Devil Rays. Because he's African-American and lefthanded, Price will obviously be compared to Dontrelle Willis, but from the footage I saw of him in the (surprisingly enaging) preview show he looks more like a slightly shorter Randy Johnson with much better mechanics. He throws high three-quarters and he's got near-100 MPH heat. The Royals picked second and took Mike Moustakas, the California high schooler universally regarded as the best young hitting prospect in the draft this year. That's a bit of a surprise since Moustakas is one of Scott Boras's guys and the Royals are one of those po' teams. Between this pick and the Gil Meche contract, the Royals' new ownership has done a pretty good job of proving that it's not going to be business as usual any longer in Kansas City. Hey, does anybody think we're going to see a pick trying to put on his new team's hat and find that it doesn't fit? It happens all the time in the NBA and NFL draft but those guys are larger. Anyway, what do we think the over/under for large-headed dudes in the first round will be?

12:01 MDT It begins! I don't know if "historic" is the proper label for the first-ever televised Major League Baseball draft, but I rate it as a positive development. For all of my various interests, from cool jazz to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I welcome as much transparency as the creative forces can handle without detracting from the actual performance of their jobs. I can never get enough of DVD special features and tell-all biographies. Does it fundamentally enhance my appreciation of the Talking Heads' music knowing that David Byrne while left-handed plays the guitar righty (Stop Making Sense DVD commentary) or was born in Scotland (This Must Be the Place: The Adventures of Talking Heads in the 20th Century)? Yes. Yes, it does.

But allow me to point out another great thing about the draft: For a few hours I get to feel like baseball is still America's favorite sport. It is incredibly aggravating to me the way that 60-70% or more of broadcast sports talk is about the NFL or college football. I have no use whatsoever for the cartoonishly corrupt, hypocritical NCAA and if it wasn't for my childhood attachment to the Chicago Bears (my first coherent memory is of The Fridge scoring that TD in Super Bowl XX) I could probably do without the NFL as well. As an historian, I think of all the incredible contributions the game of baseball has made to American culture, from Jackie Robinson to Babe Ruth to Bill "Spaceman" Lee, and compare them to football's greatest moments, which are either grotesqueries like That Joe Theismann Injury or complete flukes having nothing to do with playing the game properly like the Immaculate Reception or The Play from the Cal-Stanford game. (And I went to Cal.) I also think that as a society, our shift from a nation of box score-parsing baseball fanatics to Sunday Ticket-subscribing gambling addicts is kind of depressing. But for just this one day, ESPN2 is dedicating four hours of airtime to guys in suits talking about entirely theoretical baseball that won't be played for years to come. Just like they do with football the other 364 days of the year.

2007-06-07 11:36:50
1.   Eric Stephen
Mark, well said. I too am troubled that ESPN still shows "NFL Live" every freaking day, seemingly at the expense of baseball talk or, god forbid, highlights!
2007-06-07 12:41:22
2.   Eric Stephen
"Fuentes? That kid saves everything, doesn't he?"
2007-06-07 12:43:00
3.   Eric Stephen
Was that Braves commercial advocating abortion?
2007-06-07 12:43:43
4.   Mark T.R. Donohue
"That one's got Dinger written all over it."
2007-06-07 12:48:36
5.   Ali Nagib
On hitters' positions: They only matter in the "Which half of the defensive spectrum are you on?" sense. Guys on the SS, CF, 2B, C side (I forget if that's left or right) have room to move, but if a guy is already a corner outfielder or first baseman, they really need their bat to play.
2007-06-07 14:06:31
6.   Ali Nagib
One thing that just occurred to me that might end up being good in the long run: while most informed observers think there's no reason to completely prevent teams from trading draft picks, it may actually be good for the Draft, especially in its televised form, if they get a year or three under their belts in before implementing the change. That would give them a boost to the TV telecast when it goes into effect. But the whole thing could flop by then anyway, so who knows?
2007-06-07 14:11:38
7.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Yeah, I lost track of whom it was because I had about 45 tabs open this morning when I was doing my predraft reading, but one GM said quite plainly that if they were trying to package the draft for TV, they need to make pick-swapping legal to juice up the proceedings a little. If they were going to do that, however, they need to get a rigid salary slotting system in place to prevent poor teams from giving away high picks for a pittance since they're not going to pay a premium bonus anyway.

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