Draft didn’t turn out the way that you thought it would?

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By Alexis Brudnicki

So the draft didn’t turn out the way that you thought it would?

No surprise there. It happens to almost everyone.

Many excited players, disappointed draftees and unselected players, their families, coaches and friends all have one thing in common – the draft did not turn out exactly as they had planned it. Maybe they invested too much in the imprecise nature of rankings, or maybe school and money were bigger factors than everyone thought, but no matter the reason, nothing is as it would seem.

“Although the industry and many of the analytical teams have made tremendous strides to make the draft process more scientific and data-driven, it still remains an inexact science,” former bird dog scout and current Baseball America draft guru Clint Longenecker said.

“Even with millions of dollars dedicated to the amateur scouting process every season, there are so many factors that create a wide variety of scouting opinions. After the first few players picked at the top of the draft every season, there is very little consensus.”

Of the many thousands of players seen each year by numerous scouts, cross checkers and other evaluators, only a small percentage earn the privilege of hearing their names throughout the selection process. And in all likelihood, most of them thought they would be higher up the list.

“The problem with the draft is that if you build it up and create a focus around it with the kids, by and large you’re setting them up for disappointment,” Baseball Canada’s director of national teams greg Hamilton said. “Let’s face it, when you look back and track it, how many players out of the country are going to go high enough to where they’re going to be incredibly excited about the selection?

“You’re not getting too many kids who are…expecting the 40th round – they’re thinking way above and beyond that. It’s not easy to go in the top 10 rounds or 15 rounds or 20 rounds.”

Head coach of the Canadian Junior National Team, Hamilton often gets to work with the best of the best prospects from north of the border. With many members of his squad eligible for each draft, he tries to offer a realistic outlook to his players each year.

“I try to temper expectations,” the Team Canada coach said. “I tell them that a lot of it is outside their control, [and] to enjoy their senior year, and go out and play because they love to play the game. Work on the things that they need to work on and if the draft comes, it’s meant to be. It’s all about timing…sometimes it’s meant to be out of high school and other times it’s not.”

This year’s draft saw the fewest number of Canadians picked since the country was added to the selection process, with 16 in total. Half of those players have time in the collegiate ranks under their belts and the other half were taken out of high school. Only three Canucks were selected within the top 10 rounds.

Many great players were left off the final list, perhaps overlooked by teams or maybe just because they didn’t fit the mould of what those major league organizations had a need for.

So how does it work, exactly?

“One of the longest-tenured and most respected scouting directors crystallized the variance in player preference when he said, ‘Nobody in the game is smarter than anybody else, we just see players at different times and have different risk tolerances,’” Longenecker said. “Seeing a player on the right – or wrong – day can lead to a wide range of opinions of that player within the industry.

“Some teams may have a player who goes in the third round valued in the eighth round because they didn't see him on the right days. Not to mention if some teams prefer raw, toolsy and high-upside athletes who have star-level tools and potential, but a very small chance of achieving that ceiling, while others in the game might prefer lower-ceilings with higher probabilities.”

Those are just the factors under consideration when draft boards – and many ranked lists – are lined up purely based on talent. But, there’s more to it than that.

“The other complicating factor of signability enters the equation,” Longenecker said. “Many of the top high school players in the country will bypass their opportunities to go pro, sometimes turning down more than a million dollars, for the chance to go to school and play college baseball.

“A player's makeup and medical history are just a couple of the other factors in the process that can create extreme heterogeneity within the draft process. Another is team-specific fits. Sometimes very talented players who fit in the top half of the first round for some teams will be much, much lower – or off some teams’ boards – because of arm actions or deliveries, etc.”

While many Canadians slid much lower in the draft than where expectations had been set, and even more fell right off the board, there is some good news for those players from north of the border. The reason behind several of those slides is a good school.

Young players from the Great White North are now getting better scholarship opportunities than ever before, and on a larger scale. Ranked the third- and fourth-best Canadians entering the draft, both Zach Pop and Mitch Robinson fell further than many had anticipated.

But strong commitments to great schools in the University of Kentucky and Florida International University earned them leverage and made it harder to believe that they might pursue a professional opportunity out of high school.

“That’s what happened with a bunch of the Canadian kids,” one National League scout said. “When they’re drafted now, they’re more [comparable to] Americans than they used to be. In the past, you could draft a Canadian kid in almost any round and he would sign.

“What’s happening now is these scholarships are getting good and the money – because of slotting – isn’t that good after the fifth round for high school kids. There were a lot of good kids getting drafted later but they really aren’t going to sign because it’s not good business.

“That’s just because baseball in Canada has evolved a little bit, where now the kids have got good scholarships and because of the way slotting is, it’s hard. You can’t sign a kid for a hundred thousand anymore.”

When Pop committed to the Wildcats, his asking price for big league organizations went up. The hard-throwing right-hander knew he had something good waiting for him no matter what the draft held, so why not take a chance and see what might happen?

“Going in, I put a very hefty price tag on myself to deter me away from university,” Pop said. “I have a great university option at the University of Kentucky…and I knew that was a great scholarship opportunity. Not too many people get that, so I thought, hey why not take advantage of it, because the draft is going to be there in three years.”

Robert Byckowski, ranked in the Top 10 of Canadian players heading into the draft, landed in the 22nd round on Saturday. His father Bill, a cross checker for the Cincinnati Reds, did his best to prepare his son and explain the process, however difficult, and is happy that the 17-year-old third baseman still has an opportunity at Florida Gulf Coast University in his back pocket.

“I kind of told him how this was probably going to work,” Bill said. “I told him the mechanics of the draft. After the sixth and seventh rounds, a lot of times players are getting picked out of need for the organization – we need a catcher here, we need a fourth outfielder there, so I told him he was going to fall.

“He did have a couple offers and I said, ‘That’s great but no thanks, we’re not going to do that.’ And we could still sign him….but I think he’s ready to go to school. And I think it’s the same with Mitch Robinson and I think it’s the same with Zach Pop. Those guys are all signable guys and in the old days they would have signed. But now they might all go to school.”

The selection process for Canadians has certainly changed over the years. Canada’s first-ever first-rounder Chris Reitsma, currently the pitching coach for Team Canada, knows how different things are now, but is also excited for the opportunities young players are afforded.

“In the past Canadian kids have probably been easier to sign, just because the exposure and the experience haven’t been there as much as for someone playing in the States,” Reitsma said. “Now that’s not the case, obviously with our junior national team program and what we’ve put them through and the knowledge we try to instill in them.”

The National League scout added: “Kids are getting better scholarships and it’s harder to turn them down unless they get a little bit more money. It’s changed over the last three or four years – the Canadian kids are getting more exposure than they used to and schools are starting to see that there are some good players here so the scholarships have gotten better.

“Not everybody is going to a junior college – a lot of guys are going to four-year schools, and better four-year schools.”

With or without the draft, nothing should take away from what many young Canadians are doing on the diamond. While 16 Canucks should definitely bask in the excitement and prestige of being selected by a major league team, success should most certainly not be measured by the number on MLB’s Draft Tracker.

“I try to make sure that the perception isn’t failure if it doesn’t end up being what they hope for out of high school,” Hamilton said. “The kids that we’re dealing with have accomplished a lot anyway. At the minimum, they’re out with the national team and for the most part, they have scholarships.

“That puts them in an enviable small percentage of players who play the game in this country and they should be proud of that. The draft is all bonus.”

- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis

 

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Alexis Brudnicki

Baseball has been a part of Alexis' life since her parents took her brother to sign up for Eager Beaver Baseball in London. Alexis wanted to play and asked to sign up, too. Alexis played ball until the boys were all twice her size and then switched to competitive fastball. Her first job was as an umpire for rookies with the EBBA and since then Alexis has completed her education with an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and graduate studies in Sports Journalism at Centennial College