My Ho-Hum Draft Attitude
Not sure why, but I do not get up for all the hoopla and pageantry of the First Year Player Draft or Rule 4 Draft like some people do around the Tampa Bay region. You will not see me profile or even throw a huge amount of fanfare or prognosis towards a player getting their first taste of professional baseball just yet….They have not cut their teeth yet on the rawhide and still might not sign or make the grade out of the gate. The First Year Draft is not a sure thing draft where stardom and money come falling from the sky like rain, but is it a great starting point towards achieving a lifetime dream.I do not even watch the pomp and circumstance of the whole Draft process even though I did love the idea a few years ago when Major League Baseball held the draft at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, and the Tampa Bay Rays shipped a bunch of fans across the state to watch the events unfold firsthand. I regret not going on that special one-time only journey more for the life experience than for the names pop on the big draft board.
The main excuse or premise I have for not watching or giving a huge amount of time or effort into this initial draft is that the process will take more than four years before these picks can even attempt to blossom onto even for the Double-A or Triple-A rosters, much less gain a chance to stay long into the Spring Training season with the big squad.
The solid fact that a High School kid hit .450 this season or pitches in the upper-90’s has my interest, but the level of competition they faced is more cause for me to get overly excited. This First Year Player Draft is just that, a leaping off point for these athletes to decide if their MLB dreams will start now, or they forgo the signing and attend college and take the gamble of seeing their stock rise or lower their future draft position. And maybe this is an underlying element to this draft that has me yawning instead of jumping for joy, not that the Rays selected an ambidextrous pitcher in the early rounds.
Unlike the NFL Draft where it is a minute possibility that a player will decide to not pursue a professional career (unlike Bo Jackson and Tampa Bay), the MLB is centered around more unpredictable elements. Sure most of the 30 Major League scouting departments know more useless information about a player before that player’s name is sent to the podium even far beyond if they are an easy sign, or bankable within the team set monetary guidelines. I do not see the Rays anytime soon paying “Matt White” ( $10.2 million) upfront bonus money to a 18-year old even if he does have a golden arm or can shoot a ball into a basket from 500 feet away. Those numbers are no longer fiscally realities to this franchise….yet.
The draft process can produce flaws and guys who slip into full radar view who never pan out, or achieve even sub-par performances in the minor league and never get a chance to step onto a Major League diamond. I have one firm example for you, and one that most long time Rays fans still shake their head over even today. Outfielder Paul Wilder was selected with the Rays first initial pick in the 1996 draft, and never achieved even a partial degree of what Rays scouts saw in him during workouts and game footage.
Wilder was firmly hampered by injury concerns throughout his Rays career, and never got above the high Class-A level before finally bowing out and disappearing into the darkness. Wilder is a firm example of why I do not get worked up, or excited about signing a player right out of high school or college. There are too many variables between that signature going on that contract, and the day they finally step out of the clubhouse wearing the teams colors for the first time.
So I just watch their progress through the short-season farm teams and wait until they officially get on my radar at Port Charlotte where we can get box scores and information readily available to see daily.
I really have not followed former Rays first pick Tim Beckham’s rise through the Rays system until this season since he is stationed now less than 80 miles from the doorway of Tropicana Field. It is not an idea of “out of sight, out of mind”, but a more realistic view of them not being a viable option until they begin their rise through the Rays farm system with authority.
All we have to do is look at the spirited and enthusiastic tale of Matt White who signed with the Rays after his agent, Scott Boras found a loophole in the draft system and the Rays offered up a huge chunk of change for his right arm. White had numerous shoulder and pitching injuries and never got to be even a shadow of the pitcher we all thought he would become before finally getting to the Major League level. He was selected in the same draft class with local Sarasota southpaw native Bobby Seay.
But while Seay was taking his turn running through the Rays system, White was sidelined by injury or personal situations that hampered him until he finally retired still at the minor league level. That right there in a nutshell is why I do not get excited or even predict, complain or even get ruffled by the Rays draft selections. Too many flip-flopping variables, too many “what if’s” in the scenario, and ultimately, nothing can be cast in cement or gold as to the future of any one of those selected.
But then every once in a while a guy come from out of nowhere like Rays 89th Round selection relief pitcher Travis Phelps. He showed me that the even the forgotten can rise up and be counted when he made his Major League debut on April 29, 2001 for the Rays against the Boston Red Sox and worked two scoreless innings of relief work. Guys fight to get to this point in their careers to wear the colors of their parent team. We do not see the sweat and toils and struggles firsthand, but see the physical remains of that adventure when they finally make it to “The Show”.
There is a small percentage of players that the Rays draft in this current two day process who will ever make it to the top tier of the minor league ladder, much less put on a Major League uniform. So the first sound of their names by an announcer during a draft possibly 5 years earlier is not a huge thing to me. But when the Public Address announcer at Tropicana Field finally says their name, you can bet I am alert, attentive and ready to see another Rays player achieve his childhood dream.
The first time I hear their name echoing throughout Tropicana Field, they have made that final step in the process, and now the job of maintaining that spot takes on a whole different set of parameters. So if the Rays drafted an ambidextrous pitcher in an early round, that is fine with me, but until he gets at least to Port Charlotte, he is what Kevin Costner once called “meat” to me.