MLB Draft doesn’t belong on prime-time

June 9, 2009 

The baseball draft used to be nothing more than a conference call. A really long conference call involving all the teams, a few people at the commissioner’s office and a handful of reporters, who were on listen-only mode. And the reporters never stayed on the line much past the time the team they covered made its first pick.

For those of us who covered the Tampa Bay Rays it was a fairly short conference call. One-and-done in some years.

“With the first pick in the draft, Tampa Bay takes Josh Hamilton.”

Click.

More than 1,400 high school and college players were drafted each year since 1998. You never heard of most of them, which was fine, because most of them washed out before reaching the big leagues.

General managers will tell you they like to build through the draft, and some do. But the construction takes more than a few years. You don’t often find a team like the 2008 Rays going to the World Series with their first-round picks from the previous two drafts playing major roles in the postseason.

That’s why as dates on the baseball calendar go, draft day wasn’t all that huge. The day pitchers and catchers reported was usually a bigger deal in most major league cities.

But, thanks to first ESPN and now the MLB Network, the folks who run baseball will force the yearly draft on us with prime time coverage of the first day, which starts tonight at 6 p.m. and includes the first three rounds.

Thanks to Harold Reynolds and the rest of the MLB Network studio crew, we’ll hear all about these picks, their pluses and minuses, their upsides and downsides, how many of the five tools they posses.

We’ll have expert analysis as to why the team made such a pick. In most cases, the answer will be because he was “the best player available.” Team officials will be interviewed and asked when we can expect their prized pick to reach the majors, and in each case the answer will be, “He’ll tell us when he’s ready.”

The interest in the baseball draft from most fans is minimal. Sure, you are interested in who your team takes in the first round, especially if they draft in the top-five. The local kids also draw interest.

Pendleton School catcher J.R. Murphy is expected to go in the first round. Nine others can be taken in the later rounds.

It’s always fun to see were they land. But to get excited over who goes where tonight seems like a waste of time. The first round is full of busts. Surely you’ve heard of Steve Chilcott. The New York Mets used the first pick of the 1966 draft on the catcher, who never reached the major leagues.

The Rays took pitcher Dewon Brazelton with the third pick in 2001. Remember him? Not unless you are forced to.

Most of the top players come from the lower rounds and are often after thoughts in draft. The Los Angeles Dodgers waited until the 62nd round in 1988 to take catcher Mike Piazza.

The Rays have the 30th pick in the first round. Know how many players taken 30th overall are currently on major league rosters? Two. Know how many players taken 30th overall are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame? One. Michael Jack Schmidt.

First round draft picks can be a boon or a bust. With baseball, it can take half a dozen years before we know which way a one-time first rounder is leaning.

But MLB wants to be like the NFL. Baseball wants its draft to have all the bells and whistles as football. It just doesn’t work that way. The lag-time between draft day and major league debut is too far, even for those who make it, to warrant this attention.

It is an important event for the teams, just not for the viewers.

Tonight, the draft is prime-time. The next two days it goes back to being a conference call, which is where it belongs.

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