Tag Archives: Mike Trout

Beware the Number one draft pick

As I’ve written earlier there is a lot sport here in the UK could learn from the US. One thing I hope we never have in the UK is the draft – where clubs take their pick of the best young talent. But the young high school/college players don’t have a say in who they sign for. They can refuse to sign – pitcher Mark Appel was drafted by the Pirates in 2012 didn’t sign reappeared in the draft the next year and did sign for the Astros – but can’t go anywhere else. To my mind you should always have the right to choose your employer – but sport is always above the law so that is a pipe dream.

The other thing I don’t like about baseball’s draft is that it rewards failure. The franchises pick in reverse order of their record the previous year. So in 2015 the Diamondbacks – who had the worst record in 2014 – get first pick. I just don’t like the idea of mediocrity being rewarded. An example. The 2003 Tigers stank – they lost 119 games that year. In fact had they not won five of their last six they would have been the worst team in Major League history. Their reward? They got Justin Verlander in the 2004 draft (although as I’ll write later they might not have). In UK sport a team that bad would have been demoted from the division not rewarded with a brilliant prospect.

If I were in charge of baseball I’d copy the National Basketball Association (NBA) and have a lottery. Put the ten worst teams into a draw and decide the first ten picks that way. It means the bad teams still get early picks but there is no incentive to “tank” in order to get the No 1 pick. (I’m not saying that happens. But it could).

One difference between the baseball draft and the (American) Football and basketball ones is publicity. The MLB draft is live in the US – but only on MLB’s own network. While in the UK both the NBA and NFL drafts are on general sports channels but baseball’s not at all. This is partly because even the best talent goes to the minor leagues to learn their trade rather than straight into the majors as happens in the NFL and  NBA. Only one player in the 2014 MLB draft – pitcher Brandon Finnegan of the Royals – played in the majors before 2014 was out. In fact he played in both the College World Series and the MLB one in 2014 and he’ll be remembered for this even if he achieves nothing else in his career.

Whatever I think of the draft I bet there will be a lot of nervous young men on Monday wondering if they will get picked. It must be like waiting for your school exam results to come. And one young man will get a lot of publicity on Monday. Whoever the Diamondbacks pick will be the Number 1 draft pick and his name will get the headlines. I find it fascinating to look at No 1 draft picks for it just shows that – as in all sports – it is hard to guess which youngsters will succeed  – and which ones will fail.

Since the current MLB draft begun in 1965 the Number 1 picks have turned out to be a mixed bunch. Some are famous names – among current players Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez Josh Hamilton  (though he never played for the Devil Rays who drafted him No 1 in 1999 and didn’t make his MLB debut until 2007 – for the Reds) Joe Mauer and David Price were no 1 picks who clearly have become stars. In the future Bryce Harper (definitely) and Stephen Strasburg (perhaps) will join them. Among all Number 1 picks none have made the Hall of Fame but with Ken Griffey Jr (drafted in 1987) and Chipper Jones (drafted in 1990)) both in my opinion first ballot certs coming up for election in 2016 and 2018 respectively that will change. But there have been some failures too.

Discounting the last three no 1 picks* three number 1 picks never played in the Majors. Steve Chillcott (1966) and Brian Taylor (1991) plus one of my two favourite draft  stories.

In 2004 for some reason I’ve forgotten (they weren’t the worse team in 2003) the Padres had first draft pick. They could (as I mentioned above) have picked Justin Verlander.  Apparently they wanted Jered Weaver – who turned into an ace for the Angels-  or Stephen Drew – a solid pro who has been part of a World Champion team – the 2013 Red Sox. But to save money – or so it is believed  – they picked local shortstop Matt Bush. A disaster both on the field – he never made it beyond Double A at either the Padres or the Rays despite reinventing himself as a pitcher when his hitting failed – and off the field – he is now inmate number C07392 in Mayo Correctional Institute after a drink driving incident(not his first brush with the law) in 2012. That pick must be one of the biggest mistakes in all sport never mind baseball**.

If that was a mistake by one franchise the 2009 draft was a case of franchises making a collective mistake. Today Mike Trout is considered the beat player in baseball. But in the 2009 draft he was only number 25 pick. Nineteen franchises missed the chance of drafting him. Two other franchises – the Nationals and Diamondbacks – missed two chances to draft him as they had compensation picks for losing free agents. Instead of Trout my team the Rangers drafted pitcher Matt Purke – who didn’t even sign and when he entered the draft again in 2011 the Nationals drafted him in the third round – suggesting the Rangers had over rated him. And we could have had Trout.

Even the Angels were lucky to get him. They had two compensation picks that year for losing free agents. They used their first on…Randal Grichuk. To be fair not a Bush style disaster. He has played in the Majors albeit for the Cardinals. It was with their second compensation pick that they drafted Trout. And this has led to the most interesting counterfactual in baseball.

The pick the Angels used to pick Trout was a compensation for the Yankees signing free agent Mark Teixeira. Now we don’t know if the Yankees would have drafted Trout but he is from New Jersey and Derek Jeter was his childhood hero. So it is at least possible that in a parallel universe Trout signs for the Yankees and is the heir to the likes of Ruth, Mantle Gehrig and Jeter among others. I wonder if they would send Teixeira back to Anaheim if the Angels gave them Trout? I suspect the Yankees would. The Angels I suspect would tell them to get lost.

The point of these stories is that spotting young talent is an inexact science. Can’t miss prospects fail. Little regarded youngsters can become stars. All sport is littered with both examples. Whoever the Diamondbacks draft number 1 on Monday we don’t know if he will be another Ken Griffey Jr…or another Matt Bush.  And that is the great thing about sport. if it was predictable we would never watch it.

*None of the last three Number 1 picks (all drafted by the Astros) have reached the Majors yet but it is clearly too early to judge. The 2012 top pick Carlos Correa will I predict be called up before 2015 is out. But in contrast Appel (picked in 2013) has a 5.20 ERA at AA level and the Astros did not even sign 2014 pick Brady Aiken partly because of health worries. And since he has now become yet another young pitcher to have Tommy John surgery  those worries seem to be justified. So far you would say the score is one out of three. Just proves how hard predicting the future is.

**Update: On Friday 13th May 2016 Matt Bush made his MLB debut for my team the Texas Rangers striking out the reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson with 97 mph heat.Today he was the winning pitcher in a 7-6 Rangers win over the Blue Jays. Moral of the story : If at first you don’t succeed try try again…

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Why Jeter is an all time great, Kershaw should be NL MVP…and other baseball thoughts

So the 162-game marathon of the baseball regular season is over for another year and it will be remembered as Derek Jeter’s last. Was anyone surprised his last AB at Yankee Stadium was a walk-off hit? Not me. Some things are just meant to be. But inevitably in sport these days a backlash occurs. And in Jeter’s case it came from Keith Olbermann of ESPN who claims that Jeter is not that great. Sorry anyone who has the sixth highest number of hits of all time, plus the most hits and games for the most successful franchise in baseball history has to be great – and add to that he was a perfect gentleman and a credit to the sport. That is important because when he made his debut in 1995 baseball was in the doldrums after the shambles of the 1994-5 strike and needed an image boost. He’s not the greatest Yankee of all time – that is still Babe Ruth who changed the whole way the game was played – but to say he’s not great is ridiculous. Olbermann is on firmer ground when he attacks the season long “Jeter fest” his retirement has brought but that is the media and MLB’s fault and not Jeter’s. And no one complained when Mariano Rivera went through the same retirement hoopla last year. Jeter might be past his best but I would still hate to be the 2015 Yankees shortstop. The first time “E6” is written on a scorecard in the Bronx next year one suspects the poor guy will be reminded that he is not Derek Jeter. I would also just like to say thanks to Paul Konerko and Bobby Abreu who are two very good players whose retirements went under the radar because of the tributes to Jeter.
So with the regular season ending, we think of the MVP awards. A lot of experts on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” seem to think a pitcher shouldn’t be MVP because they have their own award namely the Cy Young . Yet 24 pitchers have won the MVP and two rookies have been MVP in the same year they were Rookie of the year – Fred Lynn in 1975 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 – and no one said that was wrong or that is should stop Mike Trout from being considered for MVP in 2012 so that argument is false. It is true that position players play every day and starting pitchers only every five days but if one of the latter has an exceptional season he should be considered. And Kershaw’s season was exceptional. You want proof? Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright both won 20 games. In any other season there would be a big debate over which one of them would win the NL Cy Young. They have as much chance of winning it as I have. Why? Kershaw. By winning 21 out of 27 starts he has done something no pitcher has gone since 1880. Counting two games the Dodgers won when Kershaw had no decisions their win rate is .852(23-4) when he pitches…and .526(71-64) when he doesn’t. That is an MVP season. His only rival is Andrew McCutchen but while his season was a repeat of his 2013 Kershaw was outstanding. The Dodgers fans were right when during his last start they chanted “MVP”.
And so on to the post season. The good thing about this post season is there is no outstanding team this year and anyone of the ten teams in the post season can win the world Series. So many questions. I’ll be fascinated to see how the Angels’ young star Mike Trout fares in his first post season. He’s arguably the best player in MLB today but he has yet to be tested in the post season where there are no rubbish fifth starters to feast on and the pressure is greater. On the other side of the scale tonight is a big night for Adam Dunn of the As who plays his first post season game after 14 years 2001 regular season games and 462 home runs – to say nothing of the Kansas City Royals for whom tonight is their first post season game since 1985.
But two people who are under pressure this post season are Jon Lester and Brad Assmus. First Lester. Ever since the As traded for him – trading their best hitter Yoenis Cespedes in the process – the As offense collapsed. Their second half win percentage (.433) is the worst of any post season team in MLB history and but for the second wild card we’d be comparing the As to the 2011 Red Sox and the 2007 Mets for September collapses. But they are still in the hunt. And this is the game they brought Lester to Oakland for. A must win post season game. The pressure is huge. Oh and the other team’s starting pitcher is known as “Big Game James”. Both offences are poor and this game could be 1-0 either way. The margin for error could be nil. And if the As lose Oakland fans will think “why did we trade for this guy and lose Cespedes?” No pressure Jon..
But the man I would not swap places with is Assmus. You are a rookie manager. Its Game one of the postseason. Who do you put on the mound? Your choice is between Justin Verlander (Cy Young winner), David Price (Cy Young winner) and Max Scherzer (the reigning Cy Young winner). Its like being a kid in a sweet shop. Which one do you pick? And if the one who you do pick gets roughed up by the home run happy Os every one will use hindsight and say you picked the wrong one! I would NOT like to be Mr assmus.
Still I think it will be a happy ending for Assmus. Pre season I tipped the Tigers and the Dodgers to be in the World Series and the winner to be whatever League won the All-Star Game. They are both in the post season. I do not change horses mid race. Still the question remains. Who will be 2014’s David Freese – or 2014’s Bill Bucknor? There’s only one way to find out….
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All hail Mike Hessman the Barry Bonds of the Minors

First of all a bit about myself. I’m just an ordinary guy who likes sport and has strong views about the way sport (and Britain) are run. I’ll be writing when I feel like it about whatever I feel like writing about. And who knows someone might like it.

Although I’m from Britain I’m a big fan of baseball and a couple of days ago I noticed something on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. Namely that Mike Hessman of the Toledo Mud Hens(the Detroit Tiger’s Triple A team) had hit his 400th career Minor League home run, only the fourth man in the history of baseball to do that in American Minor League circuits. The others being Buzz Arlett, Nick Cullop and Merv Connors. So what people will say? After all you only hit 400 home runs in the Minor Leagues if you can’t hack it in the majors.That is true. In his 109 game Major League career he hit .188 (which is not good – anything below .200 is considered unacceptable for a Major League hitter – although he did have 14 home runs and 33 RBIs.) He is now 36 years old which means he is unlikely to be gracing the Majors again. Baseball Prospectus – the baseball players Who’s Who – said of him “he is what materialized when baseball scientists asked “what if it is possible to achieve higher than 80 power by giving the specimen 20s everywhere else?” (Baseball Prospectus 2014, page 178). You get the impression they don’t think he’s very good. So why should this guy be celebrated?. Simple. The fact is 98% of minor league players never reach the Majors(No girls in the Clubhouse, Marilyn Cohen, page 108). He did. Secondly to be still slogging away in the Minors at 36 suggests he truly loves his sport. He has found his true level. And that is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact he should be proud.

The fact is this guy represents most baseball players – indeed most sportspeople (and fans). The vast majority of us aren’t Miguel Cabrera Mike Trout or Justin Verlander. We are just average to poor players. We can identify with this guy. He has more in common with the rest of us than the small elite we see in televised sport. He should be celebrated. The record for home runs in the Minors is 432 held by Buzz Arlett. Hessman might pass that record before his career is done. In which case he would become “the Barry Bonds of the Minors”. And one other point. He will have done it without the aid of performance enhancing drugs.

Finally if you want to read a good blog I’d recommend Jennifer Doyle’s “The Sport Spectacle”(http://www.thesportspectacle.com). Always an interesting and provocative read. even if you don’t agree with some of it…

Update: On August 3rd 2015 Hessman hit his 433rd Minor League home run beating Arlett’s record. And it was a Grand Slam! Congratulations Mike you deserve this record. With the Tigers’ play off hopes being slim at best it would be a sentimental gesture for the them to give Mike some big League at bats at the end of the season…