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General : : Crack The Bat
Mocking Mocks
Patrick Ebert        
Published: Friday, March 04, 2011

Mock drafts are incredibly popular in any sport.  If you are a fan of the NFL, I’m guessing it’s likely that you have spent some time at this time of year, between the end of the season and the draft itself, surfing the web perusing the countless draft projections that are available to try and determine who your favorite team may be targeting in hopes of identifying a future star.

I will be the first to admit that a baseball mock draft at this point in time is a rather pointless and ridiculous exercise.  However, with two to my credit already (including one from late October), and another by David Rawnsley, and the draft still four months away, I also recognize that they are a very popular feature in the eyes of fans (thanks to programs like Google Analytics, it’s easy to monitor increased traffic when such features are released).

Much like NFL fans at this time, baseball fans also want to get an idea of how the early part of the draft could shake out to see what players they will be talking about at this time next year when the majority of top prospect lists that focus on professional baseball players, both team-by-team and overall, are released.  It is also an opportunity for fantasy baseball participants, particularly those that take part in deep dynasty-based leagues, to get an early advantage over their competitors.

With that, here is a helpful checklist of items that are important to keep in mind when reading any draft projection.

1.  A lot can and will happen between now and June

The first point is the biggest and most important.  We have all seen it every year, when top prospect lists come out ranking the top prospects that are eligible for any given year’s draft, only to see draft day take a much different direction.  Usually the biggest names at the top remain the same, but there’s a lot of time for players to make a name for themselves, in both directions, good and bad, with performance, injury and signability (covered below) being the biggest culprits for such movement.

I remember receiving a lot of questions in 2004 when I had Jered Weaver as my preseason top prospect, and he not only went on to have a fantastic spring at Long Beach State, but he has also carried that success over into his professional career with the Los Angeles Angels (signability was the only reason he lasted until the 12th overall pick).  I had my own reasons, insight and first-hand information to place him where I did.  While I have also had my handful of players ranked higher than most lists not live up to an unexpected, lofty ranking, when someone you trust as a reasonable source for this kind of information rates a player higher than most, take notice.

For a more recent perspective, look no further to last year’s draft, albeit one considered down on talent, to identify a handful of players that weren’t typically regarded as early round talents, especially at this time.  Barret Loux, Delino DeShields, Jake Skole and Hayden Simpson all were selected in the first half of the first round, and none of them were considered legitimate first-rounders in the months leading up to the 2010 draft.

2.  Top prospect lists are subjective

Any prospect list is a subjective exercise, meaning there is no science to it.  Most credible scouting publications rely on a tremendous amount of feedback received from scouts and front office personnel from big-league teams to assemble their lists, both in regards to the draft and at the professional level.  Blogs and other resources often take the information provided from the more credible resources and regurgitate the information they have compiled to fit their own rationale and opinions.

No two teams have the same draft board, and every scout is going to offer a different perspective on a player.  In addition, anyone creating a mock draft doesn’t have a pick or any say whatsoever when it comes to the actual selections as they are made.  That means there is no accountability.

3.   Bias beware

Related to how lists are subjective, I have also noticed biases over the years in how top prospect lists are compiled.  For example, if a person putting a top prospect list together is a fan of the Texas Rangers, or at least is in charge of assembling the top prospect list for whatever outlet they may work for, that person may have some Rangers farmhands rated higher than most.  This can be caused by their own excitement for said player, or just their own increased familiarity.

In relationship to draft-eligible lists, this may occur if a person happens to see a player on a night in which they perform at their very best, or doesn’t perform as well as their reputation may indicate.  I call that the ‘what have you done for me lately’ clause.

4.  Every team has their own preferences

This isn’t anything new, although the premise of this point was exaggerated by the controversial book Moneyball.  From the college versus high school debate, to heights, weights and handedness of certain players, every team has shown preferences for what kind of players they look to add to their system.

With that, exceptions can, and usually are made.  For instance, Trevor Cahill, now the staff ace for the A’s, was the team’s first pick (second round) in the 2006 draft despite being drafted out of high school.  And there are some teams such as the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets, that have been arguably more focused on college athletes than teams typically labeled with that preference.

For preferences beyond the level of school a player has completed, the White Sox and Phillies are known to place a premium on exceptional overall athletes, the Rockies have a history drafting football players, the Cubs and Cardinals seem to like bigger bodied, live-armed pitchers and the Orioles seem to have a thing for lefties.

5.   BPA

I’m not talking about baby bottles here, I’m talking about the Best Player Available.  Related to point number four, preferences are often broken if the best player’s on a team’s board doesn’t hold true to their usual, expected tendencies.

This is also related to team needs, which typically are thrown out the window when it comes to the draft, and also relates back to the first point.  Draft prospects have a long, grueling journey before they even begin to sniff the big-league level, so perceived needs at the highest level, or even in a team’s minor league system as a whole, should never be used as anything more than a tie-breaker when trying to make a decision on what player to take where.

To cite an example I remember well, I recall the Brewers drafting Prince Fielder seventh overall in the 2002 draft, with many fans wondering why the team would draft a player with perceived conditioning problems that only could play first base when they already had current star first baseman Richie Sexson in the fold.  In addition, one of their top prospects was Brad Nelson, who at the time was putting up huge numbers in the Midwest League as a 19-year old.

Again, anything can and will happen, as Sexson was traded to the Diamondbacks for a group of players including another first baseman, Lyle Overbay, who kept first base warm before Fielder settled in at the position.  None of those three players ever took the field at the same time (although Fielder and Overbay were in the same lineup a handful of times in 2005).

Nelson had two brief cups of coffee with the Brewers in 2008 and 2009.

The head-scratching continued among Brewers fans when the team drafted another first baseman in 2007.  It doesn’t really matter that Matt LaPorta’s career began in left field since he was shipped to the Indians as the prized-piece in the trade for CC Sabathia during the summer of 2008 (and even if LaPorta were still in Milwaukee, Brewers fans likely would be grumbling about why the team passed on Jason Heyward).

These things usually work themselves out.  If you can get a player you are convinced will become a big-leaguer with any pick, regardless of position, you take him and worry about how the chips will fall later.

Think big picture when it comes to the draft, not quick fix.

6.   Signability

This is arguably the most controversial point.  It’s almost impossible to project signability more than a few weeks away from the draft to determine what a player will eventually sign for if taken at X slot.  There are some extreme cases, usually with high school players, in which they let it be known very early that they intend to go to college.

Scott Boras clients are an unfairly vilified group of players that are typically expected to be drafted lower than their talent dictates.  However, such affiliations do need to be noted as they do typically affect who is taken where more than any other common theme of signability.

Again, exceptions can be made, and things like this can play to a player’s favor at times.  For instance, the Kansas City Royals selected Luke Hochevar with the first overall pick in 2006.  Many to most didn’t view him as the top available player that year, but word has since surfaced that the Royals believed he was the best available player, and Hochevar was more than happy to sign for money worthy of the first overall selection.

And in the end, it is ultimately the player’s decision whether or not to sign with a certain team, whether it be out of the draft or as a big-league free agent.

Off the soap box

I don’t bring up any of these points to dismiss any mock drafts, especially since I’m not shy about drafting my own.  As I noted above, they have significant entertainment value, but it’s important not to take them too seriously.

With that said, I do think you can make some general presumptions about what will happen at the very top of the draft come June.

The Pirates with the first overall pick have three years of history now proving that they will not go the cheap route when it comes to their selection (even when they took Tony Sanchez with the fourth overall pick in 2009, they loaded up on several other notable early round selections that required significant monetary investments).  With no compensatory selections, they have to wait 60 picks before they get to their next pick, the first pick in the second round.  That means they don’t have to spread out their signing budget to extra picks.  Whether they deem Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Matt Purke or someone else the top player available, they will spend the money necessary to add that player to their system.

The same could be said about the Mariners with the second overall pick, who are in a similar position as they were in 2009 when they took Dustin Ackley after the Nats nabbed Stephen Strasburg.

Recent history has shown that teams like the Diamondbacks, who own both the third and the seventh overall picks, likely will have a combination of picks with one or both viewed as a more signable selection.  The same could be said for the Padres (ninth and 25th) and the Brewers (12th and 15th).  Each of those team’s compensatory selections for unsigned 2010 picks are not protected, meaning if they don’t sign the players taken at those slots, they won’t receive an additional, compensatory selection in the following year’s draft.

The Orioles, Royals and Nationals have the fourth through the sixth overall picks, and all three teams (especially Kansas City and Washington) have been investing more in the draft in recent years.

After that point in time is likely where things will get less predictable, and more interesting.

The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA.  Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and 5 Tool Talk, and can be contacted via email at pebert@5tooltalk.com.