Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Actual Draft vs. "Shadow Draft": A Retrospective
One of the fun parts of the baseball offseason is that we get a break from the day-to-day grind of the season, which affords us some time to reflect, clean out the closet, and dust off old thoughts for re-examination. So, it's probably a good time to revisit my "shadow draft picks" of the past.
Starting in 2005, when draft time rolled around, I began to analyze the draft eligible prospects and determine which one I would select if I was in charge of the Reds draft. So, in short, these picks are what I would have done at the time of each draft, not what I would have done with the benefit of perfect hindsight. So, not surprisingly, there are both significant hits and misses, but the picks are what they are. No sense trying to sweep the bad ones under the rug, rather I've tried to learn from my missteps and use that experience in the future.
Of course, I didn't start this blog until 2007, so my draft thoughts existed only on message boards until the 2008 draft rolled around, but I'm including those early message board picks anyway for posterity sake. Besides, it makes the post that much more fun. Anyway, the Reds' picks are in red, while my picks are in orange. And, off we go.....
2005: Jay Bruce vs. Ricky Romero
This was the first time I really looked into the draft and picked out the player I wanted the Reds to select. Of course, those with a sharp eye and a keen memory will recall that Ricky Romero was selected 6th by the Blue Jays, while the Reds didn't select Jay Bruce until their 12th overall pick rolled around. So, in my first effort, there were clearly a few kinks to be worked out, as I selected a player the Reds couldn't possibly have drafted. In future go-arounds, I only selected a player that was actually available to the Reds with their first pick, but I'm including this one anyway.
The 2005 draft was an epic one, filled with potential impact talent from the top of the first round all the way down to the bottom. You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting at least a couple of legitimate first round prospects. But, my pick, until just recently, was one of the few flame-outs in the first round.
I followed Ricky Romero at Cal State Fullerton and loved his bulldog mentality and offspeed offerings. He had a nice curveball and a quality changeup. He also had a good understanding of how to pitch. He was the guy I wanted the perennially pitching-starved Reds to land. Of course, Romero was already off the board by the time the Reds went in another direction. And, that's probably a good thing, as even with Romero's recent breakthrough at the MLB level, I have a hard time arguing with the Reds' choice of Jay Bruce, who seems a quality player on the field and a quality person off of it.
Romero is becoming the pitcher I thought he could be, but Bruce has the potential to be a superstar talent.
2006: Drew Stubbs vs. Tim Lincecum
In the 2006 draft class, there was only one player I wanted the Reds to land and I flooded the ESPN Reds message board saying just that. Unfortunately, the Reds evidently didn't read it, as that was one time where I was actually right.
For me, despite his short stature, Tim Lincecum was head-and-shoulders above the rest. Baseball America rated him as having the best fastball and the best offspeed pitch among all the draft eligible college pitchers. Additionally, he struck out everybody at the University of Washington, posting strike out rates of 12.9, 11.3, and 14.3 respectively in his three years there. He was clearly the most electric pitcher in the draft and had a massive upside.
There were two main knocks against Lincecum heading into that draft: his mechanics and his height. Personally, I've always loved his mechanics. They're complicated, but he throws with his body better than the vast majority of pitchers. And, as for height, I hate the scouting bias against short righthanded pitchers. If you can pitch, then you can pitch, regardless of height. Lincecum is the guy I wanted and he was on the board when the Reds picked. Unfortunately, the Reds went in another direction, reeling in Drew Stubbs.
Stubbs has a lot of tools and could develop into a dual threat, as he has impact ability on both offense and defense. If Stubbs can perform as he did in the final two months of 2010, then he'll begin to reward the Reds for passing on a two-time Cy Young award winner and start making the fan base forget the massive opportunity cost that came along with his selection.
2007: Devin Mesoraco vs. Pete Kozma
Unfortunately, I couldn't carry the success of my 2006 pick into the 2007 draft. Additionally, while Ricky Romero's recent emergence makes my 2005 pick look more defensible, Mesoraco's recent explosion makes this 2007 pick look even worse.
The Reds had the 15th overall pick and went with Devin Mesoraco, while shortstop Pete Kozma went off the board with the Cardinals 18th overall pick.
Heading into the draft, few prospects had as much helium as Devin. Coming from a cold weather school and off a TJ surgery, Mesoraco wasn't projected to be a first rounder, but a strong season propelled him up the ranks.
Kozma was more of a high floor, low ceiling type player. He lacked any real plus tools, but had some nice skills and a feel for the game, which in a somewhat less than inspiring draft class seemed to be a decent option. Unfortunately, as of now, both the Cardinals and I have whiffed on this pick, as his bat hasn't developed and he's a long shot to emerge as a legitimate big league shortstop. So, obviously, his floor no longer seems quite as high as it once did, while his ceiling has remained largely the same.
On the other hand, Mesoraco finally broke out in 2010 and looks ready to emerge as an impact bat at a premier defensive position. Finding a catcher that can actually hit is a tremendous value, so the Reds certainly made the right decision here. In the final analysis, Mesoraco might prove to be the best offensive catcher the Reds have had since Johnny Bench.
Having learned my lesson, Kozma was the last time I went with the safe, high-floor type player in the first round. The first round is where you have the best chance to land the impact talent, so limiting yourself to a lower-ceiling player hardly seems like the right strategy in most draft classes. Lesson learned.
2008: Yonder Alonso vs. Casey Kelly
Well, here's the first pick of the blog era and I went with Casey Kelly here and here. In hindsight the pick looks pretty good, but in the interests of full disclosure I must say that I liked Kelly more as a shortstop and wanted to see what he could do with a couple of years as a full-time position player. He had good baseball bloodlines, very good athleticism, played plus defense at short, and had good pop in his bat. However, there were questions about his bat, so I viewed his pitching ability as a nice way to manage the performance risk that came with his hit tool. There is an old scouting adage that you don't gamble on a questionable "hit tool" in the first round. So, maybe that rang true in this case, but I still would have liked to see what Kelly could do as a shortstop before switching him to pitching full time. It's not easy to find a potentially plus defensive shortstop who can be an impact hitter on offense. He already had solid power, so it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibilities that he could develop into a capable hitter at the professional level.
The BoSox were able to grab Kelly with the 30th overall pick (due in part to signability concerns) and successfully convert him into a full-time pitcher, while the Reds grabbed Yonder Alonso with the 7th overall pick.
The Reds clearly went with the player they deemed to be the best available, which is usually a sound draft philosophy, but in hindsight I wonder if it was the right decision. Obviously, Joey Votto had already emerged as a good, young first baseman with a strong offensive profile. So, it clearly wasn't an area of need and Yonder was never a realistic option to switch defensive positions, which meant he was blocked as soon as he stepped into the organization. And, if the Reds don't do something with Yonder in 2011 to extract some value from the pick (trade or play), then the organization's questionable ability to extract value from a blocked prospect may make this less than the ideal pick.
As it stands, Yonder looks like a nice, well-rounded hitter with good on-base skills and solid power potential. Not a bad pick, but even a couple of years after he was drafted, it remains unclear how exactly he fits into the organizational plans.
2009: Mike Leake vs. Shelby Miller
This pick is one that I have pondered quite a bit since it happened. At the time, I locked in on Shelby Miller as the pitcher with the best combination of stuff and mechanics. I loved the velocity and how cleanly he generated it. There was no doubt that he was the guy I wanted the Reds to take. In fact, I had him pegged as the third best prospect in the draft behind Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley. At draft time, there were other high school pitchers who were rated higher and ultimately were drafted higher, including Zach Wheeler (6th to the Giants) Jacob Turner (9th to the Tigers), Tyler Matzek (11th to the Rockies), and Matt Purke (14th to the Rangers), but I preferred Miller to all of them. His upside was just too massive for me to see anyone else as a legitimate option.
Miller ultimately went off the board with the Cardinals 17th overall pick, which was a while after the Reds selected Mike Leake with the 8th overall pick. Realistically speaking, Miller's first full season couldn't possibly have gone better. The Cards kept him in low-A all season long and he posted a 3.62 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, and a 12.1 K/9 in 104.1 innings. It was a dominating performance and one that has him on the #1 starter development path.
Obviously, Leake has been a great success story and after the draft the pick started to grow on me. I still would have gone with Miller, but Leake was becoming more intriguing. I never suspected that he'd be able to jump over the minors entirely, but I loved the polish and the understanding of how to pitch.
Of course, the question then was whether Leake's higher floor/lower ceiling were the better pick over Miller's lower floor/higher ceiling. And, that's a question with which I still wrestle.
Just how valuable is a pitcher who can bypass the minors entirely? What exactly are the advantages? Is it worth selecting a #2/3 starter who can jump straight to the majors over a potential #1 starter who will need significant time in the minors?
Well, obviously, there has to be some kind of "time value" of prospects at work. When you are talking about money, a dollar today is worth much more than a dollar a year from now for two reasons. First, the devaluing caused by inflation. Second, you can invest the dollar and earn interest on it. But, what's the advantage in pitching prospects?
Obviously, the value doesn't change at the MLB level, as regardless when each player arrives, you'll control their rights for 6 seasons. However, the value lies in the reduced injury risk and the non-existent performance risk. If a pitcher is good enough to jump right to the majors, then there really is no performance risk to the pick. Additionally, and here is the real difference, if the pitcher can jump right to the majors, then you eliminate a substantial amount of injury risk. A pitcher that has to develop in the minors is still subject to injury risk, but his minor league performance simply doesn't directly benefit the organization. Production at the MLB level is all that really matters, so getting an immediate return on your pick substantially cuts the chances of injury in the minors ruining a draft pick's future MLB production. If the pitcher is going to pitch and be exposed to injury risk, then it's preferable that he do it at the MLB level where the production actually counts.
At this point, I'm still not sure how to properly determine the value of a draft pick who jumps right to the Majors like Mike Leake against a prospect who must spend several years in the minors like Shelby Miller.
I guess, in the end, it still comes down to the likelihood that Miller will reach his ceiling and be significantly better than Mike Leake at the MLB level. If he can, then he is clearly the better pick. And, every year of development that passes with Miller still on track cuts the risk that he'll get injured or fail to develop. As it was at the time of the draft, Miller has more risk and more reward, while Leake is the sure thing. It's still too close to call at this point, but I'm sticking with Miller and his #1 starter upside.
2010: Yasmani Grandal vs. Chris Sale
In the 2010 draft, Chris Sale was actually the first prospect on whom I did in-depth research and a full write-up, and he was ultimately the guy I wanted the Reds to land. His fastball and changeup were both rated among the very best of the draft eligible college pitchers and he had very good polish to go with them. His strikeout and walk rates were among the very best in the country, so you had both upside and polish. There were/are some questions about his arm action, but I never saw anything about which to worry. Some thought there was too much snap in his arm action, but I don't really see it. I would like to see him incorporate more leg drive, but overall I was comfortable with his mechanics. After I was done looking into the draft crop, Sale was still sitting atop my list.
In that draft, Sale was selected by the Chicago White Sox with the 13th overall pick. Somewhat surprisingly, the Sox moved Sale all the way up to the majors after only 10.1 minor league innings. The Sox fast-tracked him as a reliever and he performed very well, posting a 32/10 K/BB ratio in his 23.1 Major League innings. Once again, the question emerges about the value of a player skipping the minors almost entirely, though in this case my pick would get whatever boost comes along with it. The Sox used Sale in their push for the playoffs and it's hard not to wonder how much the Reds would have benefited from having two hard throwing southpaws (Aroldis and Sale) in the postseason. Obviously, for a team in the hunt for the playoffs, getting an immediate return on a draft pick is of even greater value.
Regardless, the Reds had the 12th overall pick, which they used to select Yasmani Grandal. Grandal was the second Miami Hurricane that the team had selected with its first pick in the last three drafts. Obviously, they feel they have good scouting coverage down there. Thus far, Grandal has played only in the Arizona rookie league, where he posted a slash line of .286/.394/.321 in 33 plate appearances. Obviously, the on-base skill is impressive, but the sample size is too small to reveal anything of value. The selection of Grandal gives the Reds some of the best catching depth in all of the minor leagues, as he could develop into a solid defensive catcher with an impact bat. It'll be interesting to see how he performs in full season ball and how he'll fit into an organization where Mesoraco is making a big splash much farther up the ladder. Given Grandal's polish, his career is very likely to overlap with Mesoraco's at the Major League Level. So, once again, the Reds could have a blocked Hurricane in the system.
As for Sale, the White Sox are now wrestling with the question of whether to develop him as a starting pitcher or to continue to ride him at the MLB level as a reliever. Obviously, he has more value as a starter, but the Sox may not see it that way. If the Reds had grabbed him, I would have wanted him developed as a starter, as I see nothing that would prevent him from becoming a good one.
As with almost all of the aforementioned players, it's too soon to tell which player will prove to be the more valuable pick, but I still prefer Sale to Grandal. Hopefully, Yasmani proves me wrong.
2011: Robert Stephenson vs. Jason Esposito
Well, for the first time since I've started doing these draft write-ups the Reds had a pick outside the top 15. In fact, they had number 27 overall, which makes it more challenging to find impact talent. However, given the impressive depth of talent in the 2011 draft class, the Reds were able to land a high upside arm that undoubtedly would have gone higher in the typical draft class.
Stephenson stands 6-2 and tips the scale at 190 lbs with a wiry frame and plus makeup/intelligence. He features a big time fastball that tickles 97 mph on the radar gun and a biting, 12-to-6 curveball that is inconsistent. And, like seemingly all power arms coming out of high school, he has a mediocre change-up. Power pitchers in high school typically dominate with the hard stuff and rarely need to develop that third pitch, typically the change-up, because they can simply overpower high school hitters. Additionally, the change-up is materially different from the power stuff, as it requires touch and feel, while power stuff does not. So, the change-up frequently gets neglected.
The only potential red flag on Stephenson is his pitching mechanics, which are somewhat inefficient due to a shorter stride, less than ideal hip rotation, and an occasionally cutting short the deceleration of his pitching arm.
That said, Stephenson has a great deal of positives going for him and the Reds probably did very well, as you don't frequently get this type of upside so late in the draft. The stuff and makeup are there, but he'll need to refine his mechanics and continue to polish his secondary offerings as he climbs the ladder. Still, hard to argue with, or be disappointed by, this pick by the Reds and, frankly, it'll be difficult to top.
As for my pick, after looking back at my previous selections, this is the first time I haven't gone with a starting pitcher or a shortstop. So, I'm breaking new ground here. Evidently, in the first round I favor high ceiling, impact pitchers and players who handle the premier defensive positions. It wasn't an intentional, but given the value of top flight starting pitching and the scarcity of legitimate hitters at the premier defensive positions it seems a more than defensible strategy.
Of course, my top choice and the guy I was highest on actually WAS a pitcher, namely RHP Tyler Beede, followed by LHP Chris Reed, and RHP Jose Fernandez. I love Beede's blend of stuff, command, pitching IQ, and clean mechanics. Beede wasn't really projected by anyone to be selected in the first round, much less before the Reds picked, so I was really surprised when the Blue Jays popped him before the Reds even had a shot. That said, my shadow pick of Jason Esposito will be seen as a stretch by many and admittedly it may well be, but with the aforementioned three draftees (surprisingly) off the board I went with my gut. I've always liked what I've seen in Esposito and remain bullish on his future.
I first saw Esposito play as a sophomore and was impressed right from the get go. In fact, I was convinced at the time that he was a lock to a top 15 pick when draft eligible. Unfortunately, his junior season was a bit of a step backward and he slipped down the draft board, which serves as a cautionary tale that you can't expect linear improvement/development from college players. The knocks on Esposito were two fold: (1) his swing was mechanical and (2) he added weight to the lower half.
Admittedly, I can see the reason for concern on both issues. Esposito has a well balanced, fundamentally sound swing, but it can look mechanical at times. He also did look slightly stockier in his junior season than he did as a sophomore, but the added weight to the lower half doesn't diminish his potential to be a plus defender at third with a very good arm. So, right there, he's somewhat ahead of the game, as his bat won't need to carry his glove like many offensive-first third sackers. For me, the concerns about his swing/offense were somewhat lessened by the fact that his glove is an asset, not a liability.
2012: Nick Travieso vs. Matthew Smoral
Southpaw Matthew Smoral was not only at the top of my wish list for the Reds (which also included shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder David Dahl), but also one of my favorite pitchers in the draft class. So, he was my clear choice when the Reds' 14th overall pick rolled around, but the organization ultimately went with a different high school pitcher, righthander Nick Travieso. So, this one boils down to a battle of the high school pitchers, which makes it far too early to call, especially since Smoral didn't throw a pitch in anger in 2012.
I didn't realize just how risky the pick of Smoral was until looking back months after the draft, so I can understand how he slipped out of the first round. He missed his senior season due to a stress fracture of the foot, so there was limited time for organizations to get a feel for him and no current track record on which to evaluate him. Regardless, I was sufficiently impressed by the combination of stuff, clean pitching mechanics, and physical stature. All of those factors struck me as giving him a very high ceiling. Although, it didn't factor into my decision, another thumb on the scale in Smoral's favor is that he was drafted out of an Ohio high school.
As for Nick Travieso, he had quite a bit of helium heading into the draft, largely as a result of a spike in velocity. That spike drove his fastball velocity up into the mid-90s. His secondary offerings are largely unrefined, which, when coupled with the high degree of effort in his delivery, led many to project him as a reliever at the upper levels. Even so, he's an intriguing arm to add to the quality stable of pitching prospects in the system and a bit more development time could bear out the organization's decision to select him with the 14th overall pick.
As high school pitching prospects, Travieso and Smoral both come with significant inherent risk (injury and performance), but both also have significant upside. It's way too soon to make any judgments on the picks, as there aren't really even any early returns. The Jays (wisely) didn't have Smoral throw a pitch in anger in 2012, while Travieso only logged 21.0 innings in the Arizona rookie league.
Now, it's up to the player development departments of the respective organizations to shape their careers and turn them into impact Major Leaguers. Personally, I'd still place all my money on Smoral, but it'll be interesting to see what 2013 reveals.
2013: Phil Ervin vs. Aaron Judge
My shadow draft pick for the Reds in the 2013 draft was Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge. Judge was third on my draft queue, which consisted of RHP Chris Anderson, OF Billy McKinney, OF Aaron Judge, 3b Eric Jagielo, and OF Austin Wilson. The Dodgers grabbed Anderson and the A's snatched up McKinney, making Judge, a mountain of a man with tremendous athleticism, my shadow pick for the Reds.
Judge's height was a concern, but it was a concern mitigated by his plus athleticism (a three sport star in high school with offers to play tight-end at the collegiate level) and the fact that his approach was contact-oriented. The question on Aaron Judge wasn't, as it usually is with taller hitters, whether he would make enough contact, but rather whether he'd hit for power. Instead of needing to cut down on his swing to improve his contact rate, Judge almost needed to lengthen his swing to carry his power from batting practice into game action.
I'm happy to gamble on plus athleticism, a compact swing with good plate discipline, and massive power potential, even if it comes packaged along with a very large, and difficult to protect, strike zone. Judge felt like a prospect who could provide positive value on both sides of the ball with the potential to be a true impact hitter at the plate with the type of power that is getting more and more difficult to find.
Instead of Judge, the Reds rolled the dice on another righthanded hitting outfielder, Phil Ervin from Samford University. Ervin headed into the draft as a player who had hit .300 pretty much everywhere he played. He seemed the type who could roll out of bed and hit .300 without much difficulty. In addition, he brought good speed and athleticism to the table.
I wasn't as high on Ervin as the Reds because it felt like there was a real danger of him being a tweener (not enough bat for a corner outfield spot and not enough glove for centerfield). I like the idea of adding a plus hit tool to the system, but without power or the ability to stay in center Ervin would likely fall short of being an impact player.
The early returns on Ervin, however, indicate that there's a reasonable chance that he'll stick in centerfield. If he can stick in centerfield and continue to hit around .300, then the Reds will likely reap a nice return on this investment. However, I still feel like Judge has a higher upside and is the more likely of the two to be a true impact talent.
It remains to be seen which righthanded hitting outfielder was the better selection.