Monday, June 15, 2015

Draft: This is why we can't have nice things....

...or, at least, nice, disciplined, professional hitters.

The 2015 draft has come and gone. The Reds didn't draft the players I wanted.

Garrett Whitley? Nope.

Dakota Chalmers? Evidently not.

Brendon Sanger? Surely you jest.

That's all well and good. They undoubtedly know more about those guys than I do. Still, I can't help but be disappointed that they didn't draft them. On some level, I'm most disappointed about Brendon Sanger. I like Sanger's game. I really do. But, the larger disappointment isn't missing out on one specific player (one who might, admittedly, be more of a fourth outfielder type), it's the failure to adopt a draft strategy that prioritizes the acquisition of these types of players.

The Reds are on the precipice, the fall is coming. A rebuild isn't just advisable, it's inevitable. As part of that rebuild, I really wanted to see the Reds prioritize the acquisition of players with strong hit-tools and plate discipline.

Looking back on the Houston Astros fiasco with Brady Aiken from a year ago, I remember Jeff Luhnow being very calm about the wasted first overall pick. He stated that, while it was unfortunate, the club would be fine and that it wouldn't even be detrimental to the rebuild.

The sentiment was surprising in its authenticity. At the time, the Aiken situation was turning into the storm of the century. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone was caught up in it. Somehow, in the face of it all, the Astros were the calm center of the storm.

The Astros could remain calm for the simple reason that their focus is on process, not individual players. Fans get obsessed with the player, the organization is obsessed with the process by which every player is acquired. Fans get invested in the name on the back of the jersey, whereas for the organization that's merely a proxy for the probability of receiving a certain level of production. If that player is gone, then they just find a new way to approximate that lost probability. To some extent, it's a formula for production. They are always trying to improve their process, because the process will constantly yield the players.

The Reds have their own process. It's not as systematic, nor as ruthlessly calculating, as the Astros' process. Even so, the Reds' process emphasizes players who fit a certain profile.

Here's a Mark Sheldon article about the draft with some quotes from Chris Buckley, director of scouting:

"We just find the more athletic they are, the better adjustments they make and the better they can handle everything," Reds senior director of scouting Chris Buckley said after the Draft ended Wednesday night. 
As is often the case, the Reds loaded up on pitching and took 21 pitchers over the three days. But they also loaded up players that play up and down the middle of the field. Fifteen picks were either catchers, middle infielders or center fielders. 

"We always try to do that," Buckley said. "Todd, Devin and Drew Stubbs were up the middle guys. All are very athletic. A lot of these guys do different things well, and we project them for something else."

So, there you have it, in a nutshell. The Reds look for (1) athleticism and (2) players who play up-the-middle defensive positions. 

A quick look at the team's picks in the top 20 rounds bears this out: 13 pitchers, 1 catcher, 3 shortstops, 2 second basemen, and 2 centerfielders. Not a corner player in the bunch. 

There is clearly a lot of value in athleticism at premier defensive positions. So, targeting such players make a degree. At the same time, by focusing almost exclusively on that profile, you are overlooking a certain subset of players. A potentially valuable subset. 

This excluded subset includes corner players and players who are longer on baseball skills than athleticism and tools. The obvious problem is that most impact hitters come from the corner spots and most disciplined hitters are longer on skills than tools. 

There are only so many Troy Tulowitzkis and Robby Canos in the world and even if they are in the draft pool then they won't be there for long. In the current top 20 round draft class, Blake Trahan might be the one player who overlaps both the Reds criteria (athleticism, premier position) and the disciplined hitter criteria (controls the zone, more walks than whiffs, etc) that I think they need. There just aren't many who fit that particular profile.

So, are the Reds, an organization frequently short on disciplined hitters, undercutting their ability to develop them by adopting a draft strategy that largely eliminates them from consideration? It seems like it.

If they didn't like Brendon Sanger (4th round, 135th overall to the Angels), then maybe they could have reeled in David Thompson (4th round, 119th overall to the Mets), David Kerian (9th round, 284th overall to the Nationals), Austin Byler (11th round, 316th overall to the Diamondbacks), or any number of players who fit a more disciplined profile. None of these types of players may pan out, but the underlying point is that you can't end up with a Matt Carpenter type if you don't draft disciplined hitters. You can't really teach the ability to control the strike zone, you either have it or you don't.

At the opposite end of the "organizational philosophy" spectrum from the Reds would probably be the Cardinals, who are never short on disciplined hitters. The Cardinals are willing to draft and develop players who are short on athleticism and long on baseball skills. Players like Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, and Stephen Piscotty leap to mind.

In the modern game, there is very little more valuable than a plus hit-tool and/or plus on-base ability. That means that the acquisition cost of those types of players is massive. Simply put, if the Reds aren't drafting those players, then they won't be able to acquire them without incurring massive expense.

Draft and develop them, it's the only way. That means that the ability to control the strike zone should be a much larger thumb on the scale in the draft process. Unfortunately, it isn't. 

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