Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Not exactly the Reggie Bush-Vince Young-Matt Leinart Show

by Jeremy Bird

Let’s just say the MLB is no NFL or NBA when it comes to draft day.

Today's top picks: Luke Hochevar and Brett Sinkbeil. Aren't you excited? Hochevar and Sinkbeil? If you have honestly heard of either of these guys, I tip my cap to your knowledge. If you have heard of both of these players, you are officially obsessed.

The Royals, in the team’s first ever No. 1 pick, selected right-hander Luke Hochevar, most recently of the independent Fort Worth Cats of the American Association. The Florida Marlins took Brett Sinkbeil as their first pick at No. 19, from Missouri State University. What a media-drawing 1-2 punch.

The only household names of the first round were relatives of former baseball stars. Preston Mattingly, the son of former Yankees Don Mattingly, went to the Dodgers with the 31st overall pick, while Kyle Drabek, former MLB pitcher Doug Drabek’s son, went to the Phillies at No. 18.

(The only other household name would be Tampa Bay’s pick: Long Beach State third baseman Evan Longoria, who we all hoped was related to Eva, but that turned out to be a bad rumor).

So, there was no Reggie Bush controversy. No Vince Young hype. No Matt Leinart speculation. Who cares?

Today’s 50-round MLB draft marks the first step towards Cooperstown for some future baseball stars. It marks the hope and optimism for many teams looking to build clubs for the future (enter Royals and Marlins). And, most important, for fans today might have brought you years of bleacher happiness. Only time will tell.

And because I hate the crystal ball futuristic predictions, let's take a look at some lessons from recent drafts instead. Here are my top four:

1. No. 1's are often overrated. The No.1 pick in recent years has not become an immediate impact player. Pat Burrell and Joe Mauer are probably the most prominent players selected No. 1 in the past 10 years (Burrell went in 1998 and Mauer in 2001).

Here are some of the other No. 1 picks: The Devil Rays signed Josh Hamilton to a $3.96 million signing bonus in 1999. Hamilton has been on Major League Baseball's suspended list since Feb. 18, 2004 after being suspended for violating MLB’s substance abuse policy. Other selections since 1996: Kris Benson (Pirates, 1996), Matt Anderson (Tigers, 1997), Adrian Gonzalez (Devil Rays, 2000), Bryan Bullington (Pirates, 2002), Delmon Young (Devil Rays, 2003), Matthew Bush (Padres, 2004) and Justin Upton (Diamondbacks, 2005). Not exactly franchise players.

Looks like it will be a few more long summers in Kansas City.

2. No. 2 picks are money. In the past 10 years, Josh Beckett, Travis Lee, Mark Mulder, J.D. Drew (although he ended up coming back and going No. 5 after rejecting the Phillies in 1997), Mark Prior, Rickie Weeks, and Justin Verlander all went as No. 2 picks.

Weeks was drafted in 2003 and Verlander in 2004. Those guys are already impact players. Looks like Colorado fans should be excited about Greg Reynolds, today’s No. 2 pick. He has recent history on his side.

3. Better late than never. Many of today’s biggest stars were drafted after Round 20. Kenny Rogers, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Shane Spencer, Paul Lo Duca, Wade Miller, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, and Marcus Giles were all selected in Round 20 or later. Jonathan Papelbon was picked in the 40th round. Who will be the next Mike Piazza, who was selected in Round 67?

4. Only time will tell. Since 1965, when MLB started its free agent draft, only 20 drafted players have advanced directly to the majors without playing in the minors. The last was Xavier Nady, who was drafted by San Diego in 2000.

Of the 37 prior Major League Baseball drafts, many tout 1985 as the best draft year ever. It was the year of Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Mark Grace, Barry Larkin, Walt Weiss, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and B.J Surhoff (who went No. 1 - proving the overrated No. 1 theory).

When will we know who are the great major leaguers from today's draft? You'll be watching them in the 2009 and 2010 All-Star game.

So, unlike the NFL or NBA drafts, today is not a sexy, media-driven day. It is, however, a day that will shape baseball for years to come. I look forward to cheering for (and against) some of the players who started their journey to the majors today.

Jeremy Bird's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays


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