Brewers front office lacks the hype, but can draft with the best
Ninety miles south, June 3 was the Super Bowl.
It was the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft debut for the trio of new Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein, senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McCleod and general manager Jed Hoyer, the men whom the Ricketts ownership charged with leading the Cubs to a World Series for the first time in over a century.
McLeod's NFL analogy wasn't overstating what the draft is – one of the first steps in rebuilding that moribund franchise.
Major League Baseball no doubt appreciated the Windy City hype, considering the league has moved to make its amateur draft a televised spectacle along the lines of the National Football League and National Basketball Association drafts.
"I think it's fantastic," Brewers director of amateur scouting Bruce Seid said. "There are so many web sites and so many people trying to be evaluators, trying to evaluate the players and the drafts and all that. I think it's fun. I think it's fun for fans. I think it's fun for people in the business to see how people are looking at these prospects."
The added television emphasis, along with Epstein's championship success in Boston and the Hollywood success of Billy "Moneyball" Beane in Oakland, have made general managers more visible than ever. This latest move by baseball to push its draft to a broader audience has placed general managers under an even greater heat lamp than before.
The interesting thing is, Doug Melvin and his scouting team here in Milwaukee have proven over the long haul they can go pick-for-pick with the more well-known regimes in the game (even if Tom Cruise isn't being lined up to play his part in the next baseball-themed movie).
I'm not here to compare Epstein's two World Series rings with Melvin's two playoff appearances – the major league products in Milwaukee and Boston the last decade are truly apples to oranges. In the draft, however, the Brewers' ability to identify talent has been on par with the genius on the North Side of Chicago.
Melvin and Epstein were hired in 2002, with their first drafts coming in the summer of 2003. In the eight drafts Melvin conducted from 2003-10 the Brewers have produced All-Stars in Rickie Weeks (2003), Yovani Gallardo (2004) and a Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in Ryan Braun (2005). It's not a stretch to say catcher Jonathan Lucroy would have been an All-Star this season if not for his broken hand.
In the eight drafts Epstein oversaw in Boston, the Red Sox pulled All-Stars Jonathan Papelbon (2003), Jacoby Ellsbury (2005) and a Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable player in Dustin Pedroia (2004). They also selected a promising young pitcher in Daniel Bard.
True, those are just the stars, or potential stars in the cases of Lucroy and Bard. Anybody could hit on those, right?
Let's look deeper then. The Brewers have also drafted contributors or starters over the last nine years like Tony Gwynn, Jr., Mat Gamel, Taylor Green, Mike McClendon and Michael Fiers. In Boston, only Jed Lowrie has proven to be anything other than a spot call-up.
Now, let's look at the trades of some drafted prospects. Melvin flipped the likes of Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffries and Matt LaPorta for Cy Young winners CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke. Boston turned Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone over for catcher Victor Martinez.
Each team has drafted over 30 players that have appeared in at least one major league game, which is about the best you can hope for in such a fickle game like baseball.
What does all this mean?
It means drafting and evaluating talent in baseball is extremely difficult, and the odds of a player making an impact at the major league level – let alone becoming an All-Star – are minimal.
It also means the grass isn't always greener when fans turn on their own general manager for the lack of prospects coming through the organization, or buy into the hype spun out by major networks and the league that others are turning out more than the average.
And who knows, with the changes in the collective bargaining agreement and the way teams can pay draftees, Brewers fans might find out that their team has been ahead of the curve.
"I felt a lot better knowing everyone was basically on the same playing field and knowing 10 guys in the eighth round weren't going to get a tremendous amount of money because of signability issues," Seid said of the new rules.
There are a whole lot of other factors involved in the creation of a championship baseball team than three days of an amateur draft.
Some may feel it's akin to a Super Bowl, but the truth of the matter is it's just one of a necessary set of plays that will lead to the hoisting of a trophy.
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