Draft Truths

Jeff Sullivan · June 6, 2014 at 5:37 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

We don’t know if the Mariners drafted well. Hell, the draft isn’t even over yet, although the important bits are. But, we don’t know if the Mariners did well, and in a sense, we never will. This might be the most important point: player careers represent solitary player-career outcomes. For each player, we get an n of 1, and complicating matters to an impossible extent is that there’s drafting and there’s player development, and they both combine to make a player product. Take Jeff Clement. Who could forget Jeff Clement? Clement didn’t work out. Did he bust because he was a bad pick? Did he bust because he was developed poorly? Did he bust because of simple bad luck, like, say, because of a series of injuries? How much of that was the Mariners’ fault? How much of that was the fault of the Mariners people who scouted and drafted him?

If it weren’t for Clement, the Mariners would’ve drafted Troy Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki, as it happens, currently leads the majors in WAR. Was Tulo destined for this, or has Colorado done him a lot of good? What would the Mariners have made with the same ball of clay? Maybe you feel like I’m over-thinking this, but given how much dialogue is exchanged over the amateur draft, it’s critical to realize to limits of our knowledge. We’re not literally clueless, but we’re damn close. The Mariners drafted players yesterday, and today, and they’ll draft more tomorrow, and those players will have futures, and we’ll never be able to say with certainty whether or not the draft was genuinely a good one.

I mean, there’s Dustin Ackley. He’s got a career WAR just an inch higher than Tulowitzki’s 2014 WAR. Everybody in the world loved Ackley at the time. Was that actually a bad pick, or did the Mariners develop Ackley poorly, or did Ackley just mess himself up somehow? If the whole process were to repeat 100 times, how many times would Ackley end up the disappointment he is today? We’re about at the point where we can stop pretending he’s going to figure stuff out tomorrow or the next day. He’s 26 and he doesn’t do the two things that were supposed to be automatic.

The Mariners have a very bright, dedicated scouting staff. The same could be said of pretty much every other team, and each organization has its good and bad apples. The Mariners know a hell of a lot more about each of these players than we do, as they’ve been personally scouted for weeks or months or years, and as many of them have been personally engaged with. It’s kind of exciting to know that the Mariners have someone who believes strongly in literally everyone getting selected. It generates a lot of fan confidence. Just about every player selected by every team has someone who believes strongly in his skills. Most players are drafted with conviction. Most players ultimately go nowhere. It’s not a whole event built around lies, but it is founded upon focusing on upside while pretending the downside isn’t there. Every pick is a long shot, but the scout that internalizes the probabilities is the scout that lies awake, questioning the necessity of making his 5am flight to Merced. Scouts need to be believers in order to stay scouts.

Let’s call everything equal. Everything isn’t equal, but we don’t know how. What’s great about the draft is that it brings talent into the Mariners organization. And, because the Mariners were bad last year, they ought to add more talent to the organization than most of the other teams. If you don’t really know anything, you have to assume talent follows assigned bonus pools, and the Mariners have one of the bigger ones of those. So, the Mariners’ system is taking a step forward. It’s not a step being taken in isolation — everyone in baseball gets better. But the Mariners should get more better relative to most of the rest of the league. In theory they lose ground to the Astros and a few others, but you can’t always get what you want. And we didn’t really want the kind of season that would’ve left the Mariners picking first on Thursday anyway.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting amped about the actual players. Alex Jackson is talented enough to have been selected sixth overall in the country. It’s easy to imagine him as a big-leaguer. Gareth Morgan has enchanting power potential. Austin Cousino could be a long-term center fielder. Everyone that gets drafted has strengths, and everyone that gets drafted early has particularly promising tools. Analyze away; go nuts. Talk about Jackson as an outfielder vs. Jackson as a third baseman. Talk about Morgan vs. Giancarlo Stanton. This whole endeavor is a distraction, so you can focus on whatever you want. Don’t ever let anyone criticize you for your interests. It’s good to just be interested.

But, really, this isn’t about the particular players, so much as it’s about just having new players. That’s the exciting part, the part that panders to the side of every fan who loves making trades in fantasy baseball. The draft means change, change in an uncertain and potentially really good way, and personnel change is an addiction. We can tire of the same players, but every year, around this time, there’s a wave of new players, some of them possibilities to vault into the organization’s top ten prospects. They arrive right when certain other players might be disappointing. June is kind of prospect high tide. It’s always coming, so the cupboard’s never bare. Or, the sand is never without its seashells, or something. Every single year, no matter what, the draft allows us to be more consumed by the baseball hobby we’ve chosen and stuck with. And much like spring training, as fans are concerned, the draft is all upside. There are never clearly visible mistakes. There are always potential All-Stars and regulars.

Talented baseball players are being selected by the Mariners. Many of them will sign. Some of them are among the very most talented baseball players to be entering the professional ranks. We’ll never know how well this drafting went, because starting tomorrow the progress is out of the scouts’ hands. They’ll all get started on preparing for June 2015. It’s going to be up to the coaches, and it’s going to be up to the players. If the Mariners just went to the grocery store, now someone needs to blend the ingredients, because you don’t want to serve a raw potato.

According to the order of things, the Mariners should come out of this a little more talented than a lot of their competition. Reality never quite follows the order of things, but, good luck determining why. That Alex Jackson sure can hit, though, probably.


19 Responses to “Draft Truths”

  1. Woodcutta on June 6th, 2014 6:13 pm

    The MLB Draft is probably the biggest crap shoot of any of the major U.S. pro sports drafts so even if they really miss on a player or an entire draft it isn’t necessarily the fault of the scouts or those in charge of making the picks. The issue I have with the M’s is intentionally deciding to not go all out during the international players signing period or when top international talent, sans Japanense pitchers, becomes available. Refusing to hotly pursue the likes of Chapman, Cespedes, Soler, and Puig is just plain stupid. I understand not all great international players will pan out but continually letting other teams outspend them and sign the next great international player upsets me much more than say picking Clement over Tulo.

  2. Westside guy on June 6th, 2014 7:25 pm

    Was that actually a bad pick, or did the Mariners develop Ackley poorly, or did Ackley just mess himself up somehow?

    I thought FanGraphs messed up Ackley?

  3. Gary Gramson on June 6th, 2014 7:27 pm

    Ackley and Smoak, both were can’t miss bats. Goes to show that “hot prospects” are still just prospects.

  4. Eastside Crank on June 6th, 2014 7:39 pm

    Jeff, look at how the Seahawks have run their drafts or the A’s for that matter. They go in with an ideal of what they are looking for and stay disciplined to it. That is what separates the successful drafts from the ho hum (Mariner) drafts. The selection of Jackson this year is very out of the ordinary for the Mariners. He is a high ceiling HS player who needs a few seasons in the minors to develop. If all goes well, Zduriencik’s successor will have a major talent on his hands.

    Zduriencik et al. have missed on so many players that we have a very good idea that he is not capable of identifying major league talent that fit his system. He continually has drafted based on “time to majors” and not worried about talent per se. The players who have needed time in the minors simply have not developed and then been rushed up to the big league team. The Mariners have developed a culture of failure and it is too easy to give them a pass.

  5. sawsatch on June 6th, 2014 8:33 pm

    Player development? Name one position player developed by the Mariners that should be considered an all star.

  6. Westside guy on June 6th, 2014 9:18 pm

    Player development? Name one position player developed by the Mariners that should be considered an all star.

    That’s easy – Kyle Seager.

    (Whew! I’m glad you didn’t ask for two!)

  7. Jordan on June 6th, 2014 9:52 pm

    Umm, Seager?

  8. Jordan on June 6th, 2014 9:53 pm

    Sorry Westy, I didn’t refresh my screen before commenting.

  9. Westside guy on June 6th, 2014 10:50 pm

    I do that all the time, Jordan, so turnabout is fair play.

  10. Woodcutta on June 6th, 2014 11:22 pm

    Should Seager really be considered all-star caliber?

  11. Westside guy on June 7th, 2014 1:50 am

    If you go by FanGraphs WAR, Seager ranks fourth in all baseball – second in the AL – for third basemen. WRC+ tells a similar story.

    So I’d say yes.

  12. bookbook on June 7th, 2014 3:32 am

    I’d say yes, also. But…

    Seager is notoriously streaky. That he’s second in the AL (behind Donaldson) right after a recent spurt isn’t terribly representative of his true level. I’m not ready to call him as good as Longoria and Beltre, much less better. So, is the fourth best 3b in the AL, “all-star caliber”? One could argue either way. Certainly a draft/development win for the org.

    That the team can have position players like Vinnie Catricala (10th round), Stefen Romero (12th round), Jack Marder (16th round), and Chris Taylor (5th round) etc.–all not signability drops–who we can even argue about whether they’re flops… There’s some successful draft and development in there.

  13. bookbook on June 7th, 2014 7:23 am

    “Jackson makes perfect sense in this spot, as his bat has impact potential and he struggles to hit quality off-speed stuff, which should immediately earn him organizational credibility from the likes of every other hitter in the entire org.”

    Baseball Prospectus has nailed us.


  14. MrZDevotee on June 7th, 2014 8:22 am

    “Player development? Name one position player developed by the Mariners that should be considered an all star.”

    Seager was mentioned…

    How ’bout Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera… Both Major Leaguers immediately after leaving.

    Also, Draft Picks are not automatic things… Since 1965… In 49 years of the draft… The #1 pick has gone on to become an All-Star caliber player only 19 times. And NONE are in the Hall of Fame. (Some will be soon, like Junior, and a few guys after him…)

    Here’s a great article on how many Top Prospects ever pan out.


    4.5% become “great”, 30% have average or better careers, 46.6% become busts.

    37% of the #1-#10 draft picks each season become busts… That jumps to almost 50% for picks 11-20.

    It’s even worse for pitchers– 60% of pitchers picked in picks #1-10 each season become busts. If you’re picked after 70th in a particular draft, and you’re a pitcher, you have an 80% chance of being a bust.

    The draft is fun, but it’s pretty much a crapshoot. Even for high picks. For picks #1-#10, you’re paying millions of dollars to a guy with a 30% chance of being an average Major Leaguer, and a 5% chance of being great.

  15. Longgeorge1 on June 7th, 2014 9:28 am

    I really don’t think we draft as poorly as we develop players. Nearly every year we get a couple of guys that are graded pretty good by the “experts” and they go on to “star” in Tacoma.

  16. djw on June 7th, 2014 1:17 pm

    Seager is notoriously streaky.

    Contra conventional wisdom, even if true this doesn’t diminish his value–particular groupings of good and bad outcomes at the plate aren’t obviously or clearly better than others in terms of their value to the team.

  17. John Morgan on June 7th, 2014 2:46 pm

    Someone mentioned the Seahawks, so–what’s that movie cliche about not saying the demon’s name lest he appear?

    Consider Richard Sherman. It could be said Sherman developed, but I think that might be a tad facile. He was very good his rookie season. In many ways, he is really the same player Seattle drafted in 2011: somewhat slow, tall, smart as hell and with exceptional ball skills. I think, as much as players like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates opened the door for basketball forwards converting to football tight ends, Sherman will begin a trend of college wide receivers converting to professional cornerbacks. (He’s not the first by any stretch, but his success is unprecedented.)

    Now consider Kelly Jennings. He was run out of the league. He’s awful. Awful fast, quick, agile and assignment sound. I know all too well. And when the ball neared the receiver, and he turned to bat at it or attempt the pick, you’d surmise he was awful blind, too.

    What might appear like development I think was something more like accurate talent evaluation. Scouts very much do know more about drafted players than we know, but–as should be clear to anyone living in the 21st century–information can be blinding. It’s better to know less and to be free from red herrings, etc. It is better, if possible, to know only what matters.

    We may think Ackley could have been a better player but I doubt it. I hate to be a dullard in my obtuseness, but dude’s tiny. Seeing him now 26 it’s little wonder he didn’t develop power. He could fit in Tulo’s pant leg.

    That might be total nonsense, I don’t know. But I do know, every major sport is plagued by bad information. In its infancy, statistical analysis in baseball was as much concerned about discrediting bad stats as it was inventing new ones. That’s passed. Now everyone has a pet stat. Statistical analysts used to be outsiders, and their work had the novelty, vigor and rigor one expects of the outsider. The outsider that depends on the quality of their work and not the power of their reputation. Statistical analysts are now more or less mainstream, and we’re inundated with ten permutations of DIPS, five types of WAR, and all sorts of granular measures that may or may not mean anything like fly-ball distance.

    Back to subject: what truly separated and separates Sherman from Jennings is that Jennings was a very good college cornerback that lacked the skills and talent to make it in the pros. Sherman was less accomplished, but his skill set & his talent were made for the pro game. Drafting Sherman was exploiting an inefficiency (same thing: Russell Wilson.)

    Maybe the Mariners got better commensurate with their draft position. The record would seemingly indicate otherwise. This front office seems to chase red herrings. And if Jackson fails, I imagine it will be because he lacks the talent to be a great big leaguer. The ascent from amateur to semi-pro to pro is not linear. There are jumps and discontinuities. In a league of fastball throwers, the hitters that can hit fastballs the best will be the best hitters. And most will never sniff the pros. Meanwhile, somewhere in that vast collection of drafted players is a young man, who can’t stack up. He’s not as big, maybe, or doesn’t have as fast a swing, maybe, or whatever else, but holy hell can he read the curve and barrel up and yank that bastard into the Andromeda Galaxy. He wasn’t a born high school player. He was a born pro.

  18. Woodcutta on June 7th, 2014 5:19 pm

    The issue with using Sherman and the Seahawks as an example, or any basketball/football team, is that scheme is a much bigger factor in that sport. There was a reason Sherman wasn’t as highly touted coming out of college and it wasn’t b/c he didn’t have eye popping numbers at Stanford. There are many experts that believe if Sherman wasn’t drafted by the Seahawks that he wouldn’t be an all pro corner. When Pete Carroll took over he had a blueprint for a successful team and Sherman fit what he wanted in a top corner: a big, physical, and smart corner. Also, Sherman isn’t what one would call a shutdown corner say even 5 years ago. The Seahawks secondary has been one of the best, if not the best, in the NFL for the last few years. In other words, he gets plenty of help not only from his secondary teammates but b/c the scheme doesn’t call for him to be on a island with a receiver. He is a good corner and is the perfect fit for the Seahawks system but he is no Deion Sanders or Darrell Green.

    A big reason the MLB draft is such a crap shoot is that teams are taking 17 and 18 year old kids and trying to project them 5-6 years down the road. The NFL drafts college age kids (usually 21 or 22) and the NBA is built much more, these days, around athleticism so it is easier for a freakish athletic 19 year old to play well enough to stick in the NBA than it is for an 18 year old kid to hit a curveball.

  19. smb on June 8th, 2014 12:45 pm

    Good points, Woodcutta, but I do think some of John’s points are generic enough to apply in both sports. You have to stay at a certain altitude to keep the ideas congruent, but the idea that some guys, despite all amateur success and apparent prototypical skill, just don’t pan out because they weren’t ever going to be a great pro, rather than because of some organizational factors like coaching (or FanGraphs!), is an intriguing one to me. The maddening thing about baseball is that I really think Ack might be flourishing right now had he been drafted to an NL team. I cannot explain that at all, but I’m convinced he wouldn’t be this bad had he been drafted by the Rockies, for example.

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