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Drafting Athletes

Feb 28, 2005

Like all bad baseball franchises, the Orioles went through a period where they exposed the virtues of drafting ‘athletes’. By athletes of course, it was meant that they were quite good at certain aspects of baseball and perhaps good at other sports as well. For example, during the 1999 draft the Orioles had 4 picks in the first round — a genuine recipe for such correct? Unfortunately, they decided to use their picks on what were considered to be the 1st and 3rd most ‘athletic’ players in the draft: Keith Reed and Larry Bigbie respectively. It was highly touted at the time because between them they could run the 100m in something like 10 nanoseconds. As it turns out, both Reed and Bigbie’s athleticism didn’t quite translate into skill on the minor league baseball field. Certainly Bigbie has achieved a modicum of success, and could in fact turn out to be a nice player, but Reed has consistently been a model of failure. While he has certainly beefed up his numbers a bit (envision a White Castle burger), he still swings at everything that isn’t aimed directly at the mascot. That’s OK though… I’m sure his athleticism will carry him and he’ll figure out how to hit one day — hopefully before he’s 30. Remember Ryan Minor? He was a pretty good basketball player, and some say he might have been something in the NBA. Well, the Orioles were so impressed by his athleticism that they rewarded him with a long career of futility in the farm system. Of course, this inability to hit was rewarded with a few callups and the title of “heir-apparent to Ripken” (perhaps they meant Billy… or Sr.). Maybe they liked the way that he filled out an Orioles uniform with his outstanding physique? Rick Elder was a stud in high school. He literally could make cork molecules force their way out from the center of a baseball, through the pores of the leather upon contact. Sadly, Elder couldn’t quite get over the whole strike out problem (73 times in 204 ABs in 1999) and I think that his elbow literally flew off — probably from swinging so hard. Darnell McDonald was another fine specimen of humanity with great ‘tools’. Of course, as is expected, his physique didn’t quite translate into making contact with a pitched baseball. He floundered in the system for a few years and actually got a brief sniff in 2004. Maybe the Cleveland air will help. Finally, we come to a player by the name of Chris Smith. He was a great outfielder as an amateur, but one day decided to pitch in JuCo. We I’ll be, but that boy sure could throw a baseball hard… oh and he’s a leftie. The Orioles found this combination too tempting to pass up and drafted him ahead of John Van Benschoten, Casey Kotchman, Aaron Heilman, ahhh you get the point. As it turns out Chris had logged very few innings during his years in college any his arm just couldn’t handle the strain. It’s a pity too because he sure could throw hard, not to mention his bulldog mentality.

What have these draft picks taught us? Perhaps, it’s better to draft players based on heir ability at baseball instead of how fast they are? Maybe it isn’t wise to look at ‘tools’ when the player in question has not actually turned them into an ounce of success? It’s possible that a guy might not be a good baseball player even though he might fill out like Bo Jackson? These are the lessons that I have learned. The Orioles on the other hand by hiring Joe Jordan have learn something else entirely:

“You’ve got to look for athletes, and we’re going to look for athletes…. You’ve got to look for tools because that’s what helps teams win at the big league level. And then baseball players. If you can find those three ingredients in enough guys, then you’re going to have good drafts and you’re going to have good minor league teams, and eventually those guys are going to work their way to the big leagues.” –Jordan

“You can’t try to complicate this anymore than you have to. It’s about tools, it’s about athletes and guys who know how to play the game.” –Jordan

Oh oh.


One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. Anonymous

    Great post! Thanks!

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