The MLB Draft: Love It or Hate It?

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

You can either love it for transforming losing teams like the Milwaukee Brewers into power-hitting playoff contenders or you can hate it for its reoccurring signing flaws and tortuous free-agent compensation system. Either way, we’ve spent some time picking apart the MLB Draft process and decided it needs a makeover as much as Stan Van Gundy’s frazzled hair, collarless shirts and pear-shaped sportcoats.

Doug Melvin and the Milwaukee Brewers make a perfect case study when exploring the challenges the MLB Draft creates for many teams. No other team has poured its concrete foundation using the draft quite like the Crew; with six of the team’s eight everyday pitchers and two of its current starters being products of it. You can also think Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks.

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Problems begin with the time and effort spent on signability rather than athletic ability. Take the NBA or NFL drafts.  Organizations within don’t worry about the likelihood a player will sign.  Each prospect has limited options. As the Milwaukee Brewers began pre-draft strategy discussions last week, GM Doug Melvin expressed frustration over the focus on how much effort and money it would take to sign individuals.

“We went through three or four players today in our meetings and when [the scouts] got done, they said he won’t sign unless he’s a first-round pick,” said Melvin.

Problems multiply exponentially as we study team compensation for the loss of free agents. A small-ball club may lose its highest quality player to the deep-pocketed New York Yankees and receive nothing more than a second-round selection in tandem with a supplemental pick between the first two rounds.

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After the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia netted the Brewers the 39th selection instead of the 25th pick overall.  Thank you statistical rankings! Ben Sheets never lived up to his free-agent potential courtesy his arm injury. He earned the Crew nothing. To make bad worse, Brian Shouse provided the Brewers with a compensation pick that mocked the CC situation—they’ll nab a prospect only eight picks beneath CC for Shouse. Yep.  Shouse, Shouse, let it all out.

As a result of the NLDS birth, the Brewers will not draft until the 26th pick in the first round this year. That makes it nearly impossible to predict who Milwaukee will take, especially as the organization factors in the desire many prospects have to be selected in the first round “or else”.

San Diego State poster boy Stephen Strasburg will go first, complete with ‘best pitching prospect ever’ hype. After the No. 1 selection, it’s anyone’s guess. The bad news for the Brewers: since 1977, when the 26th pick first came in the first round, only three players selected in that spot became significant contributors in the big leagues. The good news: Dan Plesac was Milwaukee’s 26th selection in the 1983 draft.

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Here’s to the Dan Plesac’s of the world. The rest of you?  Don’t consider the second round “beneath you” and when you become a free agent, we hope Major League Baseball has given its stat evals and compensation structures makeovers. Stan Van Gundy? Well he can’t wait that long. So someone at least get the man a tailored suit this week.

What’s Brewing in ’09: Milwaukee’s Infield

By Melissa and Jason Wollering

Don’t start hate-blogging about it now because we can’t handle it this early in the year, but Wickie Reeks will almost certainly be hitting at the top of the order again in ’09. Melvin defends Weeks to Baggot in this article. Bernie’s Crew also crunches Weeks’ average stats, pointing out at least he’s not a detriment to the team.

MW: Brother Jay, these articles bring up some great points about two common perceptions. 1. Why do people think second basemen have to be contact hitters, say, like Jimmy Gantner?

JW: For those who remember watching PBS when the show debuted in 1980, “3-2-1 Contact” this: 90 players struck out at least 100 times in ‘08 and 14 were second basemen.

MW: And it’s a little-known fact, last year Weeks was second in runs scored among NL leadoff hitters. He was also #1 in all of baseball in scoring from second base on a base hit – 23 for 24. Eat your pinstripes Johnny Damon; you went 9 for 22. Onto #2: The leadoff guy must BB a lot.

JW: Big sis’, last week Melvin asked reporters how many players walked more than 100 times last season. Answer = Adam Dunn, Jack Cust, Fat Al Pujols and Pat Burrell; none of whom are leadoff guys.

MW: Did I ever tell you I sloot Melvin’s argumentative skills? Speaking of walks though…

Prince may be King after $18M, but his increased platoon split is one of Paul Noonan’s 10 Biggest Brewers’ Fears. Coming into the league, he hit against both lefties and righties with fervor. But with the Crew already lopsided, we don’t need lefties thinking Prince is easy-to-manage at the plate. He’ll need to take his walks in ’09. No more .313 OBP, even if that is your “real weight” buddy.

In , seven Brewers minor leaguers signed contracts for ’09: SS Alcides Escobar; 3B Mat Gamel; 3B Casey McGehee; 1B/OF Brad Nelson, C Angel Salome and relievers Tim Dillard and Mitch Stetter. Stetter has the best shot at making the club in spring training as their lefty relief specialist. Dillard’s not out of the question, either.

As for Escobar, his baby’s mama is causing drama. But Alcides’ potential has implications for the team’s best defensive infielder – James Jerry Hardy. Melvin isn’t afraid to say the reason JJ’s never been offered a long-term contract is Escobar. Melvin doesn’t want to ask the SS to move to third either, even though speculation regarding that increased this off-season. Enjoy ‘09 and expect Hardy to contribute big: over the last two seasons he’s hit .280, averaged 25 get-up-get- up-get-outta-here-gone’s, and 77 RBI’s.

And who’s on third? Bill Hall. But there’s some speculation that position could become 3B by committee. Crazy, but true. Mike Lamb worked several wonders for the Crew off the bench last season and will be used again. My clear choice when needed is none other than Craig Counsell. And since my readers enjoyed last week’s flow chart, here’s a comparison graph on Counsell’s production since 2002, courtesy of Right Field Bleachers.

This season, In-Between Hops (the site markets itself as a full keg of Brewers with a couple pints of generic baseball news) calculates there’s a 30% chance the Crew could be the 12th team in MLB History to have four 30-HR hitters and a 7% chance it could be the first team to ever possess five.

Ken Macha is not Pete Rose– but if he were, he’s told the media he thinks five of his guys can knock out 25+. There’s a small chance that seven Brewers could go 25+ in ’09: Braun, Cammie, Prince, Hall, JJ, Hart and Weeks. The odds of this may be similar to me replacing Jim Powell….but nevertheless it is possible.

Shouse…Shouse…let it all out. He’s the next we’ll have to live without as Tampa Bay picks him up. He got a two-year gig, we were offering one. Ray Durham may not play for anyone in ’09. The MLB Network is starting off its first season by spewing hogwash. No Jon Heyman, the Brewers do NOT have interest in free agent lefty Oliver Perez because that investment would be as worthwhile as the last Citibank bailout. Hardricourt sniffs a Boras marketing ploy and we concur.

Surprise! Ben Sheets’ ratings are higher than General Hospital ’s or Days of Our Lives…cmon’ man, I needs me some guarantees. Like Marquette shining without Tom Crean, take your inflated self-worth Ben and issue a courtesy flush.

Don’t have a coronary, but Cappy could be back before the All-Star Break. Melvin estimates as early as May, and some have already shot the Chris Capuano as “Comeback Player of the Year” phrase out. The lefty is recovering from Tommy John’s.

This week in “Friendly Fire With the Cubs,” Rich Hill may fly east to nest with the Orioles. This time we’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.

And finally, in “Just a Bit Outside,” Cubs’ pre-game WGN radio announcer Cory Provus may be the front-runner to replace Jimmy Powell. Here’s Jimmy’s farewell to fans. Timeline = February 25th. Uecker reaction = “Back in the day, I signed with the Milwaukee Braves for $3,000. That bothered my dad at the time because he didn’t have that kind of dough. But he eventually scraped it up. Say new guy, how do you catch a knuckleball?

Wait until it stops rolling, then go to the backstop and pick it up.”