More reasons why baseball is not like football.
Through the first two days of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, I’ve heard from a lot of you regarding the Astros’ picks. A lot of you have raised questions as to why they’re drafting certain positions and what that might mean for some of the Astros players on the current Major League roster.
I’ve also heard of some questionable commentary on local radio shows that I find to be somewhat disconcerting. These comments seems to be fueling public confusion about how the team views its current big league players.
Baseball is unique from the other major sports in that it takes, typically, a few years before the draftees can make an impact on the Major League level (Stephen Strasburg, obviously, is the exception). In football and basketball, the returns are immediate. Baseball is a longer process.
The players who the Astros draft this week simply have absolutely nothing to do with the job security of the players currently playing at the big league level.
One talk show host insinuated that the Astros’ decision to draft Delino DeShields Jr. as their first pick somehow indicates Michael Bourn has a limited future with the Astros. This line of thinking is just absurd. First of all, the Astros envision DeShields as a second baseman (although he will play center this year), and even if he was honed as a center fielder, that has absolutely nothing to do with Bourn. DeShields has a lot of development ahead of him before he can think about the big leagues. Bourn is a star whom the Astros are not interested in dealing.
Healthy Major League organizations have deep, deep farm systems. They have several players at each position who could potentially impact the team on the big league level. They go into Spring Training with a log jam all over the field, and several players who are good enough to be on the team aren’t, simply because there are more capable and experienced players ahead of them on the depth chart.
When the Astros’ farm system was rated No. 1 by just about everyone several years ago, they had too many pitchers qualified to make the rotation coming out of Spring Training. There were times I’d look at the spring roster and think, “where are they going to put everyone?” Then, inevitably, there would be injuries, or players who slumped terribly, or supposed up-and-comers who flamed out halfway through the season. And there was usually a stud prospect who was given a shot, and performed well. I remember in 1998, Richard Hidalgo was by far the best outfielder in the organization. And he was shipped to Triple-A before Spring Training ended.
That’s where the Astros are trying to get back to. They appear to be on the right track, but I encourage you to not put too much stock into what positions these young players are being drafted as. Think about it: Lance Berkman was drafted as a first baseman. Even Puma thought he didn’t have much of a chance to be drafted by the Astros because they obviously had a mainstay in Jeff Bagwell at first, and in 1997 he was hands down one of the best first basemen in baseball and in the prime of his career.
So what if the Astros had decided to pass on Puma, because of Bagwell? Instead, they converted Berkman into an outfielder, and he performed a lot better than the club had envisioned. Then he took over at first when Bagwell’s shoulder gave out five years after Berkman was drafted.
In ’97, the Astros drafted the best player available, and that player was Berkman. I think we can agree the returns have been off the charts.
Prospects can change positions. Some of you have noticed the Astros selected several catchers on Tuesday. Those catchers can easily become third basemen, or first basemen, or some other position down the road. They can also become catchers. While we’re all very optimistic about Jason Castro, we don’t know for sure what he’ll be. There are also no guarantees that he won’t get hurt.
Depth. Its importance cannot be underestimated.
And also, keep in mind prospects are extremely valuable to an organization when it needs trade chips to get that one player who can make a difference in a contending season. It’s all about stockpiling, and if the Astros have too many good players at one position, that’s a great problem to have. It’s what got them to the postseason six times in 10 years, and it’s what will get them there again.
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