2014 MLB Draft Prep Seeks An Advantage

USA TODAY Sports

A bit of meandering on a few topics today.

I fear that I may have contributed to the Bad Science phenomenon last year. Sometimes, something gets repeated to often that people assume it's true. I may have fallen for one before. Hopefully, I'm looking at things now in a more science-y, economist fashion now. I see no reason to believe that 90 percent of Tommy John surgery pitchers recover.

As the list of pitchers off to see Dr. James Andrews seemingly increases by the day, the meme of TJS recovery being a near-certainty is probably a misnomer. In the Cubs system, Robert Whitenack was on a fast track to the bigs before an injury effectively ended his career. Marcelo Carreno was acquired from Detroit for Jeff Baker. I think he has gone into witness protection. Four significant major-league pitchers are facing the surgery soon. If return was a virtual certainty, all or most would approach or exceed their prior standing. I doubt it happens.

The surgery can, certainly, be overcome. Instead of the 'likely' prognosis, I'd be better with the cliched coin-flip. The pitcher may regain form. Or, he may not. If he doesn't, it might, or might not, be on him. By the way, if you see numbers on an exhaustive study including names, years, before and after velocities and stats, and the like, let me know.

***

To succeed in a competitive field, it really helps to have an advantage. No, not your garden-variety comparative advantage, like a state being better at growing corn compared to another state, like Georgia over Wyoming. Or the other way around. I mean a true advantage.

The Dodgers seem to have usurped the Yankees for having the deepest pockets around. The Rays seem best at developing pitching. The Braves seem best located to have solid drafts yearly, as the Georgia high school scene is undervalued. The Rangers have the best toolsy power-hitters in their chain. But what have the Cubs ever had as far as 'the best'? Outside of fans, of course.

The Cubs may now have an advantage. The question will be, how to parlay that into wins in the regular and post-season. That advantage is, the facility in Mesa is the best spring training facility around. It sounds like the Dominican one is the best of its rivals. Everyone I've heard has had nice things to say, even those with little or no loyalty to the club. It will be awhile before other teams catch up in the facility sweepstakes (And the coaching doesn't seem far behind.), so the question is, how to develop a system to extract benefit from the system.

One possible way is through a concept that mike make some feel a bit ill-at-ease. Communicating better with player agents. Agents should be all about getting the best situation possible for their players. While most think about agencies helping veterans sign multi-million dollar deals, players who aren't yet pros use agents for advice as well. I think two situations exist for the Cubs to utilize their advantage to acquire more talent.

***

First, though, a bit of a review/overview of the draft. In days gone by, a team could offer a draftee any amount of bonus they wanted. A student who had a scholarship from a good university could 'justify' asking for a large bonus, or spurn the offer and go to school. With the last ratified Collective Bargaining Agreement, that has, to an extent, gone away.

Pools have been normalized quite a bit, based on prior season's record. Therefor, teams with better records are much more limited than struggling teams on how much they can offer in bonuses. Anything over the allotted amount will result in a penalty, from a fine to a lost draft pick. Players after the tenth round will rarely get more than a $100,000 bonus, which won't buy many preps out of life at college.

What I think the Cubs ought to do is consider promoting the facilities they have in their meetings with prospective draftees. Then, if things go well, be upfront with the player's agent on finding out if the player is willing to come to Mesa to star t their pro career. Offer the full $100,000 regularly to 'chase' casndidates.

Offering that much to many 'chase' candidates, especially if paired with scholarship offers (which MLB ought to be better about permitting on higher levels) might add a couple million to a draft budget. However, completely without league sanctions. Adding in the premise that a win above replacement value keeps increasing, adding $2 million to a draft budget should be considered a cost of running a business well.

***

Two types of players would seem to be influenced by this plan. One is a prep arm that signed with a local school (think Mid-American Conference or Conference USA, not SEC) after his junior season. He was, maybe, throwing 87 or 88, and the school decided to take a shot on him, and he liked their safety factor. Now, it's a year later, and his velocity has bumped up to 91-92. Still not enough to be considered a top five round selection, but worth a gamble for a pro team.

The other risk would be on an injured college guy. For instance, Indiana's Ryan Halstead was the best pitcher I heard throw in a Hoosiers game against Texas Tech. He struck out the side in the ninth, sounding like a pro. Since then, the junior's knee has gone bad, ending his season prematurely. Relievers usually are somewhat dismissed anyway. Add in an injury, and that shouldn't help.

In either case, the pitcher (I guess hitters could be considered as well) has enough upside to justify a pick after the 20th round, possibly before. A key is having late knowledge if the youngster would sign specifically with the Cubs for the maximum amount that won't go against the cap.

Kind of a basic idea, I hear you think. Why wouldn't another team try the same strategy? I'm sure it's done all the time. However, the Cubs have an advantage nobody else has. Or likely will for a few years. The best facilities in either spring site.

The prep considering Middle Tennessee State could worry about if his coach will actually start him in games if he gets off to a slow start. Or what if his coach leaves? Or he feels a twinge in his arm in a start in February in a game that started with 36 degree temperatures?

Or, he could be out in Arizona, deciding if today was a leg day or an arms day when it came to weight work. Or wanted to pitch a side-session at one of the facility's seven diamonds. And wash it all down with a smoothie from the club's hydration station.

For a college guy like Halstead, he could worry about rehabbing his injury well enough to impress coaches in the spring. Hoping his knee responds to the weather in Bloomington at home games in March. Or, he could have his own workout machines in Arizona, pitching when he and team doctors deem him ready to throw.

It won't work on everyone, for sure. But any justification the team can use to bring in added talent ought to be fully considered. That's how you fully utilize an advantage.

***

In games this week, Carlos Rodon and Tyler Beede were both involved in pitchers duels. Both North Carolina State and Vanderbilt lost their starts. Trea Turner, who seems to be slipping a bit nationally, had a hit against FSU's Luke Weaver. Meanwhile, East Carolina's Jeff Hoffman had a second straight rocky outing. So, logically, Hoffman may have overtaken Rodon in some scouts' estimation.

How does that make sense? Because it's about 2017, not March of 2014. Hoffman is playing in front of a brutal defense, and throws harder than Rodon. Mocks seem to like Beede going at four to the Cubs. Which leads to a mild pet peeve of mine. I have no problem with Beede if his command remains solid. However, I do not see him being an ace, on the lines of Pedro Martinez, Justin Verlander, or Clayton Kershaw.

He does, however, represent a solid, reasonable safe out on a top of rotation guy for a decade or so, posting results better than Travis Wood has. Does that make him an ace? No. I doubt Beede or Hoffman will be an ace, either. If you want an ace, you need someone more transcendent. Someone with more velocity. Someone, perhaps, more skilled, but more raw. Someone like Tyler Kolek, who could turn out to be a guy who just throws really hard.

Aces aren't necessarily safe. If you want an ace, you often have to take a chance. Would I take Kolek or Brady Aiken (this year's possible Kershaw) at 1.4 over the safer Beede? I'm not sure. But if you want-want-want an ace, you're likely going to have to take-take-take a gamble.

By the way, Kolek threw at 102 this week, and has fanned two-thirds of the hitters he's faced in Texas.

Erick Fedde had a solid, but unspectacular performance in a blowout win at San Jose State.

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