Everyone seems to love a story arc these days. It used to be that serial TV shows would intersperse character development with plot. Nowadays, if you miss a week, you've probably missed the beginning/collapse of a few romantic entanglements. Everything now has to be interrelated somehow. Since Al recently asked me to write some Draft Prep articles, I decided to go a bit with the story arc premise.
Before I get there, I've been away for awhile. Early last July, I did some..... reassessing. I realized there were a few things I needed to prioritize. One thing I needed to stop doing immediately was getting into long, drawn-out discussions/debates where my words were being misrepresented. I needed to dial back on that sort of blogging.
I took a bit over a month off, and decided I was more interested in the writing angle, and faaaaaar less in the "throwing wet sand in a sandbox" angle. I was fine with answering valid questions. However, those take two or three brief and pleasant exchanges, not multiple hours of rancor.
I ran away, and eventually began a blog at The Zygote 50 where I do exactly that. If nothing happens over a weekend, I don't post anything. If the Cubs make three or four apparently pointless roster moves, I kick into overdrive. I came up with five names for potential Edgar Olmos PTBNL options. Yeah, I still do the arcane rather well.
On my site, I gave up on the draft, as I didn't want to create a list to 150, when the Cubs are idle for the first 100 picks. However, since Al asked, I decided to run a string of five articles talking about the 2016 Draft. It won't be like my old ones where I overcompensated on the top few guys. Instead, it's a broader look at drafting in a draft where the Cubs don't draft early.
And the story arc begins with a coaching glut. Back in the day, , I'm not entirely sure how a mid-level college would select an assistant coach. Nobody really cared about college baseball. A coach would probably be happy to have anyone capable as an assistant. For a pitching coach, maybe a guy that pitched somewhere in the minors. And was on staff at the school. For the other assistant, maybe a guy who was a semi-pro that knew the area. What passed for coaching before was.... wellllll.... it was a different time.
Now, it's somehow different. With Baseball America and their competitors, some people have, as their job, going to college or high school baseball games. And tweeting about them. Then writing an article, after talking to some pro scouts. That's their job, in effect. Generally, they are unaffiliated region scouts, working for a media outlet. And they get rather good at it.
Suddenly, when a mid-major near the Appalachians has a coaching vacancy, if the up-and-comer from the local big-name school turns down the University, they can poach a guy who is a professional writer/scout. And he's likely as good as the average coach from twenty years ago.
Similarly, these types are very valued when MLB squads overhaul their front offices. The Cubs signed quite a few. The Braves signed Kiley McDaniel, who was my go-to draft guy. On the other hand, if a MLB side ignores their scouts, they become coaching options at colleges. Schools are turning a profit in baseball on occasion now. Teams were drawing 12,000 on occasion in February. And not in Mesa.
With scouting better, and coaching better, it's of little surprise that some players are getting really good. The technology used by a few teams in the 1990s has now expanded to junior colleges today. Baseball camps are the rage for hign school players, and each draft has a 18-year-old option or six throwing high-90s gas.
Much will be made of kids who throw their arms out in college. However, that has always happened. Perhaps it's a bit more with near-triple-digit velocities, but kids ruined their arms in high school throwing 82 miles per hour, then and now. It makes a sexier story when a player is months from a seven-figure contract. But, like story arcs, that's how it goes.
As the concept of Wins Above Replacement is almost old-school now, people are getting fairly decent at putting dollar values on wins. Drafting a player for a thousand to a million dollar bonus is an absolute heist if he can contribute to the team's success. Spending $1 million on a bonus, $500,000 on his minor league development, and $4 million more in his first six seasons balances quite well if he has 10 wins above, with wins-above now in the $7 million range.
Developing talent used to be a necessary evil. Now, it's a way to display supremacy, and win titles. Quality coaches are being poached from other systems. The Cubs lost coaches this off-season to the Rangers (Anthony Iapoce was the system hitting coach, and is now the Rangers hitting coach) and Brewers (Derek Johnson had been the Cubs Pitching Coordinator, and is now the Milwaukee pitching coach). Not only do coaches get respect from colleges, but other teams.
With better coaching, and better developed players, it's of relatively little surprise that players "pop up" from out of "nowhere". The perception that only a few guys are valid prospects, and everyone else is taking up space is a vestige of that by-gone era. Teams all know the value of conditioning, weight-lifting, nutrition, and "mental skills" aren't far behind. The Cubs are teaching yoga in their Instructional League in November.
And the facilities are far more useful from ones in the past.
Players are coached far better than they used to be. So long as they mind their lessons, and come prepared, they might be able to become "real options" for a different reason now. Not because of a lack of competition, but due to amenities and coaching to go with technology benefits.
The players the Cubs draft in 2016 will be well scouted, and delivered to quality coaches with a single-minded vision of developing quality baseball payers. They'll do just fine this June. Next time, I'll push the arc a little farther, and talk about some reasonable expectations for the 2016 draft from a Cubs perspective.