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2020 MLB Draft Prep: What are the expectations for a draft pick?

What benchmarks do players need to meet once they are in a MLB organization?

Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

Most of my draft articles look at a specific team. Teams have players that can impress scouts and create a buzz for draft week. If they get signed, through the draft or after, they have a chance to percolate through a team's system. This is a look at assessing expectations to amateur signings, and why even incremental player improvements can greatly upgrade their value to the organization.

Fans and writers alike enjoy, in a perverse sense, discussing about "draft busts". If you listen to the right microphone on the wrong day, Albert Almora Jr. or Ian Happ might be referred to as a bust. As the minor league development cycle isn't in many people's wheelhouse, these contentions might go unchallenged. As such, for a talk show host's shift, Almora or Happ is a bust.

Massive problems arise when talking about a baseball draft "bust." Few people know enough about baseball selections to have reasons for expectations. To "bust out", a player in the baseball draft would need to miss on normally non-existent expectations.

To accurately assess a player as a bust, regardless how they were acquired, an early "expectation of production" should be protocol. Having accepted norms for selections, at different round or bonus level markers, would be a starting point before bust labels are tossed about regarding choices. This is more realistic in football or basketball.

In baseball, recent draftees are often unfamiliar. Not many of the Cubs writers were familiar enough with Almora to tag a valid expectation on him. With the lack of expectations, it's difficult to have failed to meet expectations that weren't there to start with. Toss in that Almora stopped at least three games in his minor league tenure because he ran into walls trying to catch the ball, and another question is raised. Concussions were less of a concern in 2012 and 2013 than they are now. If Almora has been limited by concussions, his lag might be in part due to too much effort. If injuries derail a player, I side with the player, usually.

To talk about draft busts, stick to the ones that make sense. The Cubs used to be great at them. Earl Cunningham was selected eighth overall in 1989. He played four years in the Midwest League. His highest OPS was .720. Charles Johnson, Cal Eldred, Mo Vaughn, and Chuck Knoblauch were on the board.

The year before, the Cubs preferred Ty Griffin over Robin Ventura, Tino Martinez, Royce Clayton, and Charles Nagy. Griffin had an OPS of .521 in a retry of Double-A Ball before being released. Whether it was the selection, the development system, or both, for Griffin and Cunningham is up for debate. Games weren't streamed online, then.

If you want to eventually call out a baseball selection as a bust? Cool, if that's your realm. Savages need a voice on talk radio, or wherever. If the guy the Cubs take with the 16th overall pick next June is to be a bust, what expectations must he fail to reach? And why are you selecting those expectations? Historically, only one 16th overall failed to sign. Twelve have had a career WAR over 10. Two of the three before Hayden Simpson (also a 16 overall) failed to reach MLB.

Realistically, the minor league/major league setup creates realistic tiers for prospects to reach. The earlier a selection, or the higher their signing bonus, the further they should develop.

Graduates from the team complex
Reaches full-season ball
Plays well in Double-A
Earns a 40-man roster spot
Is likely included in trade discussion asks (thus, other teams want him)
Plays in a spring-training game with the parent club
Reaches Triple-A
Gets a MLB callup
Plays in MLB
Gets retained in an off-season on the 40-man roster
Reaches arbitration in MLB
Is considered a starter

The Cubs figure to draft 40 players in June, and should sign some after the draft. If someone is going to be considered a bust, I'd appreciate knowing which level of expertise he's being expected to reach. The sooner the better. As a supporter of players in the pipeline giving it their all, regardless the level, I'm on their side. At least, until they give me reasons not to be.