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Should MLB Draft Coverage Allow For Failure?

If you watched the MLB Network's coverage of the amateur draft Monday night, you might think that everybody drafted will become a big star. Which is possible, but unlikely.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig speaks during the MLB First Year Player Draft held in Studio 42 at the MLB Network in Secaucus, New Jersey.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
MLB commissioner Bud Selig speaks during the MLB First Year Player Draft held in Studio 42 at the MLB Network in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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I have a request, for everyone who's involved in Major League Baseball Network's coverage, a year from now, of the First-Year Player Draft:

Please inject at least a modicum of practicality into your comparisons.

Because what they did this year, and in past years, doesn't do anyone any good.

This is apparent every year, but I heard something Tuesday night that really got my blood boiling. The San Diego Padres, with the seventh pick in the first round, drafted an 18-year-old left-hander named Max Fried.

Studio host Greg Amsinger got the ball rolling with this:

Scouts love his 94-mile-an-hour fastball, but he has one of the best curveballs in the entire draft, according to scouts. Many of them think that Fried compares to C.J. Wilson, while others say, "I can see a little Barry Zito, in Max Fried."

Frankly, that's quite preposterous on its own. Utterly, ridiculously preposterous to say those things about an 18-year-old who's probably at least three years and one surgery away from even pitching in the majors, let alone pitching like Wilson and Zito have pitched.

But apparently that wasn't quite preposterous enough, because analyst John Hart -- who really should know better, considering how many drafts he oversaw in Cleveland -- upped the ante. Amsinger said, "What do you think, John Hart?"


<chortle> Way beyond that. Way beyond that, Greg. I think you're missing the boat. I see more of a cross between Cole Hamels -- pitchability, high school, lean, sorta wiry kid -- little bit of Kershaw; I don't know that he's gonna certainly not have that power, but this is a left-hander that is gonna pitch with three plus pitches. His ceiling is a No. 1/2-type starter ...

Look, it's perfectly appropriate to mention the major-league pitchers who come to mind, when you're looking at an 18-year-old pitcher. Baseball men like John Hart love to project young baseball players; in fact, the ability to project a young baseball player is what separates a great baseball man from a regular baseball man.

What's missing is someone, anyone who's willing to mention a comparable player who's not a good (or great) major leaguer.

Fried was taken with the seventh pick. Here are all the high-school pitchers taken with the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth picks from 1998 through 2007: Josh Girdley, Bobby Bradley, Matt Harrington, Matt Wheatland, Mark Phillips, Colt Griffin, Clint Everts, Zack Greinke, John Danks, Mark Rogers, Homer Bailey, Clayton Kershaw, Jarrod Parker.

Greinke and Kershaw both have won Cy Young Awards. Danks has some fine seasons to his credit, while Bailey and Parker seem to be heading in that direction. But if you're talking about a player drafted with the No. 7 pick, wouldn't it make sense to at least mention a few similar 18-year-old pitchers who maybe did not excel in the major leagues? Maybe John Hart doesn't remember Josh Girdley and Mark Phillips, but someone drawing a paycheck from The MLB Network, Inc. must remember those guys. Or could, at the very least, look them up.

But the whole draft went like that: Player drafted, immediately compared to major-league superstar. But it wasn't until a bit later in the draft that my blood pressure shot up again. With the 19th pick, the Cardinals took a Texas A&M right-hander named Michael Wacha.

Greg Amsinger: "The player comp is Jon Garland. Do you see that, John Hart?"

Hart did not: "I think he's gonna be a better pitcher than Jon Garland. Again, looking at a guy like Wacha, not a lot of ceiling, not a 1 or 2 guy. But a safe bet to become a major-league starter. I see him as a good mid-rotation guy ..."

If Wacha is better than Jon Garland, it will be a major upset. Jon Garland won 132 games in the major leagues. I would be willing to bet John Hart a cool three hundred dollars that Michael Wacha doesn't win even 100 games in the majors.

Repeating our little exercise from before, here are the college pitchers taken with the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, or 21st picks from 1998 through 2007: Brad Lidge, Seth Etherton, Ben Diggins, Chris Bootcheck, Aaron Heilman, Brad Hennessey, Royce Ring, Bobby Brownlie, Chad Cordero, Chris Lambert, Cesar Carrillo, Brett Sinkbell, Ian Kennedy, Joe Savery.

How many of those guys were better than Jon Garland? Arguably, one: Brad Lidge. And Ian Kennedy's still got a fighting chance. The Cardinals will be thrilled if Michael Wacha is as good as Garland. Let alone better.

I really don't mean to pick on John Hart. And again, I'm not saying that it's inappropriate to compare draft picks to established major leaguers, or even superstars. What I'm saying is that the lofty, somewhat hallucinatory comparisons should be leavened by comparisons with other, similar amateurs. Some of whom became stars, and some of whom -- especially as you get deeper into the first round -- didn't.

There are people at the MLB Network who want to be taken seriously, as journalists. But nobody's doing themselves any favors by failing to acknowledge that a small percentage of players drafted every June, even players drafted in the first round, become big stars.