Who Will Be Selected First Overall In Upcoming MLB Draft?
From former Basball Prospectus writer and PECOTA originator, Nate Silver, has come a book called “The Signal and the Noise” which caught my attention because not only is he a huge baseball geek, but he has put together one chapter in the book that I feel was rather illuminating. Silver astutely points out the challenge in quantifying a player’s “mental toolbox” which is so important to MLB teams trying to forecast those players who are most likely to be successful and consequently select those players in the draft every year.
The 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft is coming up in less than 3 weeks on June 6th and in it, are three players that have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray, Stanford right-hander Mark Appel and San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant figure to be the first three picks that belong to the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies respectively. Which order they go in remains to be seen, but is surely going to be impacted by what areas the respective clubs want to target in their organizations, and which player they think is going to have the better MLB career.
Now the St. Louis Cardinals, picking 19th overall, are known to have some kind of propriety system where they take mental toolbox data into account, but it’s far from an exact science yet. Aside from the typical five tools scouts always rate players on (hitting for power, hitting for average, speed, arm strength, and defensive range), Silver identifies five different intellectual and psychological abilities that he thinks will help predict success at the major-league level: 1) Preparedness and Work Ethic; 2) Concentration and Focus; 3) Competitiveness and Self-Confidence; 4) Stress Management and Humility; and 5) Adaptiveness and Learning Ability.
To me, I believe every player, given enough tools and talent, is capable of succeeding, but many drafted players falter in the minor leagues due to a myriad of factors. Perhaps they stumble from putting undue pressure onto themselves, or else from the pressure placed on them by the big league clubs. Some are abated due to injury; some have to learn how to adjust to the minor league life. And some have never dealt with failure in baseball before. That’s why I feel that if a player is too arrogant where they think they’re the best already and don’t need to listen to coaches or change their approach, teams need to find out that kind of information.
Of course, that’s not to take away from a player’s competitiveness either. They certainly have to have the desire to be the best or amongst the best. However humility, as Silver states, is definitely a key indicator since knowing that someone out there is always better than you could be a motivating factor for the player to always be striving to get better.
With that said, a player in order to get better, has to have the mental capacity to learn and adapt what they’re doing on the field. Let’s say for instance that player X is in Double A and is being faced with a multitude of good off-speed pitches, the breed of which he’s never seen before. He hacks and hacks, trying to hammer those pitches out of the park, much like he did with fastballs in Single A the year before. But his attempts are fruitless because he can’t make solid contact and he ends up wasting a year of development batting .189 and takes a step back in the eyes of the big league club. Compare him to player Y who faced with the same offerings, studies what pitchers are doing to him, and practices in the cage hitting balls the other way. With time, he becomes quite sharp in identifying the pitch as it is released from the pitcher’s hand, and depositing it 3 times out of 10 into right field for a hit. Player Y has showed the big league club something and is more likely to be thought of for a promotion to Triple A later in the year.
This scenario makes you wonder how some current big leaguers are managing in the show with their inability to learn and adapt to what pitchers are doing to them. But I digress.
To me these traits identified by Silver totally make sense, but how is one able to get this kind of information about a college or high-school player? At this time, it really comes down to the scout who speaks to the individual player, the player’s family, people around the player, and other community members to try and gather enough information to paint a ‘mental’ picture of the person. Then somehow, that information filters through the scouts’ organization where I’m sure Jeff Luhnow, GM of the Houston Astros who came from the Cardinals organization, and his staff are utilizing it in the best possible way…that is until they develop their own system for assessing a players mental-makeup.