The MLB Draft is often appreciated more in retrospect than in present tense, which is what makes the NFL Draft, even in yesterday’s virtual format, so much more entertaining than Rob Manfred’s annual June snoozefest. It’s rare that a top MLB draft pick makes a near-immediate impact, though some players have gone straight from the amateur ranks to the big league clubs that drafted them with varying degrees of success. Dave Winfield and Catfish Hunter are both in the Hall of Fame and both started their careers almost immediately after being selected.
Ol' Satch giving rookie Jim “Catfish” Hunter some pointers on the fine arts of pitching. Must have worked since Catfish had a hell of a career. #BlackHistoryMonth #Athletics pic.twitter.com/v2SoHR5xYn
— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) February 4, 2020
By the way, I didn’t realize Hunter had passed away until I started researching this column. The broody right-hander died of ALS at the age of 53 in 1999. He also gets credit for one of my favorite baseball quotes of all time.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” Hunter said about Reggie Jackson in 1977. “[But first] he’d call a press conference to announce it.”
At least Hunter knew a thing or two about humility. In order to get a guaranteed big league contract with the Kansas City A’s in 1965, owner Charles O. Finley made the future All-Star agree to be the team’s batting practice pitcher during his rookie season.
Other notable major league players who bypassed the minor leagues since the draft was instituted in 1965 include Jim Abbott, John Olerud, Dick Ruthven, Mike Morgan, Xavier Nady, and Burt Hooton, who made his debut with the Cubs in 1971 after being the team’s first round selection of the secondary draft. Each of those players eventually spent time in the minors after their debuts except Olerud and Nady.
The MLB Draft is nothing like its football counterpart, an event that captivates millions of fans with its made-for-TV prime time drama, due in part to surprise selections and something that baseball does not allow, trades of draft picks. Draft speculation in the NFL starts the day after its champion is crowned, while baseball doesn’t really see a mild boost in draft chatter until just a few weeks before the event.
Further, NFL post-draft player analysis begins almost immediately with rookie camps scheduled the week after its selection process, though this year will be an exception because of COVID-19. Many baseball franchises protect their top picks from overuse by waiting until winter ball or the following spring before suiting them up. In fact, with an average career length of just 3.3 years, many football players are retired before MLB prospects selected during the same calendar year reach the majors.
Perhaps baseball could look at changes that potentially allow more flexibility when it comes to its annual first-year player draft. Obviously they’d need safeguards to protect owner and front office abuse and they’d need to make sure that something as radical as allowing the trade of draft picks doesn’t skew its competitive balance. I’d bet general managers would be in favor of even a limited freedom to acquire or abdicate draft picks, depending on each team’s short- or long-term strategies.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs bypassed Robin Ventura to draft Ty Griffin in the 1988 first year player draft and Griffin never played a single game at the major league level. They also selected Doug Glanville instead of Manny Ramírez in 1991. Perhaps that’s why it took Chicago 108 years to win a World Series.
- Kyle Schwarber really liked that the Bengals selected Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow with the first pick in the NFL draft.
- Albert Almora Jr. could work in an outfield rotation with Ian Happ and Steven Souza Jr., and all three would likely benefit if MLB adopts a universal DH for the 2020 season.
- The latest ZiPS projections, which account for a shortened season, indicates that Chicago’s strength of schedule is pretty much unchanged.
- Mark Grace was given his “dream job” when Marquee hired him for their launch. Now the retired first baseman is excitedly waiting for the start of the 2020 season.
- Thanks to two home runs from their all-star third baseman, the sim-Cubs defeated the Padres 5-1 at Wrigley Field yesterday afternoon.
- Over at Strat-O-Matic, Padres starter Joey Lucchesi carried a no-hitter into the 9th inning before Souza reached on a one-out, infield single that scored Anthony Rizzo. San Diego won the matinee affair 2-1.
- If you were ever curious about the origin story of team mascot Clark the Cub — or any other major league mascot — MLB.com has the 411.
Find Your Inner Hero
Staff members at Buzzfeed have been writing stories about ordinary people who have died of COVID-19, and the extraordinary ways that they have been honored in their passing. It’s a feature that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, and has to be one of the toughest assignments in journalism today.
Jon Coelho, 32, died Wednesday of cardiac arrest brought on by the coronavirus. He was a young and healthy husband and father of two.
— julia reinstein 🚡 (@juliareinstein) April 23, 2020
Apropos of Nothing
Kudos to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for playing up the the (lack of) appreciation he generally receives from football fans. Goodell invited fans watching yesterday’s virtual draft to boo him at the onset of the telecast. I thought it was a great move and seeing the humanized version of the commissioner was actually a good thing for NFL marketing, in my opinion. Before you ask, no, that wouldn’t help Manfred.
Odds & Sods
In honor of this weekend’s football extravaganza, which of the following would you say has been the Cubs best first round pick to date?
MLB News & Notes
Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully has been hospitalized after a fall and is resting comfortably. The 92-year-old called Dodgers games on radio and television for 67 years starting with the 1950 season. Scully is considered by many to be the greatest baseball broadcaster of all time.
Hank Aaron still loves the game of baseball. When asked how he would feel if there was no 2020 season, Hammerin’ Hank expressed sorrow. “Put it this way,” he said. “I weep at the thought that we might not.”
Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet was so good at baseball that he drew comparisons to Aaron Judge. Kmet has been rumored to be a potential draft pick of the Bears or Packers. He worked out for the White Sox in 2017, but wasn’t interested in giving up football.
Scott Boras has a plan to get major league baseball back up and running. Boras cites the concept of “functional isolationism” which has been successfully implemented in South Korea, and theorizes that all 30 teams would play their games in empty California stadiums.
Select games from the final 10 days of the MLB The Show Player’s League, including its playoff tournament, will be broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and MLB Network.
When Greg Maddux speaks…people listen.
Fun fact – Maddux was the Cubs second round pick in the 1984 draft. Their first overall pick that year was LHP Drew Hall.
Greg Maddux talks about how velocity will get you drafted, but movement and location will help you in the long run pic.twitter.com/nl7P1IKwPh
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) April 24, 2020
They Said It
- “[Finley] told me, ‘A player’s got to have a nickname,’ and he asked me what I liked to do. ‘Hunting and fishing,’ I said, and he said, ‘Let’s call you “Catfish.’…The story is, when you were 6-years-old you ran away from home to fish and by the time your parents got to you you’d caught two catfish and were just about to bring in a third. Got that? Now you repeat it to me.’” – Catfish Hunter
- “I’m a big [Anthony Rizzo] fan. I’ve only been around him once a few years ago. I’m a fan of the way he beats you on both sides of the ball. That’s where the respect comes in, especially with the athleticism he brings to the position. We didn’t talk about normal things. We talked about positioning against certain hitters and holding runners on. I enjoyed it.” – Mark Grace
Friday Walk Up Song
Running on Empty by Jackson Browne – This live performance from Madison Square Garden to benefit the MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) No Nukes foundation was one of the bigger events of 1979, and really takes me back to my youth. I actually still own an original pressing of the three-album box set. Browne hasn’t changed his hairstyle in 50 years. That’s a Cal Ripken Jr.-like streak.