Preparation, teaching key to traversing Pipeline
Getting drafted only first step on long road to The Show
The First-Year Player Draft concluded on Saturday, with the 30 Major League organizations making a grand total of 1,216 selections. Obviously, not every pick will sign and begin a professional career, but over the next several weeks -- the deadline is July 12 for most - teams will sign and send to the Minor Leagues a good number of the players taken over the Draft's 40 rounds.
Think of it as a three-day shopping binge for every team's pipeline of talent. It all starts with the scouting process of amateurs, both for the Draft and on the international front (that signing period begins on July 2). The work over countless hours put in by area scouts, cross-checkers and scouting directors come to fruition over the course of the Draft and the result is an annual influx of talent.
The numbers say a vast majority of these draftees will never spend a day in the big leagues. But the scouting staffs of all 30 teams hope that every single player drafted and signed will turn into a Major Leaguer. Likewise, the player-development staffs these young players are turned over to will work their hardest to help them defy those odds and help the parent club at the highest level.
It all really starts with a pipeline of information. Area scouts make their follow lists -- amateur prospects they feel should be tracked for the following Draft -- over a long period of time, particularly honing in on important follows during the summer showcase circuit. That summer activity includes the Cape Cod League and other college wood bat leagues, Perfect Game's National Showcase and All-American Classic, USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars, the East Coast Pro Showcase, the Area Code Games and the Under Armour All-American Game by Baseball Factory.
Things really will kick up with the start of amateur seasons next spring (though fall baseball is watched closely). Along with the area scouts responsible for their specific regions, teams' cross-checkers and scouting directors will evaluate as many players as possible to line up their respective Draft boards in order to prepare to take 40 or so players in June. And so, the cycle begins again.
With the new signing deadline -- it's July 12 this year -- all draftees who sign have a significant amount of time to get a first taste of pro ball before the season ends. Many of this year's top draftees will find their way at or near the top of their team's Top 20 Prospect list. Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft, would almost certainly be in the top four of the Astros' Top 20.
At the conclusion of the Minor League season, many of these prospects will head to instructional league play, or instructs. It's name is self-explanatory, a quieter, teaching-focused opportunity for each organization to work closely with its newest employees on specific skills, a new position or pitch. After a whirlwind of being drafted, signing, then playing, it's a great time for both players and teams to step back and lay a foundation of organizational philosophy, offseason conditioning programs and expectations for the offseason.
That might sound like a break for these prospects, but that's not entirely accurate. Sure, some well-deserved time off will occur, but any player dreaming of moving up that pipeline to the big leagues will get to work soon after. The players who take that offseason regimen seriously are the ones who show up to their first Spring Training ready to hit the ground running. That combined with the invaluable Minor League experience from the previous summer has helped many make a smooth transition to what can be a long and grueling first full season.
The top two picks from last year's Draft provide perfect examples of how this can work. Both No. 1 pick Carlos Correa and No. 2 pick Byron Buxton signed quickly. Correa got 204 plate appearances under his belt and Buxton picked up 189 plate appearances last summer. Both teenagers are playing very well in the full-season Midwest League and without projecting ahead too much, no one should be surprised if they quickly ride the pipeline up to Houston and Minnesota.
The process can go quickly, like with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout or -- more recently -- with 2012 draftees in the bigs such as Michael Wacha and Kevin Gausman. More commonly, it can be a longer and more arduous process, and most won't make it. But the system will keep churning along full throttle with that one objective: Adding new talent into the pipeline and helping it develop into the future stars of Major League Baseball.