Outfielder Xavier Nady (San Diego Padres) was the last position player to accomplish the feat in 2000. Only six positional players went direct from the draft to the majors, and that is no coincidence.
Xavier Nady wasn’t ready for the big leagues, netting a single in his lone at bat before spending the next two seasons in the minor leagues. It was a Scott Boras contract that placed Nady in San Diego straight from the draft.
Mike Leake has proven up to the task through the first two months of the season. The right-hander out of Arizona State was taken eighth overall last season and has gone 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA across 10 starts (through June 1). Nine have been quality starts, allowing three runs or less while pitching at least six innings.
Eddie Bane, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim director of scouting and a first round pick of the Minnesota Twins that went straight to the majors in 1973, says it is harder today, especially for position players.
“I felt like I belonged,” Bane said of his experience. “I don’t have any regrets at all. I am better at scouting than I was at pitching.
“There are not many college kids who can do it, especially the position players who are using aluminum bats. They have a coach that is not letting them use a professional approach at the plate and there is so much to overcome as a position player. He almost has to get detoxified for the first year.”
The majority, therefore, spend a significant amount of time honing their skills at the minor league level, advancing as warranted, in an effort to live the dream – playing in the major leagues.
Even Albert Pujols spent a year in the minors, playing for three different St. Louis Cardinals’ affiliates, before setting the world afire in the National League.
Prospects come in all shapes and sizes and many need the extra nurturing to help them meet their potential. It all starts with how scouts view ‘athleticism’ and a body that can withstand a grueling 162-game season.
“Athleticism is the ability to make adjustments with your body and to control your body, having life to your body,” Jaron Madison, the Padres’ director of scouting, explained. “You can’t be stiff. You have to be able to make adjustments.”
To tap that athleticism, most, if not all, of the players who will be drafted during the 2010 MLB First-Year Amateur Draft will need seasoning.
Millions of dollars are poured into scouting amateur talent, as teams scramble to come up with the formula that produces success. Those teams that don’t do well in the draft find it hard to replace talent with cheaper, productive options in the world of free agency.
The Padres know the hardship of drafting poorly, especially in the opening stanza of the draft. Tim Stauffer (2003) made a comeback this season to provide a return on investment. Khalil Greene (2002) played well during his tenure in San Diego. It has been tough in years since and years prior to find legitimate talent, although they have high hopes for Donavan Tate (2009).
“The draft is a wonderful opportunity to add an impact player to your system,” Padres general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We have given up the opportunity a number of times over the last few years.”
The fact is nearly every major leaguer begins as a prospect. Some will be better than others. Some won’t pan out. Still others will surprise.
The draft does not have the now factor of the NFL. This is about building a philosophy with the types of players a team hopes will buoy the team three to six years down there line. There are few instant rewards.
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