Over the past few weeks, days and months I have realized a couple of things; social media is mostly one big giant misperception when it comes to the 2021 MLB Amateur Draft and the majority of people commenting have never watched a college baseball game in their entire lives. People regularly see a 30 second video, with a tag line, never looking into the actual circumstances or stats involved in the game; as so called sports influencers look for clicks, engagements and/or follows, facts be damned.
For example, if you looked at the tweet above, how could you not believe that Kumar Rocker was the clear #1 overall pick? During his college career Rocker continually struck out batters at a rate of between 10 and 17 per 9 innings, which would obviously translate to the Major League level; ready to anchor the Pirates rotation when the window is guaranteed to open in 2023.
Obviously I am being beyond sarcastic, recognizing many within the Pittsburgh Sports Media have no clue when it comes to covering the number #1 baseball pick. As a football dominated town, the 1st round pick is a guaranteed, sure fire contributor to the team within one to two years, especially when it is a quarterback, the equivalent to an ace pitcher for the Pirates. However, a player picked in the MLB usually has a minimum of two years, but more than likely three or four before they make any sort of impact; and that’s when it’s a polished college level player.
In my heart of hearts, no matter how often it is explained, the reasoning behind promoting the Pirates top picks has resulted in a circus; with most of us dressed up like clowns when they either don’t make it to the Majors or often fail once the arrive. For a select few neither of these possibilities come to pass, and they end up having productive careers.
If you have the time it would probably behoove you to take a look at all of the first round draft picks over say the last 10 years. The number of players you couldn’t identify would easily outnumber the ones that are successful MLB players today. Nevertheless, for the benefit of time and arguments sake, I looked up all the number one overall picks dating back to the first one I can actually remember; Jeff King in 1986.
As many of you probably recall, King was selected by your Pittsburgh Pirates out of the University of Arkansas; eventually making it to the big league club in 1989. For the next 7 seasons he became the Pirates most regular man at third, before sliding across the diamond later in his career. Across 8 seasons in Pittsburgh, King accumulated 10.9 WAR before moving on to Kansas City to cap his career off with 6.0 WAR in only 3 years; which works out to be about 1.5 WAR per season, or just below the qualifications of an every day starter. Was it a successful career? Absolutely. Was he a star? Not even close.
Since this time I have witnessed an additional 30 number one overall that have at least had the opportunity to play in MLB, even if it was only 18 plate appearances for Mickey Moniak last season; so the juries still out on him. However, as for the other 29, 3 never reached the majors, 2 recorded negative WAR for their careers, 6 have earned less than 5 WAR, 4 never made it to 20 WAR, 10 existed in the 25 to 40 WAR range; and then you have Ken Griffey Jr (83.8), Chipper Jones (85.3) Alex Rodriguez (117.5) and to a slightly lesser degree, Joe Mauer (55.3)
So out of 30 number one overall picks, there have been 4 Hall of Fame caliber players, with a couple more who’s stories have yet to be fully written. Now I know baseball is a little different in that a man who fails 7 times out of 10 is likely a legend, but it’s hard to like the odds of failing with almost every 8 or 9 picks; and were talking guys that were seen as the overwhelming favorites to come off the board first, or at least in the top 3 in any given year.
So, while it’s obviously fun to have conversations of Leiter versus Rocker, or if you really want to see a Yinzers head explode, Jordan Lawlar, there is no great analysis being done with short video clips and accompanying 280 character limited tweets. If you want to get in on the discussion, read some Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus or whatever favorite Draft Analysis Site you follow; and most importantly go to high school and college games or at the very least watch them on television.
Support the sport you are promoting. And look for my draft analysis on this site, sometime in June.