added 7/24/2014 by Scott Barzilla
There have certainly been enough articles chronicling the ins and outs of the Brady Aiken situation with the Astros. Since I'm not a doctor and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, I'm not about to comment on UCLs, elbows, arms, or unrelated tendons. I could talk about the so-called low-ball strategy that could have gotten the Astros three high school arms instead of zero. I won't talk about those things because we want to overcome the temptation of labeling this draft less than two months after it was done.
The success and failure of drafts are decided years after they are completed. In the book Moneyball, they described what was supposed to be the greatest draft in baseball history. The team had four first round picks and three supplemental first rounders. If you judge by wins above replacement, only two of those players had substantial careers. So, you can look at all the hype in the world, but you have to wait for these things to develop.
There is no more of a crapshoot that the MLB Amateur Draft. If you get a few prominent major league players from your draft class you have done very well. Wouldn't it be great if there were a way to guarantee success with any particular draft strategy? The funny thing is that maybe there is a way. In college football, the Heisman Trophy winner has had some success in the professional ranks, but it is nothing compared to the Golden Spikes Award winners in the big leagues.
Bob Horner (19.5 WAR) was the first winner in 1978. If we go with the last 30 Golden Spikes winners, we find that all but three have made it to the big leagues. Two of those three were the winners from the last two drafts. Kris Bryant was one of them and he could be up before the end of the season.
The other was A.J. Reed. He was the Astros' second round pick in this year's draft and he already has over 100 plate appearances in A ball. Of course, highlighting this could be seen as making the Astros look better in light of the Aiken mess, but Bryant was also a winner and could have been the number one overall pick last season instead of Mark Appel.
Six players in the last 30 years have won the Golden Spikes Award and were selected first overall in the MLB draft. They were Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Pat Burrell, Phil Nevin, and Ben McDonald. All six of those players were regulars and most of them all-star performers. Of the other 22 players drafted (excluding Kris Bryant and A.J. Reed), the Golden Spikes winner outperformed the first overall pick the vast majority of the time. The only notable exceptions have been Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, and Ken Griffey, Jr. Of course, those guys were primarily taken out of high school.
Naturally, there are trade offs that come with the Golden Spikes winner. Three of the six players listed above are likely to be Hall of Famers. The closest Golden Spikes winner to that honor will likely be Will Clark. However, the number of all-star representatives from that list of 28 names is staggering. So, as unscientific as it all seems sometimes, there really are some sure things when it comes to the draft.
Does it mean A.J. Reed is destined for stardom? It never really is that easy. Reed won the award in large part because he was the best two-way player the sport had seen in quite some time. He was a lefthanded pitcher as well as a slugging first baseman. Yet, when taken individually, he wasn't likely to get to the show as a pitcher and his hitting credentials aren't nearly a slam dunk. Trumpeting Reed wasn't the whole point of this treatise anyway.
The whole point is that sometimes smart is too smart. Sometimes, scouts and executives talk themselves into things because they think they've outsmarted the competition. They see something that no one else sees. I certainly believe that is true at times. The stories of guys picked below the tenth round that end up making it big are too plentiful to say otherwise. Yet, sometimes it really is about what happens on the field. Sometimes it really is that easy.
When we go back to the Moneyball draft, one player produced more at the big league level than any other. Ironically, it was the player that was selected without the benefits of spreadsheets and slide rules. Nick Swisher was picked largely because Billy Beane had a feeling about him. Swisher had an attitude Beane liked. Sometimes you can overthink these things. Sometimes you can envision a player walking across the podium in Cooperstown before he's thrown a professional pitch and taken a professional swing. Sometimes those visions get in the way of common sense and saner thinking.
In the final analysis, the 2014 draft won't be about who the Astros signed or didn't sign. It will be about the success or failure of the players they drafted. If Brady Aiken is successful someday, it will look bad. If players like Derek Fisher and A.J. Reed are successful, it will help mitigate the loss of Aiken, Mac Marshall and Jacob Nix.
Unfortunately, we won't know the answer to that question for quite some time. So, we should all sit back and enjoy watching the story unfold. Legacies always take time to be written. Jeff Luhnow's legacy won't be sealed one way or another for another few years. Heck, Ed Wade is looking better and better all the time.
So perhaps Luhnow should remember the sage advice of Crash Davis as he sits in next year's draft war room. "Don't think. You'll only hurt the ballclub." Oh, and breathe through your eyelids.