Thursday, June 5, 2014

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer -

I’m a draft junkie. I can’t get enough coverage of it. It has everything a fan can want—hope, potential, strategy, gamesmanship. I’d give anything to be a fly on the wall in the Angels war room for the next few days as they select their future players.

Going into this year’s draft, we all know that the Angels intend to follow a strategy—especially for the first 10 rounds: Draft the best player available regardless of position. But that leaves a big question: what exactly makes a player the best player available at any given time? There are many ways to rank players, and what a team values the most will determine its prospect rankings.

If the team values getting a good return its investment, then it will take the player who is most likely to make it to the Major Leagues with good success—the safest pick—even if he isn’t the player with the highest ceiling. This strategy focuses on identifying the player with the best, most developed tools and the best mental composure for success in the Major Leagues. Most likely this will be a college pick and a hitter. 

With the Angels having a first round pick for the first time since 2011, there has got to be some strong consideration for going with the safest pick because their farm system can’t afford a major bust. This is why many of the rumor mills suggest the Angels may pick Max Pentecost and Kyle Schwarber if they are available. Both are solid hitters and are considered very safe picks.

If getting the highest potential return on the pick is the goal, then the team should select the player with the highest ceiling. The problem is, players with helium ceilings don’t always make it to the Major Leagues, and the team might end up with a bust. This gets complicated later in the first round, when the Angels pick (15th overall) because most of the elite ceiling college players are typically gone, leaving the elite high school players who are much more risky (although the team could end up with the next Mike Trout). Furthermore, with the limited draft pool money available, drafting a high school player could hurt the team’s draft overall if he requires a larger signing bonus to buy out a college commitment, and leaving less money available to sign later picks.

When the Angels didn’t have a first round pick, or only had a very low pick overall, this was the strategy that they employed. It made sense, especially before the limited bonus money because they might hit a homerun on a player and get an incredible talent. Unfortunately, it also led to some busts which have left the farm a bit barren. 

If the team wants to maximize its potential return on its investment, it could focus on drafting those positions that are the most expensive to fill in the Major Leagues. This is a hybrid strategy that focuses on both the player’s likelihood of making the Major Leagues, his overall ceiling, and adds in one more factor—the relative worth of the position played by the player. Using this strategy, a team would most likely focus primarily on starting pitching in the early rounds while deferring hitters and relievers as there is such a premium for quality starters. The team would figure that a surplus of pitching could be traded for a greater value of hitting, so, by hoarding pitching, it can achieve better results across the board and let the GM use the elite pitching to fill in the gaps.

Last year, the Angels approached the draft much like this. Nine out of their first ten picks were pitchers. Jerry Dipoto, the Angels GM, has said many times how much value he places on pitching. It is cheaper to draft and develop starting pitching than it to sign it through free agency or to trade for it. With more pitching in the Minor Leagues, Dipoto would have more chips to play if he needed to fill a hole on the parent club. 

Lastly, a team looking to make the most stable farm system could view a player who best fits into the organization’s depth charts as the best player available. Note: this is not drafting for need—it’s about drafting players who complement the talent already in the organization. All teams have depth charts and projections going for out for several years. It helps them focus on what players to sign and for how long. Having waves of talent emerge helps the parent club because it allows it to offset the price of high-priced veterans with productive young players. So, looking at two players with equal skills, a team would select a player who best fits into the overall depth chart rather than one where they have an abundance of depth. 

At the Spring Training Fanfest this year, Jerry Dipoto talked about the importance of having layers of talent on the Major League team and waves of talent in development in the Minor Leagues. Looking at the Top-50 Prospects going into this year, it’s clear that the Angels have a need for bats, particularly at C, 3B, and the OF. They also have a need for a big-time starter, particularly one who is more polished (college player). This does give a lot of credence to the speculation that the Angels would pick Max Pentecost and Kyle Schwarber. 

As an organization, the Angels are incredibly tight-lipped about who they will draft. Of course it all depends on who is available when they pick, but their strategy is hard to discern. Ric Wilson hasn’t had many opportunities to show fans how he determines the best player available. And the Angels are always known for taking surprise picks that differ from the general consensus.

With this being their first time picking in the first round, I can see the Angels valuing the safest pick overall. I won’t be surprised if they pick a college bat in the 1st round especially Pentecost and Schwarber, unless a premium college pitcher falls into their lap. But, from that point on, I can once again see them moving into a position to maximize value and focus on pitching for most of the 2nd through 10th rounds. This draft is supposed to be deep in pitching, and, as the old adage goes, you can never have enough pitching. 

No matter who the Angels pick over the next few days, I’m excited about the upcoming draft. It will be a chance to look into the future of the franchise and start thinking about future lineups. For the next few days, I will have my computer logged on here to get all the up-to-the-minute coverage of the draft.
Love to hear what you think!

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