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The Grand Unified Draft Theory

Before I really get into it, a couple of quick things.

Kosuke Fukudome agreed to a four year, 48 million dollar deal with the Cubs yesterday. This is a really solid signing by the Cubbies, in my opinion. They added a potentially very good player without giving up talent or draft picks, plus he'll nicely complement the rest of their predominantly right handed hitting lineup. It falls into the same pattern as most of their recent signings, as it improves them in the short term but carries the definite risk of handicapping them in a couple of years. It still hurt my heart to see another nice player joining the North Siders. We'll see how it works out for them. Oh well. I didn't see the Cards competing seriously in 08, so it doesn't bother me as much as it might.

Cdb put up a really great diary yesterday, debating the merits of drafting high school pitchers versus collegiate hurlers. He did a lot of really great research; plus, it dovetails nicely with my main post today. His findings are certainly eye opening, and well worth the read. It didn't necessarily change my opinion, but it was really well done. I won't link to it; it should be right over there on the sidebar if you want to read it. I really recommend you check it out.

There's been quite a bit of discussion around here the last couple of days about trading for Tim Lincecum of the Giants. I would begin weeping and falling about with sheer joy if this were to happen. Even so, I'm still very conflicted about Colby Rasmus being in on this sort of a deal. As good as Lincecum is, the Cardinals are going to need a young, anchor player to complement Albert as they attempt to build the next really great St. Louis team. I would consider moving Rasmus for Lincecum, but I would really hate to do it. I think you hold on to Rasmus, almost no matter what. The reason have been laid out here, as well as elsewhere, and I agree with many others that he's just too valuable to move. A few things I would consider moving Colby for:

Lincecum (maybe, and I kind of doubt it)
Clayton Kershaw (again, maybe)
A tank that could be retrofitted to shoot baseballs. It throws hard, it should be durable, great move.
Keira Knightley's hand in marriage
World Peace (maybe)
Convincing Hollywood to stop making movies out of classic cartoons

Outside of those things, I think Rasmus would be completely untouchable for me. He's going to be awfully good, at a real building block position, and he'll be cheap. (for awhile) I think you've got to keep him.

Anyway, let's move on to the main point of my post today.

Alright, I've done all three of my draft recaps, and I'm ready to formulate an overall drafting theory. I'm basing this on my own personal feelings about the draft, both just opinion wise and also what appears to have worked well for the organisation so far. Nothing here is going to be particularly groundbreaking, I'm sure, but I don't see a comprehensive, codified set of axioms put together very often. So, without further ado, (but with a nod to my predecessor, the physicist) I present my Unified Draft Theory.

A couple of days ago, at Future Redbirds, a poster named Sportsman put up a list of how the top 25 breaks down, by draft round. (I realise that it's a poll of the readers of the site, but I think it still gives us a good idea of which players have performed enough to create some buzz.) Here it is:

round 1 (including supplemental)- six
round 2- three
rounds 3 through 8- one each round
rounds 9 and 10- zero
11-20- four
21-30- two
31-40- two

This probably isn't an unusual breakdown, but it does highlight some things the Cards do well, i.e. they do a nice job of evaluating and drafting sleeper type picks in the later rounds. They've taken some nice talent at the top, and are pretty strong even in the middle. I think this list shows a pretty good balance overall, with a little emphasis on those late rounders. Part of it, I'm sure, is the fact that so many high upside, low signability type guys are taken late, then have a pile of money thrown at them to get them to turn pro. That's fine by me; if you can identify guys on the board that late that are worth picking and paying, that makes the job of drafting a lot easier than if you're only bringing talent in the first three or four rounds.

Anyway, I think that capacity to do well late in the draft bodes well for the types of things you can do, especially higher up. If you're confident you can find some talent on the second day, you shouldn't be tentative early on, always trying to minimize risk.

All right. In the early rounds of any given draft, I think you should always go for upside. Go with the home run pick. Personally, I nearly always prefer to go with a high school player over a collegian. In my opinion, the sooner you can get a player into pro ball, instructing him the way you want, bringing him along with your own program, the better. Someone brought up a good point in Cdb's diary, about letting pitchers get hurt at Clemson, (or wherever) instead of on your farm club. It's an interesting idea, but I disagree with it. Even with a pitcher, so many of their injuries are caused by poor mechanics or overthrowing while under stress. It's a whole lot easier to correct a kid's delivery coming right out of high school than it is three more years along, with three more years of wear and tear from whatever he was doing at his University. Remember, college coaches are not paid to develop players. They're paid to win games. Get a kid into your program, doing things your way, and I feel it will end up much better for your system.

On average, I believe high school players take approximately one year longer than a college player to make the majors. Of course, that still puts them in the show at 21 or 22, rather than 23 or 24. Daryl Jones, a third rounder in 2005, has performed very poorly in his career so far. Still, he won't be 21 until next year, and is still within the developmental curve. Tyler Greene, a first rounder from the same draft, hasn't performed, but he may have played slightly better than Jones. However, Greene will be 25 this coming season, and is quickly getting into the absolute make or break seasons for a prospect. He's old enough that you seriously wonder if he's ever going to put it together. Any sort of injury only exacerbates this timetable problem.

Also, under the new CBA, any picks in the first three rounds that a team fails to sign are added on to the next year's draft. This, to me, makes it even more imperative to go for the home run pick, as even if you can't come to terms with a sought after kid, you carry the extra pick into the next draft. If you have any college sophomores you want to take, I think you should take them up here too. (This is the other reason, other than just not signing him, that I was so upset with the Kyle Russell debacle. They waited to take him in the fourth, when, if they had taken him one round earlier, the Cardinals would have had an extra third round pick in this June's draft, rather than the nothing they have now.)

So, rounds one through three, pick all high upside, sky's the limit players. Preferably high schoolers, but if a really great talent falls to you, (such as Mr. Lincecum or his ilk) you take them. At least one of the three should be a pitcher, two if you have a supplemental pick. I also think you should focus on premium defensive positions. Center fielders, shortstops. That's why I like the Kozma pick, even though I think there were a couple of other guys that might have been better. An old axiom in baseball is that you build up the middle first, then fill in the edges. I think a similar strategy in drafting would be advisable. You draft the premium position players first; if they end up having to move positions they should still have somewhere to go, if they can hit. Even going aggressive like this, you're hedging your bets at the same time by drafting high schoolers at premium positions. They have time to develop, and fallback positions to possibly move to. If a player of this sort falls short of his ceiling, he still has a chance to be a useful player.

Starting in round four, your strategy needs to change. I think that, in rounds four through nine, you need to try to build depth. With these six picks, I like college players. Guys with strong stats. Of these six, either two or three (probably three) should be pitchers. I love a guy like a Brad Furnish or an Eddie Degerman here. Guys with one really great pitch, but questions otherwise, are great here. Of the pitchers, I want to see one of them be a college closer. Guys who close in college already have an aptitude for it, and they're pretty close to finished products already. Most of the college closers available here won't be the very elite level guys, and I'm okay with that. I want at least one Kevin Gunderson type pitcher here. (pick of the Braves out of Oregon State in 06) He won't be a star, he won't close, but he's going to be a useful reliever in the bigs I think. He's small, and doesn't throw hard, but he throws strikes and has huge balls, literally made of an iron alloy. (I don't mean this metaphorically; I got it off his bio page.)

I also want to see one all bat player drafted here, a la Mark Hamilton. Even for a National League club, a guy who can absolutely rake, regardless of his position, is a valuable commodity. Infielders are also better than outfielders here, I think, if possible. Again, you can hedge your bets, because an infielder can move to the outfield much easier than vice versa. He may not be great, but we're building depth, not trying to draft all sure fire starters.

Alright. Rounds four through nine, six picks. Two or three pitchers, one a college closer. One plus pitch pitchers. Guys who can easily project somewhere in a bullpen. Remember, these complementary players are where bad teams often tie up too much of their money. Three position picks, one an all bat, no glove player. You can fill in your bench with a guy like that, or use him in a trade. A team can always find a use for a guy who can rake. Draft a catcher in here too. Another position where you really want to build in as much depth as possible, and a one tool player can be really valuable.

In rounds 10, 11, and 12, you should draft a couple of true project players. Whether they're high schoolers or collegians, pick a couple of players who have some serious problems. Purposely focus on players who are extremely inefficient with their abilities, especially pitchers. Guys who were terrible statistically, but scouts say should be better than they are. You won't pay much here, but a player who many teams wouldn't draft at all, (say, Clayton Mortenson after his junior year at Gonzaga) is well worth the pick here.

Rounds 13 through 17, I would go back to depth picks. There should still be some decent one tool type players floating around out there. 5th outfielder types, no bat but good speed and gloves, are a good target here. Again, at least one catcher. You can never have too many catchers floating around.

From round 18 on, the approach becomes the same. I think after this point, between one third and one half of your picks should be signability picks. High school players with strong college commitments, a draft eligible sophomore or two, unusual situations like Amaury Marti or Jaime Garcia. Draft players that have some reason not to sign, and see what it would take to get them in. Again, I think the Cardinals have done a very nice job of finding talent in these late rounds, and it really allows a team to be more aggressive when they're good on the second day. Luhnow has said on several occasions that their way of looking at players is a little different from many other teams. However it differs, they certainly seem to be pretty good at identifying talent here, late in the draft. So far, unfortunately, I don't think they've fully capitalised on the sort of risks that makes palatable.

In compiling this, as I said earlier, I considered what the Cards have done well under Luhnow, as well as my own personal beliefs on the draft. I think this is the best overall plan for this organisation to follow. They've done well at identifying mid round college talent, and done a very nice job at nabbing some really great sleepers. 2007, in particular, is going to turn out to be a very nice draft down the line I believe. The organisation has to do a better job at capitalising on their early picks, though. You go for the sky high ceiling talents there. Those sorts of players are usually seen as being much riskier, but I disagree with that assessment. A high school player just has such a time advantage over a college player that it seems to me a virtual no brainer to go with the younger set. I also think the earlier a player is being developed your way, rather than playing to win, with little eye toward his own developmental path, the better. If such a player misses his ceiling, again, he has somewhere to go. A middle of the road at best player has much less margin for error, even though it may look as if he's a safer pick. So, one more time, to sum it all up.

Rounds 1, 2, and 3
Upside picks
Heavy on high school talent
One or two pitchers
Premium defensive positions

Rounds 4-9
Depth picks
College players
Three pitchers, one a college closer
Three position players, one for bat alone
One plus pitch pitchers, one plus tool players
One catcher, preferably

Project players
Bad deliveries, bad control, bad track records
Players with character issues
Players with very limited experience
HS or College, unimportant

Speedy, all glove type OF
College relievers
Another catcher, prob. a one tool guy

18 and on
Good percentage of signability picks
Strong college commitments
Draft eligible sophomores

Really, at this point, the type of player you choose really becomes irrelevant. Any player on the board you think has a chance to develop, you take. These picks are low enough risk that any value received from them is an absolute gift. Take a good balance, take the most talent.

Of course, any time you have a chance to grab a player that's being way undervalued, you have to take it. But I feel like this provides a good guide for adding talent in a solid, planned way.

I hope you guys enjoyed this whole draft review process. I only wish I had done the first two the way I did the last one. I thought at first that it would be best to group players by the type of pick they were, but it turned out much better to go through by slot, and then break them down further from there. Oh well. You live and you learn.

Also, I apologise for the later post than usual today. I accidentally erased a large chunk of this while navigating back to a list that I was looking for, and had to type up a pretty sizeable portion twice.

Thanks to everyone who commented along the way, and I hope you all feel like you have a little better handle on where this system came from, and where it might be going. I know I do.

Til next time.