Evolving MLB Draft has come a long way

Increased exposure, changing rules and more impact way teams approach event

June 8th, 2016

The scout heard the reports and panicked. Rosey Gilhousen was in the midst of evaluating the talent at the College World Series that day in June 1965 when he saw news on the wire that the Angels had just used the 11th overall pick in the amateur Draft on the mysterious Glen Burnie.
Gilhousen immediately phoned scouting director Roland Hemond.
"Hey Roland," Gilhousen said in a huff. "Who the heck did we draft? We never talked about this Glen Burnie guy!"
Hemond laughed.
"Take it easy," he responded. "It's Jim Spencer … from Glen Burnie, Md.!"
Yes, the MLB Draft, which begins on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET with live coverage on MLB Network and MLB.com, has come a long way from the grainy, hazy days in which a first-round pick could be so erroneously reported.
2016 Draft: Order | Top 200 | Complete coverage
Heck, in just the past decade, the Draft has gone from a behind-the-curtains conference call to a televised event. And the increased exposure has combined with the progression of Draft rules and the evolution of the amateur market to alter the way teams prepare for and approach the event from a scouting perspective.
"You can't even compare," Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski said. "It's so different. There's so much more information that gives you the ability to be much more accurate."
Added longtime Twins general manager Terry Ryan: "Some of it is the showcases. A lot of the area scouts don't even know the players as well as the supervisors because of the showcases. There was a day when there were no showcases. Sometimes you'd see a guy in April for the first time in your life."
That's what happened to then-Brewers scout and current Orioles GM Dan Duquette in the spring of 1987.
Duquette attended a California high school game with the intent of watching a shortstop named Tom Redington. But Duquette found himself distracted by the right fielder for the opposing team. In the span of just a few innings, the kid hit a double his first time up, caught a ball off the fence and made an outfield assist. Duquette and a fellow scout went to the team's bench to find out the kid's name.
It was Troy O'Leary, who, Duquette soon learned, had a football scholarship at Oregon State. Duquette convinced the Brewers to take a shot on him, and O'Leary wound up playing parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues. (The best of those years came in Boston, where he ended up when Duquette, then general manager of the Red Sox, claimed O'Leary off waivers in 1995.)
Redington was taken by the Braves in the third round and never set foot in the Majors.
"So Troy O'Leary was drafted by a team that didn't know anything about him that went to see somebody else," Duquette said with a laugh. "That just shows you, it was a little cruder way to find players back then."
How crude?
Consider that when Dombrowski started his career as an administrative assistant with the White Sox in 1978, the club had just eight full-time scouts covering the entire country. The Sox East Coast scout was a guy named Leo Labossiere, who had a hand in such successful picks as Harold Baines and Daryl Boston despite, well, unusual circumstances.
"He was a full-time school teacher," Dombrowski said. "So he would only go to games after the school day was out, and he would take a break during the Easter week to do some scouting for us. And that's how we used to cover the East Coast."
Players can still fall through the cracks, and not all areas are scouted as well as others, which explains why a kid from New Jersey named Mike Trout famously fell all the way to No. 25 overall in 2009.

Anecdotally, however, the Draft contains fewer surprises than it once did. Although individual teams will always place their own individual values on players, executives surveyed said there is more industry alignment on which players are Draft-worthy and when, because there are more high-profile opportunities to become acquainted with the top amateur talent at both the high school and college levels.
"There's a lot more coverage of a lot more players," Indians president Chris Antonetti said. "Fifteen years ago, you probably had one publication covering the Draft. Now there's a multitude."
And of course, back in the day, the specific monetary values assigned to each slot in the first 10 rounds and the bonus pools assigned to each team didn't exist. Those stipulations, installed in advance of the 2012 Draft, have changed the negotiation process dramatically, and the mid-July deadline to get a deal done has accelerated the pace of negotiations considerably.
So you don't have many situations like the one then-Indians GM and current Braves president of baseball operations John Hart found himself in after the 1994 Draft. Cleveland was playing in Anaheim, so Hart figured he'd pop into the nearby home of first-round pick Jaret Wright to personally introduce himself and exchange pleasantries.
What Hart didn't expect was for Jaret's father, Clyde, the former big league pitcher, to suggest that the two sides cut a deal right then and there.
"Throw out a number," Clyde Wright said.
Off the top of his head, Hart suggested something in the range of $700,000.
"That's it?" Clyde said while jumping out of his seat. "I knew you were going to lowball us! Get out of the house!"
Recalled Hart: "So the next thing I know, I'm thrown out of the house. I picked my dignity up and went on."
The two sides wound up smoothing things over, with the Indians not only giving Wright a $1.2 million bonus but also supplying his dad, who owned a pitching school, with some free baseballs.
"Right now," Hart said, "most clubs are going to do such a great job with signability. You're probably not going to have a wild card that you're going to take and not know if this guy is going to sign or not. You've got a better feel now. The players sort of know where the slot is. You can fudge slots and sign some guys at slot or above or under. But you do have a certain limit that you can play with."
Even with increased consensus, the Draft will never be a perfect science. In 2007, which was the year of the first televised Draft, the Twins took Ben Revere at No. 28 overall, and the selection was such a surprise that ESPN -- which was broadcasting the Draft that year -- had to scramble. The network had no video on hand of Revere, because he was not expected to be taken so early.
"We took a lot of abuse," Ryan said. "He was a little guy with no power and all that stuff."
Of course, Revere has gone on to a fine big league career, proving, as always, that the scouting consensus isn't always right.
"You have more looks at players, better looks at players," Hart said. "And yet some players are still going to get hurt or not live up to their tool package. It's still the luck of the draw."
But there is one tried-and-true way to guard yourself against a bust:
Don't draft Glen Burnie.