In the next few days, a team will select a kid who will end up in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And it could be anybody. This is the wonder of the Draft.
He might be one of the hyped players, a high first-rounder like high school double threat Hunter Greene, who hits with power and throws 100 mph. Or Vanderbilt's Kyle Wright, who seems to have four Major League-quality pitches.
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Then again, it might be someone nobody talks about, a later pick that has something that isn't easy to see: drive, ambition, a sense of destiny. Nolan Ryan was taken in the 12th round, Ryne Sandberg in the 20th and Mike Piazza in the 62nd.
The beauty of the Draft is that we know he's out there. He's always out there.
Here's a fun little number: In the first 32 Major League Baseball Drafts (from 1965-96), there have been exactly 32 Hall of Famers who were selected and signed. There will be a few more as time goes on. Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome and Derek Jeter should all go into the Hall over the next few years. Various veterans like Jack Morris figure to get a second look. Plus, at some point, controversial but legendary players like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez will have their final Hall of Fame verdicts.
Still, when you add it all up, there tends to be one or two Hall of Fame-caliber players in every Draft. There have been as many as three (1971, '73, '77, '85) and as few as zero (eight times between '65-89). But even in those years where there are no Hall of Famers, there are special players who, except for an untimely injury or a bad break, would be in Cooperstown.
That amazing player is always out there. Here are the Hall of Famers by Draft:
1965 (2): Johnny Bench (2nd round), Nolan Ryan (12th)
1966 (1): Reggie Jackson (1st round, 2nd pick overall)
1969 (1): Bert Blyleven (3rd)
1970 (1): Goose Gossage (9th)
1971 (3): Jim Rice (1st), Mike Schmidt (2nd), George Brett (2nd)
1972 (2): Gary Carter (3rd), Dennis Eckersley (3rd)
1973 (3): Dave Winfield (1st), Robin Yount (1st), Eddie Murray (3rd)
1975 (1): Andre Dawson (11th)
1976 (2): Rickey Henderson (4th), Wade Boggs (7th)
1977 (3): Paul Molitor (1st), Ozzie Smith (4th), Tim Raines (5th)
1978 (2): Cal Ripken Jr. (2nd), Ryne Sandberg (20th)
1981 (1): Tony Gwynn (3rd)
1984 (2): Greg Maddux (2nd), Tom Glavine (2nd)
1985 (3): Barry Larkin (1st), Randy Johnson (2nd), John Smoltz (22nd)
1987 (2): Ken Griffey Jr. (1st round, 1st pick overall), Craig Biggio (1st)
1988 (1): Mike Piazza (62nd round)
1989 (2): Frank Thomas (1st), Jeff Bagwell (4th)
As you can see, Hall of Famers have been taken in many different rounds and come from many different backgrounds. Griffey Jr. was the son of an All-Star and as "can't miss" as any prospect ever. Piazza was picked at the end of the Draft as a personal favor from the Dodgers' Tommy Lasorda to his father.
Ryan was a hard-throwing high school pitcher from Texas who did not seem to have any idea where the ball was going. Maddux was a skinny kid in Las Vegas who seemed to have a genius for pitching. Dawson had been a football player who switched to baseball after busting up his knee in a game. Molitor was a college superstar at Minnesota.
"People always say, 'Why don't you draft better?'" Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "We're trying. But there's only so much that even the best scouts can see. We can see talent. We can project how a player will develop physically. And we try to get to know the player personally.
"But how will he adapt to a Major League environment? How will he play over a long season? How will he react to a clubhouse where teammates come from very different backgrounds and speak different languages? How will he respond to criticism, whether it's from the media, the crowd or coaches? What will he do when he runs into failure? There are a million questions we just can't answer."
Several years ago, former big leaguer Doug Mientkiewicz faced Justin Verlander for the first time and was thoroughly blown away. When told that Verlander was the second pick in the Draft, he gasped and said, "Who was picked ahead of him? It had better be Pujols!"
It was not Pujols, of course (it was Matt Bush, who flamed out with the Padres as a shortstop and ran afoul of the law before salvaging his career as a reliever in Texas), but Mientkiewicz's query brings up an even better point -- Pujols was not only not the first overall pick, he was not selected until the 13th round. Scouts saw in him a good young hitter with a bad body and no natural defensive position.
What they could not see was all that mattered: They could not see Pujols' hunger, his sheer desire to excel, the countless hours he would spend in the batting cage, the precise and obsessive way he would go about improving every part of his game. Pujols had a remarkable rookie year, the best probably since the days of Joe DiMaggio, but he was angry that he had struck out 93 times and vowed never to do so again. He hasn't, having never struck out more than 76 times in a season since.
Pujols bounced around positions, promising to become a great defensive player. He did, winning two National League Gold Glove Awards at first base, and probably deserving two or three more.
In the prime of his career, Pujols seemed the perfect player, but he vowed to become more valuable on the bases. In 2005, he went 16-for-18 on steals and proved to be one of the game's better baserunners.
How are you going to see that sort of ambition? The two Joshes -- Beckett and Hamilton -- were the stars of that 1999 Draft. Both had fine careers in very different ways. Justin Morneau, a third-round pick, won an American League Most Valuable Player Award. Shane Victorino, a sixth-round selection, had a superb All-Star career. But the player of that Draft, by far the Hall of Famer in that Draft, was Pujols. Scouts have kicked themselves for years for missing it.
But the truth is, teams spend millions of dollars and thousands of man hours with the best available technology to prepare for the Draft. And they will keep missing because "it" is not often visible. Sure, every now and again, "it" is obvious. A friend named Muzzy Jackson was learning how to become a scout when he was sent to a Miami high school to watch a kid named Alex Rodriguez. After watching A-Rod do everything a baseball player can do, he said: "This scouting stuff is easy." Every now and again a Bryce Harper happens.
It's just as likely that this year's find will be someone no one talks about now, no one even thinks about now. It might be some incredible athlete who plays multiple sports and decides to go all in on baseball, like Henderson. It might be some light-hitting infielder with a still-unknown knack for pitching, like Hoffman. It might be a good college hitter in some small conference where few people pay attention, like Paul Goldschmidt. It might be a left-handed college pitcher with unimposing stuff like Dallas Keuchel.
But he's out there. That's what keeps this world turning. Some 1,200 players will get drafted over the next few days. It will be fascinating, as always, to see which team gets the special one.