May 25, 2017

Rule 4 Draft and Baseball on Television

June 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

One of my favorite MLB, Inc. events is the Rule 4 Amateur Draft and it is getting better all the time. There are no ratings for the 2016 event that I could find, but personally, I watched much more of the proceedings than any year previously–in case anyone is listening.

The first round talent seemed authentic and human with stories that were mildly entertaining.  But the best part was not the schmaltz with Mickey Moniak or the friendship between Joey Wentz and Riley Pint. No, it was the very informed coverage of the event by Jim Callis and John Mayo that made the Amateur Draft good television.

No disrespect intended, but there is certainly nothing telegenic about Jim Callis. He’s neither Richard Nixon nor Walter Cronkite, just an informed talking head who was never thrown from providing good analysis of the players as the names were called.  It was rather amazing that both Mayo and Callis got the first seven or eight draft selections right in their last mock draft and that Callis continued with an error free ledger until selection number 10.  When you think of the many twists and turns that the draft normally goes through right up to the moment the Commissioner announces the first pick, it was quite a feat. Bringing in John Callis and John Mayo to anchor the Rule 4 Draft is one of MLB’s best moves in a long time.

Maybe I was affected by how much I liked the draft of the Washington Nationals. Washington had a nice run from 2009 to 2012, selecting Strasburg, Harper, Rendon and Giolito with their top picks respectively. But since then, they have had fewer picks of note. Thanks to Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann signing elsewhere, Washington picked at 28 and 29 in the first round this year.

Washington took high school shortstop Carter Kieboom from Marietta, Georgia with pick number 28 and Dane Dunning, a pitcher from the University of Florida with number 29. Kieboom is one of the first true high school talents that Washington has taken in the early other than Giolito. They have tended toward the more certain character of college draftees when rebuilding an organization bled dry by MLB, Inc. when the other 29 owners ran the Montreal Expos in the final years.

Kieboom has a brother already in the Nationals organization, Spencer Kieboom, who is catching Lucas Giolito this season for the AA Harrisburg Senators. Spencer came by way of Clemson University, to which his younger brother is also committed. But Carter is expected to sign immediately and begin his pro career later this summer. He profiles as either a shortstop early in his career who may move to third base later. It is his bat and his gap power that should improve with time and his ability to barrel the ball that got him drafted in the first round

Dunning is an intriguing pick. He has been very, very good for the Gators who have been the top ranked Collegiate baseball program most of the 2016 season. He has pitched out of the bullpen, generally setting up Shaun Anderson their closer, although making occasional starts. Although Callis and company opined that he might be converted to a starter, I see him as a swing man in much the same capacity that Craig Stammen did for several years in DC. Washington went out a got Yusmiero Petit to cover that hole and Dunning should be ready rather quickly to step in after Petit’s contract expires next season.

The other factor I liked was the high-upside risks taken by GM Mike Rizzo in the next few rounds. My favorite in that category was was fifth round selection, Daniel Johnson from New Mexico State University. Baseball America called him a raw talent. He hit .382 for the Aggies with 12 homes and 29 steals, but also has a plus arm though they ranked his certainty as to where the ball was going as low. Picture Bryce Harper throwing the ball into the backstop from right field as he did early in his minor league years.

Third round pick Jesus Luzardo is another first round talent sidetracked by Tommy John surgery. He should recover and provide another power arm for the Nationals organization that currently has Giolito, Eric Fedde, Renaldo Lopez and Austin Voth knocking at the door. Giolito struck out 12 last night in Harrisburg and Lopez struck out 13 a week ago, so they are making noise and Luzardo could back fill for one of those next season.

Fourth Rounder Nick Banks is another first round talent who was sidelined by injury early in 2016 and struggled to regain his form. He provides a third player with considerable offensive upside. And there is second rounder Sheldon Neuse out of the University of Oklahoma who provides another solid bat.

An informed source told me recently that organizations take the best available talent in the first five rounds and thereafter are filling roster slots in their minor league organization. So if the team is thin on catching talent, watch for catchers to be taken rounds 6-30. Of late the Nationals have had some luck of late in those rounds with picks like Max Schrock, a 13th round pick in 2015 out of the University of South Carolina. Only 5-8, Schrock was a leader on the Gamecocks who continue to boast one of the best programs nationally.

But back to television ratings to wrap up. The Rule 4 Draft is a winner and the Nationals have built a winning organization in almost every way. But there is a gaping hole in the fabric, one that Dizzy Dean could drive the family John Deere through.

The Washington TV broadcast crew is rated near the bottom. I don’t watch them, preferring the radio commentary to paint me a picture.

Admittedly, Washington has no decorated veterans from years gone by to bring into the booth the way the Orioles have featured Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer over the years. But that is almost as hackneyed a formula as any other. Many of the former Major Leaguers who work on television do not do their home work and are poor commentators on the current game.

Maybe the whole kerfluffle over television rights fees for MASN limits Washington’s ability to maneuver in this realm. But when they decide to make a move, there is none better to emulate than the MLB Rule 4 Draft program. Knowledgeable experts in the business like Jim Callis are better than former players laughing at old locker room jokes that weren’t funny when they were told thirty years ago.

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