Science vs Speculation

Upton Was #1 Last Year, Who's Next?

Some try to claim that the MLB first year player draft is luck, not science, but Vice President of Scouting Operations Mike Rizzo has proven otherwise, and GM Josh Byrnes agrees. As FutureBacks.com continues it's draft coverage, we talk to Rizzo and Byrnes about the preparation, the science, and the sheer volume of prospects in the draft.

"We try not to get married to the focus of 'this year's draft,' and instead look to get the best available player," Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes says.

Unlike the NBA or NFL drafts, where teams look to fill specific holes and specific positions, the Major League Baseball First Year Player draft is not about finding the next 3rd baseman or next closer.  It's about finding Major League caliber players, regardless of position.

"Some years there is a consensus #1 pick, but that isn't even always the case," Rizzo says, "and after the first pick, there's almost never a situation where people know the order.  There are just so many factors that go into drafting and signing a guy."

According to Rizzo, the Diamondbacks currently have somewhere between 700 and 800 players on their draft board for the 50+ picks they are allotted this year, including five picks in the first 100 overall.  Unlike last year where the Diamondbacks had the #1 overall pick that selection goes to the Kansas City Royals while the D'Backs first pick comes at #11. 

Some clubs will focus more on pitching, others look to position players, some look harder at college players, others like to develop high school prospects.  According to Rizzo and Byrnes, the Diamondbacks have a standard philosophy, and it has nothing to do with what position a player plays or how old they are. 

"We look for the best player on the board," Rizzo says, "regardless of position or age.  We certainly have a 'type' of player we like to look at, but for most of these guys they are three or four years away from being in the Majors, and many will change positions along the way.  To lock yourself in on a specific position is just cheating your team."

Scouts and representatives from the Diamondbacks will often use the phrase 'your type of guy,' when talking to Rizzo about potential draftees.  Rizzo attempts to see as many players as he can, but depends on the work of a squadron of scouts in the organization to feed him information.  Though he makes the final call on who gets picked and when, he makes no bones about the fact that its a team effort.

"We've just got a great group of scouts feeding me information, and I wouldn't even try to take credit for all our picks."

In fact some of the best are guys Rizzo never saw.

"The first time I saw Dustin Nippert pitch was after he'd started pitching for us in Rookie League Missoula, and I called up our scout who had kept whispering to me throughout the draft, 'Don't forget about Nippert, he's your type of guy,' and told him that if he let me go that far (Nippert wasn't selected by the Diamondbacks until the 15th round) without making me take a guy like that again that I'd fire him."

While there are certainly just as many busts in the first round as any other, the real mark of Rizzo's tenure with the D'Backs has been mining the lower rounds for talent that is Major League caliber.  Along with Nippert, in 2004 Rizzo took a chance on a seldom used outfielder/first baseman who couldn't even find a regular spot in the Stanford lineup with his 17th round pick.  Chris Carter has made it to Triple-A in just three seasons and could be challenging Conor Jackson for the big league first baseman's job as quickly as next year.

So what does it mean when scouts tell Rizzo that someone is 'His Kind of Guy?'

"Big physical players.  This is a percentage business, and as a team my scouts know that and they use that phrase to get me on board with a particular player." Rizzo explains, "When we look at pitchers, big guys, tall guys with some mass about them, they just pan out more often than smaller guys.  It's the same thing with position players, big physical guys who are good athletes tend to be safer bets."

Though there are certainly exceptions, Rizzo knows that Greg Maddux and David Eckstein are the exception to the rule.

"When you see smaller guys, both position players and pitchers, who make it they are usually guys who have one plus plus attribute.  They are either really fast, or have incredible arms, or really good defensively.  Those guys are going to stand out, and usually go early in the draft anyway because of that attribute.  The guys who really make it that come out of the lower rounds are athletes, big and physical, and those are the guys that catch my attention.  It's a philosophy, and it's not the only one, but it has served us pretty well."

 

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