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Drafting for need


gregmag

This topic may belong in the draft forum, but things have quieted down over there, so I thought I would post it here.

 

Everybody says that a team should never draft a player for need. There are very good, familiar reasons for this view: both baseball prospects and teams' needs are unpredictable, so drafting for need can really burn a team.

 

But I don't believe in the "don't draft for need" mantra quite as much as I used to. The Brewers apparently drafted Ryan Braun because they really, really wanted a 3b in that draft; I never heard any report that he was the guy they wanted regardless of position. Obviously he is working out ridiculously well so far, but even if he was only working out decently well, you couldn't really fault the Brewers. In this case, they made sound judgments both about how much they would need a 3b, compared to other priorities, and about how the player would develop at the outset.

 

The Brewers did it again this year. Everybody knows that we're set at six positions for several years. Yes, somebody could get hurt or tail off, but those six positions are as nailed down right now as it ever gets in baseball. So the Brewers grabbed LaPorta in the first round and made very clear that they expect him to fill one of the two slots that isn't all the way set. Again, it's far from obvious that they would have drafted him in that slot if they had any holes in the defensive skill positions (other than catcher, and you know they would have grabbed an advanced C if one had been available in the first round).

 

The Brewers have forced an exception to the rule: Don't draft for need, unless you've really done the math and think the player you're taking will turn out well enough to mute second-guessers down the road.

 

Any thoughts?

 

Greg.

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Maybe, but I won't buy that without more support. I didn't read any draft commentary that had LaPorta as the best hitter available at the Brewers' slot this year. He plausibly was, however, the best available hitter who would be ready to play LF in the big leagues around the time the Brewers would need a LF. As for 2005, I don't recall hearing anyone argue that Braun was simply a better hitter than Maybin or even McCutchen. Again, his position and developmental stage appear to have played into the Brewers' thinking. Of course, there were also pitchers to consider in both years, adding to the gravity against which the Brewers' choices pulled.

 

Greg.

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Isn't the best hitter available a subjective opinion, as in the eye of the beholder? They thought Fielder was the best hitter and repeatedly said so, even if he's "only" in the top 3 from that draft class, he's still a darn good pick.

 

Laporta had the highest OBP in all of division 1 baseball... so if he's not the best college hitter available, I'm not sure who would be.

 

edit. I should say that I definately see your point, and they picked Braun because 3B was a major hole in the system, but he was still a top pick in the draft regardless if the Brewer's drafted him or not.

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

- Plato

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something."

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Of course you're right that such judgments are subjective. But it isn't like Jack Z. said, "Our draft philosophy is to take the best college hitter available, and we believe LaPorta is that guy." In fact, that obviously isn't the Brewers' philosophy; the only other college hitter Jack Z. has taken #1 is Weeks, and by most accounts every team in baseball would have picked him in that spot. What Jack Z. said about LaPorta, more or less, was that they decided to go for an advanced hitter who could move into the lineup alongside the guys who are there now. I'm not knocking the pick at all -- I like it a lot -- but I'm not sure how you can say that isn't "drafting for need."

 

Greg.

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I think the Brewers have drafted the top player on their board under Jack Z. Then, as the prospects advance and develope, they prepare the M.L. roster for their arrival. Some examples of this that come to mind are trading away Overbay to make room for Prince, signing Graffy and Counsell instead of a big name to keep a spot open for Braun, and moving Bill Hall to center to make room for JJ. I know JJ had the spot already and got injured, but Hall played well enough last year to keep that spot on most teams. Also, we signed Koskie around the time of drafing braun but that was always viewed as a stopgap.

Saying LaPorta was drafted on need doesn't really fit either. He will have to perform at a very high level to tread his way through all of the Brewers' corner outfield prospects. Yeah, if he moves along like Braun, that would be amazing, but there will be some strong competition.

I like the strategy of the taking the top player availible, because as long as you don't sign anyone to bad contracts at the ML level, you can always just trade away the depth for a weakness.

LaPorta may have seemed like a reach to some people, but I just think the Brewers have no problem taking somone they rate higher than most other teams happen to. I look at LaPorta's resume post draft and i can't believe he was not higher on other draft boards. Just the fact that he was a senior must have dropped his stock unkess his defense is just really bad.

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I think there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Brewers have drafted for need under Jack Z. just not in a universal way. I think what they have done is in certain drafts they targeted positions for saturation drafting after the 1st round. For example the year they drafted Captain Lou they took 3 catchers in rounds 2-10. In the first round I think they've looked at need as a small component of overall strategy, but Jack really seems to like drafted a player who is the best at something. I believe that the Brewers approach to drafting for need is an acknoweldgement that there isn't generally a big difference in talent between 3-6th rounders or even 3rd-10th rounders for that matter. So the Brewers take a really good prospect in round 1 then figure that based on how other teams draft they will pick up 3 or so prospects at an area of need in the early round and see who pans out. And sprinkling in a mixture of pitchers they like along the way.
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Quote:
I didn't read any draft commentary that had LaPorta as the best hitter available at the Brewers' slot this year.

 

Actually I did see a quote by Jack Z saying LaPorta had the best power in the draft. So maybe not best hitter but in that same article Z went on to say that they continually look for best 'something' when they take a first rounder (be it power, arm, whatever). The article is buried someplace in the draft threads.

 

In any case, even when they say something like that about Braun or LaPorta it's kind of obvious that they drafted for need in both cases. And given that both were college players that could move quickly through the system I can't blame them. I think they needed a centerfielder in '05 when they drafted Braun, but Maybin's arrival date was probably '08 or so and they took the guy that could also fill a need and get there sooner.

"Dustin Pedroia doesn't have the strength or bat speed to hit major-league pitching consistently, and he has no power......He probably has a future as a backup infielder if he can stop rolling over to third base and shortstop." Keith Law, 2006
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It's no secret the Brewers are a little light in the OF, at the major league level and in the minors, call it need or call it best power hitter, I agree with JZ when he said we would like someone to join the big club quickly to assist the current crop, makes perfect sense, as opposed to drafting a HS player who will take 4-5 years.
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It's an interesting point, and Braun's selection was especially interesting since the team did reportedly reach out to Troy Tulowitzki and asked him if he would be willing to slide to 3B upon being drafted. Tulo balked at the idea, and the team drafted Braun. Both players have obviously turned out pretty well, although the '05 draft may eventually go down as one of the better ones in history at the top given the college hitters taken early, especially at third base (which includes Alex Gordon and Ryan Zimmerman).

 

I guess when the idea of drafting for need is brought up it usually implies that a team is over-drafting talent to fill such a need. Now, if the Brewers hadn't drafted Braun where they did he may just have fallen a good 5-10 slots, as there weren't too many other teams connected to Braun that year. Fielder is somewhat similar in that only the Tigers (who drafted right after the Brewers, and there are obvious Detroit-Fielder connections) were the only other team in the early part of the first round in 2002 that was reportedly seriously considering drafting Fielder.

 

Braun and Fielder obviously turned out to be great picks, and while Braun seemed to be an obvious pick for need, Fielder was quite the opposite. What both have (and had) in common is that they were very good hitters when the Brewers drafted them. I've harped before when it comes to the draft that teams should always draft a player for his bat more than any other tool. While you can't teach speed and arm strength, I have found that teaching one to hit is the most difficult aspect to whether or not a young positional player makes it or not. We've seen with Prince, Braun and Rickie Weeks that their defense certainly doesn't hold them back.

 

Was LaPorta a pick for such obvious need as Braun? I'm not so sure. Yes, the team is convinced he can play LF, but I think the organizational need for power was their biggest need, not necessarily their need to find a left-fielder. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but Braun was taken as a third baseman, when third base was clearly the most glaring need in the system (and quickly became an organizational strength). Left field isn't necessasrily a need, but power is.

 

And that brings me to tools. Jack Z. has always claimed that he likes to get the best of something in a draft, or at least one of the best of something. LaPorta was one of the best available power hitters available this past year, and I was clamoring for several weeks that the organization needed to find a way to add more power to the system since they were clearly lacking power since they promoted Braun (although I also noted a left-handed slugger, such as Beau Mills, would be a better pure fit).

 

And since I brought up Mills, if the team was truly drafting for need, he may have been a better fit, since the system, and big-league team, is somewhat lacking in lefty sluggers. There's Prince, Jenkins, and Gamel...and that's about it.

 

Jack Z. came out and said the organization changed its approach somewhat this year by taking some players earlier that they felt were closer to the big leagues, not necessarily to get those player to the big leagues faster, but also to use their value as prospects more quickly when it comes to having valuable chips on the farm for trades. This is something I actually advocated several years ago in my draft retrospect series, (www.brewerfan.net/ViewArt...icleId=196), so you know I'm happy they (finally) took the same approach.

 

One more point on this issue, going back to my point earlier about drafting for specific need. I remember all to well when the 1992 Brewers were painfully lacking power and over-drafted Ken Felder to try and remedy that problem. They had Jaha and Nilsson (and Jim Tatum) slugging their way towards Milwaukee (and I believe Jaha and Nilsson had cups of coffee with the '92 Brewers), yet they over-drafted for a player that few considered worthy of their pick. Same goes for Chad Green in 1996. The organization was lacking the prototypical leadoff hitting CF and over-drafted for a player that they felt could fill that immediate, glaring need at the big-league level.

 

You might as well draft for a pinch-hitting or LOOGY specialist.

 

Going back to LaPorta, I was thinking last night that it is interesting how a few people (myself included) had teams like the Tigers and Yankees taking LaPorta for a couple of reasons: One, neither team has been shy about taking players that are expected to be relatively tough signs in recent years, and two, both have, or will have, a glaring need for a power-hitting first baseman, if not this year, then in the not-so-distant future. That implies that I, and other prognosticators, seemed to think that LaPorta had a pretty good chance of being successful, even if his upside (overall tool-set) isn't as great as some other players (Heyward, any of the prep pitchers) on the board.

 

Sorry, that's probably longer than it needs to be, but I haven't been around much lately http://forum.brewerfan.net/images/smilies/smile.gif .

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