2014 MLB Draft: Round 2 wrap – Blue Jays, Brewers take aim at falling stars

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There weren’t any huge stunners left on the board after the first round of Thursday night’s draft, though Baseball America’s 19th, 20th and 21st ranked players remained up for grabs, largely because of bonus demands. Those three players ended up going 49th, 50th and 41st, respectively.

The latter two there actually went to the same team, the Milwaukee Brewers, who also went with a high-risk, high-reward guy in round one: Hawaiian high school left-hander Kodi Medeiros. With their competitive balance pick after round one, the 41st overall selection, they grabbed high school shortstop Jacob Gatewood,  a 6’5″ shortstop with terrific power potential. His size suggests a move to third may eventually be necessary, especially if he fills out and becomes the 30-homer guy scouts are projecting.

Gatewood was the No. 21 player on the BA board. No. 20 was center fielder Monte Harrison, who was taken by the Brewers 50th overall. Considered one of the very best athletes in the draft, he has the option of going to Nebraska to play wide receiver. It’d seem to be an even more likely route now that he slipped in the draft. However, if the Brewers can land both he and Gatewood, they’ll look like the big winners of day one here. Even if they sign just one of the two, they will still have done pretty well for themselves.

No. 19 on Baseball America’s list was right-hander Sean Reid-Foley, and the Blue Jays made him the 49th overall pick. He’ll be a tough sign, but the Blue Jays are in position to accommodate him since they should be able to land ninth overall pick Jeff Hoffman for a reduced bonus after he underwent Tommy John surgery. They also might be able to skim a little bit off 11th overall pick Max Pentecost’s bonus. If it works out, they’ll have come away with three of draft’s top 25 talents.

– The Astros opened Round 2 by taking the University of Kentucky’s A.J. Reed, who hit .336/.476/.735 with 23 homers and 73 RBI as a first baseman this year and went 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA as the team’s ace starter. Unfortunately, while no one thinks he projects as a star as a hitter or a pitcher, he’s also too talented to go the Brooks Kieschnick route and try to make the majors as both. The Astros will groom him as a first baseman.

– The Twins and Yankees took the draft’s first pure relievers, with the Twins grabbing Louisville’s Nick Burdi at No. 46 and the Yankees going with Mississippi State left-hander Jacob Lindgren at No. 55, their first pick of the draft. First-round pick Nick Howard of the Reds (No. 19 overall) was also a closer this year, but he figures to be given an opportunity to start. Perhaps Lindgren will, too, but he’s also a candidate to be the first 2014 pick to reach the majors if the Yankees keep him in the pen. Burdi is a flamethrowing closer-type.

– The Dodgers took Alex Verdugo as an outfielder with the 62nd overall pick, even though most viewed him as a pitcher. He probably would have gone higher, except he much prefers hitting. Dodgers assistant GM Logan White already made it clear that while Verdugo will be used as an outfielder initially, a move to the mound will come if he doesn’t hit.

 

Free agents who sign with new teams are not disloyal

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Most mornings my local newspaper is pretty predictable.

I know, when I navigate to its home page, that I’ll find about eleventeen stories about Ohio State football, even if it is not football season (especially if it’s not football season, actually), part 6 of an amazingly detailed 8-part investigation into a thing that is super important but which no one reads because it has nothing to do with Ohio State football and, perhaps, a handful of write-ups of stories that went viral online six days previously and have nothing to do with anything that matters.

Local print news is doing great, everyone.

I did, however, get a surprise this morning. A story about baseball! A baseball story that was not buried seven clicks into the sports section, but one that was surfaced onto the front page of the website!  The story was about Michael Brantley signing with the Astros.

Normally I’d be dead chuffed! But then I saw something which kinda irked me. Check out the headline:

Is Michael Brantley “leaving” the Indians? I don’t think so. He’s a free agent signing with a baseball team. He’s no more “leaving” the Indians than you are “leaving” an employer who laid you off to take a job at one of its competitors. This is especially true given that the Indians made no effort whatsoever to sign him. Indeed, they didn’t even give him a qualifying offer, making it very clear as of November 2 that they had no intention of bringing him back. Yet, there’s the headline: “Michael Brantley leaves Indians.”

To be clear, apart from the headline, the article is unobjectionable in any way. It merely recounts Ken Rosenthal’s report about Brantley signing with the Astros and does not make any claim or implication that Brantley was somehow disloyal or that Indians fans should be upset at him.

I do wish, though, that editors would not use this kind of construction, even in headlines, because even in today’s far more savvy and enlightened age, it encourages some bad and outmoded views of how players are expected to interact with teams.

Since the advent of free agency players have often been criticized as greedy or self-centered for signing contracts with new teams. Indeed, they are often cast as disloyal in some way for leaving the team which drafted or developed them. It’s less the case now than it used to be, but there are still a lot of fans who view a player leaving via free agency as some kind of a slap in the face, especially if he joins a rival. Meanwhile, when a team decides to move on from a player, either releasing him or, as was the case with the Indians and Brantley, making no effort to bring him back, it’s viewed as a perfectly defensible business decision. There was no comparable headline, back in early November, that said “Indians dump Brantley.”

Make no mistake: it may very well turn out to be a quite reasonable business decision for Cleveland to move on from Brantley. Maybe they know things about him we don’t. Maybe they simply know better about how he’ll do over the next year than the Astros do. I in no way intend for this little rant to imply that the Indians owed Brantley any more than he owed the Indians once their business arrangement came to an end. They don’t.

But I do suspect that there are still a decent number fans out there who view a free agent leaving his former team as some sort of betrayal. Maybe not Brantley, but what if Bryce Harper signs with the Phillies? What if Kris Bryant walks and joins the Cardinals when he reaches free agency? Fans may, in general, be more enlightened now than they used to be, but even a little time on talk radio or in comments sections reveals that a number of them view ballplayers exercising their bargained-for rights as “traitors.” Or, as it’s often written, “traders.” I don’t care for that whole dynamic.

Maybe this little Michael Brantley headline in a local paper that doesn’t cover all that much baseball is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an example of how pervasive that unfortunate dynamic is. It gives fans, however tacitly, license to continue to think of players as bad people for exercising their rights. I don’t think that belief will ever completely disappear — sports and irrationality go hand-in-hand — but I’d prefer it if, like teams, athletes are likewise given an understanding nod when they make a business decision. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that such decisions are not misrepresented.