Among baseball’s many unwritten rules and preconceived notions is this: When it comes to the Major League Baseball draft, good things come to those who wait.
Unlike other sports like the NFL and NBA, where high draft picks can make immediate impacts, it’s generally assumed MLB draft picks need multiple years of grooming before reaching the bigs. There’s plenty of evidence — Derek Jeter went sixth overall in the 1992 draft but didn’t become an everyday player until 1996. Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was taken seventh overall in 2006 but didn’t debut until 2008 and didn’t make an All-Star team until 2011. Even the incomparable Mike Trout needed a full two years in the minors before developing into the best hitter in the game.
Baseball is hard, and teams shouldn’t expect immediate contributions from their top draft picks. Right? Well, the 2015 MLB Draft class has something to say about that.
Of the top nine players taken in that draft, five already are on major league rosters, and four now are everyday starters: Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (first overall), Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman (second), Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi (seventh) and Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ (ninth). Not too shabby for a group that was drafted less than 24 months ago.
Why is this group’s success so significant? Consider the case of Benintendi. The Red Sox could have addressed a long-term need in the 2015 draft by targeting a young pitcher or selecting a second baseman to be Dustin Pedroia’s heir apparent. Instead, they landed on the 20-year-old Arkansas product whom they viewed as the most talented player on the board.
The move paid off. Benintendi skyrocketed through Boston’s farm system, jumping from Double-A to the big leagues in August 2016 after just one full season in the minors. After hitting .295 through 34 games in 2016, Benintendi staked his claim as the Red Sox’s starting left fielder, a job he could hold in Boston for a very, very long time.
To have a draft pick become a regular contributor so quickly is impressive in any sport, but in baseball, it’s nearly unheard of. Yet Benintendi and his contemporaries are proof it can be done. Swanson is off to a slow start in Atlanta but has played in all but one of the Braves’ 62 games. Bregman began the season batting second for the best team in baseball. Happ has five home runs in his first 25 games for the Cubs. The list goes on.
Most teams still will adopt the same overall strategy entering the 2017 MLB Draft, which begins Monday. After all, there are a mind-boggling 40 rounds, and teams will use many of those selections on guys you haven’t heard of — and might not hear of ever again. Baseball’s professional draft never will quite rival its football and basketball counterparts.
But teams need only to watch Benintendi’s sweet swing to realize that the first round can, in fact, yield almost immediate results, and that making the right pick at the top of the draft can help clubs fill holes faster than imagined.
Thumbnail photo via Patrick McDermott/USA TODAY Sports Images