Free Flow: Part Two – Reviewing the 2008 Shadow Draft

Feature Photo:  Buster Posey, C, Giants

The 2008 MLB draft class was my first deep dive as an evaluator and draft analyst. At the time I was a junior associate in a large New York law firm, which limited my availability at the fields. Nevertheless, I made an effort to see as many draft-eligible players as my schedule would allow, and most of my free time on weekends was spent watching college baseball recorded during the week (one of the luxuries my wife and I allowed in support of my baseball hobby during our early years after graduate school – she was completing her residency at the time – was loading up on as many cable packages as I could find with regional college sports coverage).

The Shadow Draft was intended to be a dynamic approach to keeping a record of my comparative thoughts on that year’s MLB Draft class. Rather than the traditional approach of ranking players, I thought it would be more useful to challenge myself to commit to selecting a specific player in a specific moment – hence the exercise of making a pick in real time based on who is available at specific moments during the draft.

Because the exercise was run at the Orioles’ Camden Depot blog, picks were made at each of Baltimore’s first five slots. It played out as follows:

  • Rd. 1 (4th overall): Brian Matusz, LHP, Univ. of San Diego
  • Rd. 2 (50th overall): Tim Melville, RHP, Wentzville Holt (Wentzville, MO)
  • Rd. 3 (81st overall): Roger Kieschnick, OF, Texas Tech
  • Rd. 4 (116th overall): Brandon Crawford, SS, UCLA
  • Rd. 5 (146th overall): Brian Humphries, OF, Granite Hills (El Cajon, CA)

When I looked back on these selections later, it pointed me to a couple of simple rules that still guide my evaluation and approach to draft strategy today:

Lesson 1: Pick the Best Available Player. The top player on my draft board was Buster Posey, who entered the draft as a catcher but also spent time as a closer early in his Florida State career. He climbed to the top of my draft board that May after this game – a seven-inning affair in which Posey played every position on the field and launched a grand slam to boot. As draft enthusiasts will remember, Posey came out with a $10 million asking price the night before the draft, and I got spooked. To this day, it remains my single biggest “miss”, and also also the most tangible teaching moment. If your guy is on the draft board – take him.

Lesson 2: Pick the Guys You Know. For much of the draft season Tim Melville was discussed by draft analysts as one of the biggest upside arms in the class and a surefire first-rounder. Having him available for my second pick, I shrugged off the fact that I saw nothing of Melville outside of a couple of videos and picked him, therefore passing on a player I felt I had a good handle on (Oklahoma State SS) Jordy Mercer, who has since logged a couple of solid MLB seasons for the Pirates (Mercer came off the board in the third round, right before my next pick). While Mercer would not have been a game-changing acquisition, it was a profile I was comfortable with and I could clearly articulate my rationale for targeting him — quality defensive profile that could play at short or as a utility option and enough feel for the stick to be a solid offensive contributor. I ended making a pick (Melville) that, to this day, I really can’t explain outside of “lots of people liked him.”

While neither of these rules are groundbreaking, I came about them organically, and as a result they were quickly absorbed into my approach. The following year I put more of my resources into traveling and seeing a wider swath of the draft class up close. Armed with a year of experience and desire to improve on my process for the 2008 Shadow Draft, I decided to expand the project to the first 10 round’s worth of Orioles’ picks. We’ll take a look at those picks next time around. – Nick J. Faleris