Baseball Draft Loses Another Quirk

Many of Baseball America’s readers actually work in baseball, and those
who don’t like to feel like they know more about the game than other
baseball fans.

And for the last 20 years, nothing could make you
feel more like an “insider” than knowing what the heck someone meant
when they talked about draft-and-follows.

The
draft-and-follow process’”also referred to as DFE (draft, follow and
evaluate) or DNF’”is one of the things that almost no one understands
when they start working at BA, right up there with the Rule 5 draft.
Over the years, when a mysterious junior-college player signs for six
or seven figures a week before the draft, you figured it out.

Draft-and-follows
were like Rule 5 picks in another way: The hype never seemed to live up
to the reality. Like the Rule 5, draft-and-follow supporters can point
to iconic success stories like Roy Oswalt and Travis Hafner. But also
like the Rule 5, fans tend to forget the many players signed each year
who never do anything.

That’s not unlike the draft itself, where
finding a couple of major leaguers out of 50 selections is a cause for
celebration. But in an era when Major League Baseball is looking for
places to save money, getting rid of the draft-and-follow process
seemed inevitable.

Evolution And Revolution

It’s
just a quirk of timing that the end of the draft-and-follow era comes
20 years after it began, but those two dates will become prominent on
the timeline of draft history’”whenever we get around to writing it.

The
1987 draft was the first that compressed the entire process into one
group of selections. High school, college and junior-college players
used to be separated into January and June drafts, and even into
regular and secondary phases.

The 1987 draft was the first to
streamline the process, which scouting directors welcomed. But they
also recognized what could be ahead. The “draft-and-follow” label had
not yet been concocted, but it didn’t take teams long to figure out the
potential benefit of being able to control an amateur player’s rights
for almost a year.

We wrote on the eve of the 1987 draft: “It’s
anticipated that a number of clubs will continue drafting high school
players long after the normal selection process is complete,” and
several scouting directors welcomed the extra time to evaluate players.

“If
you know a player is going to junior college and is not quite ready for
pro ball, you can take a chance on him,” said Terry Ryan, then the
Twins’ scouting director. “It’s a great opportunity not to make a
premature judgment.”

The 1987 draft did set a record, with 1,263
players drafted and the Royals continuing to pick into the 74th round.
And the real draft-and-follow fever was still to come.

Latching Onto Success Stories

Darryl
Kile was an immediate success story out of the 1987 draft. A virtually
unknown two-way player out of Chaffey (Calif.) Junior College, he went
to the Astros in the 30th round and signed the next May.

Kile
went on to win 133 major league games in 12 seasons, with three
all-star appearances, before dying suddenly in 2002  due to a heart
ailment. While his life and career came to an untimely end, he will
forever be regarded as the patron saint of the draft-and-follow
process, the player who helped popularize it.

The next big
moment in draft-and-follow history came in 1991, when Frank Rodriguez
signed as a draft-and-follow with the Red Sox for $425,000′”back when
that was a lot of money. And the draft-and-follow bonus record came in
2003, when Adam Loewen signed with the Orioles for a $3.2 million bonus
as part of a major league contract.

But both of those players
were premium picks the year before who simply used the draft-and-follow
route to extend their negotiating windows. The real draft-and-follows
were the late-round picks, like Kile and Oswalt, who developed into
something much more.

“The draft-and-follow is a true area
scout’s draft,” Cubs general manager Jim Hendry told BA a few years
ago. “Scouting has become so crosscheck-oriented that a DFE is the area
guy’s only real chance to project players and use his skills at
cultivating relationships with the players. I’m a big believer in the
process for that reason alone, though I know many scouts aren’t.”

So
while it might make sense from an accounting perspective, the people on
the front lines see the end of the draft-and-follow process as another
blow to old-fashioned scouting.

“This is a tremendous
lose-lose-lose in a lot of different avenues there,” Cubs scouting
director Tim Wilken said. “(MLB officials) don’t have the foresight to
see down the road, they have no idea. They have no comprehension of the
man hours that are spent, not only by the scouts but the juco coaches,
everyone in the industry, trying to make sure the DNF process is
beneficial and useful.”

The process definitely had its ups and
downs over the years’”probably more downs’”and in the future you’ll be
even cooler if you can harken back to the good ol’ days, when
draft-and-follows roamed the earth.

You can contact Will Lingo by sending e-mail to willlingo@baseballamerica.com.

Draft | #2007

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