Early on Saturday morning, two days before this year’s MLB draft, Royals general manager Dayton Moore stood at Kauffman Stadium’s home plate, feeding baseballs into a pitching machine. The machine was shooting grounders at a young infielder while Royals front-office personnel sat in the first-base dugout and watched.
This was a pre-draft workout, and they happen all the time.
Before deciding which players to pick in the upcoming draft, teams hold pre-draft workouts. The prospect the Royals watched that morning wasn’t able to make a larger workout held earlier, so this was a chance to see the kid in person.
And that’s more important than you might think.
Everybody can see the numbers a player puts up, read scouting reports and watch video, but pre-draft workouts allow a teams’ front-office personnel to meet the player and get a feel for the player is … and maybe see some things they haven’t seen before.
Putting a player through his paces
If a high school catcher is a big-league prospect, high school opponents might not challenge his arm. So a scout can attend games, but still not see the kid throw as often as the scout would like. A pre-draft workout allows the team to see the kid’s arm in action.
Or maybe the prospect is a shortstop, but a team wants to see him at second base and get a sense of how he looks on that side of the infield.
If the prospect is a pitcher, the radar gun tells you about arm strength, but during a pre-draft workout a team might ask him to make a minor adjustment to see how he reacts to instruction and whether he’s capable of making the kind of adjustment suggested.
Kauffman Stadium is huge and during batting practice lots of kids want to impress the team by hitting the ball over the fence. If a kid thinks he really tagged one and it still doesn’t leave the park, he might get frustrated and make the mistake of swinging harder, and since that rarely works the workout deteriorates.
The kid the Royals looked at that Saturday morning didn’t make that mistake. He stayed within his game. He didn’t try to show the Royals something he couldn’t do. He concentrated on showing them what he could do.
And that brings up a very important point.
How does a player react to failure?
Baseball is a game of failure and players have to deal with it in a positive manner. So when something goes wrong, scouts and front-office personnel pay attention to how a player reacts.
If he makes an error, does he hang his head and mope or does he immediately get locked in on the next pitch?
When he has a bad at-bat does he sit back on the bench and pout or does he stay up on the railing encouraging his teammates?
When a player doesn’t get what he wants, does he start criticizing the coaches and the organization?
It’s not just the numbers a player puts up; teams also want to know what a player will bring to their clubhouse. Is he going to be a positive influence or a drain on the people around him?
Is the player intimidated?
Pre-draft workouts in a big-league stadium while being watched by people who will decide your future can be intimidating. Some players have never competed against someone just as good as they are, and that can be intimidating as well.
And that bring us to a pretty good story about Wil Myers.
According to a Royals front-office executive, Myers and a kid named Brandon Jacobs were in the same pre-draft workout at Kauffman Stadium and Jacobs hit a couple balls into the fountains. It’s a mistake to try to hit home runs if you don’t have the power to do it, but Myers flipped the switch and hit some home runs of his own.
Myers was not going to be outdone by anyone else in the workout, and the Royals liked his competitive nature.
Myers was taken by the Royals in the third round of 2009 draft and was named Rookie of the Year in 2013 and made it to the 2016 All-Star game. Jacobs was taken by the Red Sox in the 10th round of that same draft and has yet to make it to the big leagues.
Evaluating players as people
There are players who put up good numbers but still bounce from team-to-team because they’re considered clubhouse cancers. Teams look at the numbers, think they can fix the player and then after he’s been in their clubhouse a while, decide his numbers aren’t worth the trouble he causes.
And it works the other way as well.
One of the reasons the Royals were interested in drafting Eric Hosmer — besides the obvious ones — were the reports they heard about his character: Hosmer was a great competitor, a good teammate and a natural leader. The other kids gravitated to him.
Those attributes carried over into Hosmer’s professional career.
There are people who have suggested that big-league teams could save a lot of money on scouts and just draft players by watching video and looking at numbers.
But smart teams know there’s more to evaluating players than numbers. They also need to be evaluated as people and pre-draft workouts — like the one the Royals held that Saturday morning — are part of the process.