Judging the Royals

The NBA Draft and an athlete’s makeup

Kansas City Royals center fielder Bubba Starling (99) runs down a fly ball for the final out of the inning during the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers spring training baseball game at Surprise Stadium on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in Surprise, Arizona.
Kansas City Royals center fielder Bubba Starling (99) runs down a fly ball for the final out of the inning during the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers spring training baseball game at Surprise Stadium on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, in Surprise, Arizona. KansasCity

Thursday night the NBA held its draft, and it reminded me of how often expectations exceed reality. Despite all the hoopla (and I’ve never used that word before and hope to never use it again) some of the kids drafted may never play a minute in the NBA and the ones who make it that far may not have an appreciable impact — and baseball is no different.

For example, here’s part of what Andy McCullough had to say when asked whether the Royals should seek an upgrade over Eric Hosmer:

“Do you expect more from the No. 3 overall pick in the draft? You would think so — except the draft is far from an exact science. The third-overall pick in 2007, 

professional baseball right now. The third-overall pick in 2009, Donovan Tate, has never reached the majors.”

And as Royals fans know, the Royals also have difficulty predicting the future with 100 percent accuracy. I actually have no idea what their expectations were — I know they considered him a project — but Bubba Starling is in his fourth season of professional baseball and is currently playing Double A ball and hitting .221.

All this reminded me of a conversation I had with a member of the Royals front office before the baseball draft.

Makeup and opportunity 

When judging a player’s worth, one of the more difficult categories to rate is “makeup” because you can’t put a radar gun on it — a kid’s personality can be hard to discern. And a kid’s makeup can change along with a kid’s opportunities.

Say Johnny Baseball lives with his parent in a small town, doesn’t have much money and goes to church every Sunday. Johnny’s looks like the All-American boy because Johnny’s opportunities to screw up are limited.

But give Johnny millions of dollars, his own condo and nice car. Move him away from his parents, have women start throwing their phone numbers at him and give him minor-league teammates who know they’re probably not going to make it the majors so they want to have their fun right now.

Is Johnny still an All-American boy?

That nice, serious kid can turn into a party hound in a heartbeat.

Physical tools vs. makeup

Baseball players are rated on a scale from 20 to 80 — 80 is the highest rating, 20 the lowest, and 50 is majorleague average.

The less physical talent a kid has — say he’s rated out as a 45 — the better his makeup needs to be. If a kid is short on the physical tools, he can’t afford to be stupid; he’s got make the most of the talent he has. He can’t miss signs, fail to get down bunts or make mistakes on the base paths. The kid with more talent can get away with doing stupid stuff for six innings because he’s going to hit a bomb in the seventh.

Ask baseball coaches who they’d rather have: a kid who’s a bit short on the physical side but is highly motivated or a kid who has all the talent in the world, but doesn’t give a damn, and they’ll usually take the motivated kid. What’s the point of talent if you refuse to make the most of it?

If the second kid thinks he has nothing to learn, you can’t teach him. If the first kid wants to know what he has to do to make it to the big leagues and is willing to adjust, he’s got a chance.

So when you look at the numbers remember it’s difficult to put a stopwatch on personality. If a player’s physical talent doesn’t impress you, there’s a real good chance he’s smart — he needs to be.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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