With the fifth pick in MLB draft yesterday. The Brewers selected outfielder Corey Ray out of the University of Louisville. As with anything a sports team ever does, the frustrated fans weren’t hard to find.
@AdamMcCalvy This organization needs pitching and then more pitching not another left fielder. Good grief.
— USMCforcerecon (@usmcforcerecon2) June 9, 2016
— Greg Peck (@GazOpMatters) June 9, 2016
Oh, positional need, they cried from the rooftops! We need pitching, not more outfielders! Of course, the sort of folks who make such proclamations are more typically found calling into drive-time sports talk radio programs or in the comments section of an ESPN article, not reading an article on Baseball Prospectus, even one written by a silly fan who concocts wild conspiracies about dog mascots. However, there’s still something worth discussing when it comes how the draft fits into the Brewers rebuilding process and at the very least, I’ll give you something to link to when your less learned pals demand you cite your sources to disprove their wrong opinions. Here’s how Ray could become the Brewers staff ace of the future.
The obvious difference between the MLB draft and drafts in other major American professional sports is the lag time between being drafted and actually appearing on the major league team. NBA and NFL draftees typically make the team straight out of the draft, and first round picks are generally expected to take on major roles from day one. For this reason, drafting teams in those sports rightly consider level of talent and positional need. MLB draftees almost never appear in the big leagues right away. Since 1990, only 17 players have made their major league debut in the same year they were drafted – the last Brewer to do so was Rickie Weeks in 2003. The average position player has over 2000 plate appearances under his belt before making his major league debut, and the average pitcher has tossed nearly 400 innings. With an average gap of about four years between the draft and a player’s MLB debut, it’s silly to assume you can know what positions will be of need nearly half a decade in the future.
Of course a prospect’s value doesn’t lie only in how he can contribute directly the team effort on the field. Consider the 2007 Brewers, who spent their first round pick on first baseman Matt LaPorta. This, despite having Prince Fielder in the fold, who at 23 years old was already one of the best first basemen in the league. How foolish for a team seemingly on the edge of a long-awaited window of contention to use the seventh overall pick on a position at which they were already set long term! Of course LaPorta never played a game for the Brewers, and was instead the centerpiece of a trade that brought C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers just over a year later. LaPorta never quite worked out in Cleveland, so the bulk of his value to major league teams was not in his on-field contributions, but in the potential teams believed he had.
So Corey Ray may someday contribute to the major league team as a very good outfielder, which is presumably Plan A today. Or it could be Plan B, and he could contribute by being part of a trade that brings a major league player to Milwaukee that fills a need when the time comes. Or he could bust out and provide little to no value to the major league team at all, which we’ll call Plan E in honor of Eric Arnett. I don’t particularly like Plan E, but there’s something to be said for being prepared for all outcomes. Today, Ray is probably fifth or sixth on the organization’s long-term outfield depth chart behind Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips and Trent Clark. With Milwaukee’s next contention window and Ray’s MLB debut still over the horizon, however, there’s a lot that could change before we arrive at either.