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Managing expectations about drafting and developing prospects

The MLB draft is tonight and a bunch of people are going to be angry no matter what.

What at first glance appears to be a futball fan, is actually a Brewers fan looking at Joey Gallo's 2014 batting line.
What at first glance appears to be a futball fan, is actually a Brewers fan looking at Joey Gallo's 2014 batting line.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos

The draft is tonight and I'm really looking forward to it. I hope you are too. It should be a fun event. Part of the fun for me is seeing if the Brewers draft who I think they might. The other part is just being able to dream on the kids they do pick. For many people, recent drafts have been more nightmare than dream, but I think that's a mix of unfair criticism often using hindsight (and often premature) and supreme confidence in one's own ability to make guesses on what is likely zero first hand information.

I see it and hear it all the time:

"The Brewers could have had Sonny Gray and Jose Fernandez but instead they took Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley."

"I knew Joey Gallo was the guy they should have taken instead of Mitch Haniger."

"Rabble, rabble, Eric Arnett!"

I understand the frustration. Honestly I do. But the cold hard truth of it is that for the most part, neither you nor I know jack shit about these kids. We sure a hell don't know enough at the time of drafting to say definitive things like Gallo is better than Haniger. I mean, most of the time we haven't even see these people outside of a still shot or a 2 minute chopped up YouTube video. While Fernandez and Gray have clearly become the better pitchers, what often goes unsaid is that Jungmann and Bradley were deemed good prospects with solid to high ceilings at the time of the draft. ranked them 7 and 8 in that draft ahead of Sonny Gray and Jose Fernandez.

People like adding Eric Arnett to the list of disastrous first picks. Injuries derailed his career and he never pitched in the majors. Of course the Brewers also got their current left fielder and fan favorite Khris Davis as well as second baseman Scooter Gennett in that draft. So while yes, that first pick didn't work out, it's hard to call that draft a failure.

People also want to harp on the Brewers for missing out on superstar Joey Gallo who is absolutely killing it (in A+ ball). They'll tell you Victor Roache is awful. That's probably true, but they seem to forget that the Brewers' future center fielder, and likely soon top prospect, Tyrone Talyor came from that draft. They seem to forget that Clint Coulter, whose bat will let him play basically wherever he ends up defensively, came from that draft. They seem to forget that Mitch Haniger, who still has a chance to be a solid average right fielder, came from that draft.

What I'm saying is, I don't think it's fair to criticize one pick over another when it's just one part of the draft.

I'm also saying we should be self aware of our limited understanding of these players. Most of the time we base our opinions on scouting reports and Top 100 lists. Those articles are compiled either by scouts or talent evaluators that talk to different scouts. Those scouts base their opinions on what they've seen at live games. But even then, they've probably only seen a handful of the total number of games played by that prospect over the years. Essentially, we're viewing these prospects through filters on top of filters on top of filters. Oh, and that player isn't even close to a finished product. It's generally going to be around three or four years before he sees the bigs.

Jungmann and Bradley were drafted in 2011 but people were ready to pronounce them failures early last year. It's true they didn't have good seasons, and aren't moving as quickly as expected, but look at this year. Jungmann began in AA and rediscovered his ability to strike batters out, earning him a promotion to AAA. The same is more or less is true of Jed Bradley who began the season three-peating A ball, but is now in AA. It's still going to be another year or so before either reaches the majors. We won't really know what they are until then.

Finally a quick aside concerning how we glean information about prospects in the farm. The Brewers have a couple of pitchers who never got much national respect. Leading up to their major league debuts each just made the back-end of some (not all) Top 100 lists but were always derided for lack of command which would push them to the bullpen. I'm talking about Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson. Peralta had a mediocre first full season but has been encouragingly good this year. Nelson has made strides and even has some of his critics backing off as he's on the cusp of the majors this year. Both now look like mid-rotation starters or slightly better.

Then you have other guys like Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett who never received much if any praise outside of Milwaukee. They aren't flashy players. They'll probably never get voted into an All-Star game. They might never even be far above average. However, if they can be 2-3 win players getting paid league min for several years, that's valuable. That lets teams sign guys like Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun to extensions and bring in free agents like Aramis Ramiez and Kyle Lohse.

The ultimate point is, while we're all allowed our opinions, maybe we should learn to better manage our expectations and be fair with our criticisms. Sometimes they're unfounded, sometimes they're ill-informed, and sometimes they're premature. And yes, sometimes we're right even if we didn't actually know what we were talking about. If the Brewers don't pick your guys go ahead and be upset. That's okay. Just understand that they might know what they're doing. At the very least they're operating on more information than we are.