Can you feel a Draft?

You may or may not be aware, but the MLB First-Year Player Draft is being held Monday – Wednesday this week.

I know, it’s hard to get too fired up over the draft. It’s not like the NFL, where fans have watched most of the top draft picks play several years of College football on Saturdays and can legitimately envision at least the players taken in the top few rounds wearing the uniform of their favorite team during the following season.

Sure, there are exceptional talents that find their way on to MLB rosters in their first full year after being drafted, but it is extremely rare and even rarer if your favorite team manages to avoid being so pitiful that they get awarded one of the top 2-3 spots in the draft. The Twins draft in the 21st position this year and it’s almost impossible to project who (a) might still be available and (b) who the Twins might have their eyes on for that pick. What you CAN bank on is that, whoever they pick, he won’t make his Target Field debut until at least 2012… and more likely closer to 2014 or 2015… if ever.

BJ Hermsen, Twins 6th round draft choice in 2008 (photo JimCrikket)

So why do we bother paying attention? Well, for me, the answer is, “Usually, I don’t. But this year is different.” Why? There are a couple of local kids down here in the Cedar Rapids area that are likely to be drafted in the first few rounds and it would be great to see either or both of them join Iowan BJ Hermsen (now pitching for the Twins Class A affiliate, Beloit) in the Twins organization.

I’m sure it’s no big deal to Minnesotans when a local kid gets drafted, even by the Twins. But the Iowa High School Athletic Union seems to do whatever it possibly can to assure that the best HS athletes in Iowa (a) don’t play baseball, and (b) if they do, they get no attention from professional scouts. You see, unlike schools in the other 49 states, Iowa schools play a summer baseball season, rather than in the spring. This means that Iowa schools are just now getting their seasons in to gear, while HS players all over the country have finished giving scouts a full season to look them over.

Jon Keller hopes to go in the top 5 rounds (photo CR Gazette)

Jon Keller, a pitcher who throws in the low 90s for Cedar Raids Xavier, has committed to play for the University of Nebraska, but if he gets picked in the top five rounds, he’ll be considering going professional.

Kellen Sweeney awaiting draft day call (photo CR Gazette)

Kellen Sweeney, an infielder at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, is projected to be a low second round or high third round pick. He has a spot at the University of San Diego to fall back on if he doesn’t get a contract he likes.

If the name Sweeney sounds familiar to Twins fans, it’s likely because Kellen’s older brother, Ryan, just finished facing the Twins over the weekend as the right fielder and #3 hitter for the Oakland A’s. Ryan was a second round choice of the White Sox in 2003.

Ryan Sweeney long before claiming RF for the A's (photo Perfect Game)

I saw a lot of Ryan Sweeney during his pre-HS days. He’s a couple of years younger than my own son and Ryan’s dad, Gary, was coaching his son’s amateur teams at the same time I was coaching my son’s teams. Gary liked to schedule games against teams made up of kids that were older than his team’s. In fact, Ryan and my son played on the same team in a fall league run by Perfect Game (one of the largest scouting services in the country and operated out of Cedar Rapids). I recall Ryan as being a good, but not great, pitcher and having excellent fundamentals, both at the plate and in the field.

A while after my son graduated from HS, he and I began doing some umpiring together. We’d work adult and youth amateur leagues around the area. I recall the first time we worked a double header involving Gary Sweeney’s club, which by that time was featuring the young Kellen Sweeney. I’m guessing Kellen was probably 12 or 13 years old. I remember thinking that Kellen looked much more advanced both offensively and defensively than what I recalled his brother Ryan being at the same age.

Kellen is coming off of Tommy John surgery this summer, but it doesn’t seem to be having a negative effect on his scouting evaluations. I’m far from an expert at evaluating talent and you never know whether a kid has the mental strength to go with the physical talent 9not to mention the luck) to make it to the Bigs. However, given that Ryan Sweeney is hitting over .300 for the A’s right now, I wouldn’t be at all disappointed to see Kellen in Ft. Myers with the Twins at their minor league facility next March.

These kids are about to experience the excitement of taking the first step toward realizing the dream of playing Major League Baseball. Do yourself a favor on the Twins off day and check out your local sports pages to find out what local diamond heroes in your area are hoping to be drafted and then keep checking on whether they’ve been selected by the Twins or another organization this week. Who knows… even if they get drafted by the BitchSox or Evil Empire, they could find their way to the Twins eventually!  – JC