Big decisions at Little League draft
other 10 percent who were exceptional, within an age range, they all looked the same. Near identical. And thirdly, it was clear that some parents use Little League for their children to play baseball, while others look at it as merely a way to get their kids out of the house a few times each week. This was quite apparent by the handful of kids showing up in jeans, and the remarkable number of other kids not wearing a baseball cap. This was a tryout, right? Essentially a baseball interview. Dress the part! For me, it will be just as important to draft the top 10 percent, as to not draft the bottom 10 percent. For the other kids, my selections won’t be based on ability, but things such as form, attitude and did they show up at the tryout on time and looking like a baseball player. I’m not drafting a kid who showed up in jeans. Take note, parents. A week after the first tryout, on the following Saturday, there was a makeup tryout for those kids who couldn’t make the first tryout. Now, I understand that due to a variety of reasons, including playing another sport, there are plenty of reasons a kid might miss the first tryout. But as a drafter, and all things being equal, do I really want to draft a kid whose parents felt another obligation on the initial tryout day was more important than the annual baseball tryout? My son has been taking lessons every Saturday since Thanksgiving, and attending a winter clinic with other Wakefield boys at The Cage in Woburn for the past 16 weeks. I want kids with that type of dedication. So as I draft, and two kids score a “3” across the board, I always will pick a kid who made the initial tryout over a kid who comes to the makeup. I’m sure as you read this, you’re thinking this isn’t fair. It’s not the kids’ fault. Maybe he even had a basketball tournament that day. Perhaps you’re right, and perhaps he did. But I don’t know this, and
Photo/Brett Rudy/New England Baseball Journal
t’s just quite possible that Little League is more for the parents than for the kids. I began coaching my son’s Wakefield, Mass., youth baseball team in T-ball, three years ago. The last two seasons, he was in Single A, consisting of the coaches doing the pitching. With my son 9 years old now and entering the “real minors,” where kids pitch, he had the privilege of entering the draft for the first time this year — and I had the privilege of experiencing a Little League draft for the first time. This is what I learned. As a rookie in the Minors, I believe this is how it works: Kids between the ages of 9 and 12 all try out for the Majors. Once they make a Majors team, they remain on that team for the rest of their Little League careers. Only kids not already on a Majors roster try out. This year, 11 12-year-olds were trying out. In other words, these kids were either playing baseball for their first time, or didn’t make the Majors their previous three attempts. There also were 23 11-year-olds, 68 10-year-olds, and 99 9-year-olds; 201 kids overall. The tryout this year took place on an early Saturday morning in the Wakefield High School Fieldhouse. Each age grouping had 90 minutes to complete three sets of drills. Each hopeful was clocked running around the gym, simulating running from home to second base. Then, in a fielding session, they took one fly ball at each outfield position, followed by one groundball at each infield position. Then, in a hitting session, each kid took eight pitches at 40 mph off a pitching machine. Managers could rate each kid one through five on fielding, throwing and hitting. As one of the creators of the Boston Baseball Draft back in 1998, I have vast experience drafting adult baseball players. This was my first experience drafting kids, and luckily, I had help from an assistant coach. Sitting through the tryout, some thoughts crossed my mind as I ranked these kids based on the two minutes I had to observe them. First, there was a noticeable difference as the kids aged from 9 to 10 to 11 to 12. Huge, actually. Secondly, with the exception of perhaps 10 percent of the kids who weren’t very good and an-
Wakefield Little League board member Pete Beck instructs the kids during Little League tryouts last month. I need to play the odds when I draft. Plus, as a manager of a Little League team, the parents are as important as the kids. Are the parents going to make it to games at least 30 minutes before the game starts, or drop their kids off right at game time? Are they going to have their kids at practices, or miss them because they have a meeting at work? Are they going to dress their kids appropriately in long pants with cleats? As a manager, I want the answer to all of these to be the answer that gives me the best baseball team. The best way I can take an educated guess on these answers is based on whether your kid made the tryout on draft day, on time, and looking ready to play. And those are factors determined by the parents. The Sunday after the makeup tryout is the Majors Draft. All the 12-year-olds get scooped up, as well as any studs across the other agess. The following Wednesday is the Triple-A draft, where six teams of kids will be drafted. A few days later,
all the remaining kids will be drafted on to the six other Double-A teams. As a manager, I’m in a conundrum. I know my son is 9, but I want him in Triple A. Why? Because the pitching is more likely to be accurate, there will be better play in the field, and the kids likely will have a higher level of maturity. I’m hoping this will help my kid grow baseballwise. Plus, he’s been training all winter, so I think his skills are top-notch, even if his true talent has some catching up to do. As a manager, my son is in a rare category that he goes where I go. If I coach Triple A, bam, he makes Triple A. Otherwise, it’s Double A for us both. One coach at the tryout suggested that the league hold the tryout the prior fall. After all, how would you do if you had to show up after not playing all winter and having to hit off a pitching machine? These kids didn’t get any warm-ups. Another coach suggested just having the coaches assess each kid, and splitting them up equally to make teams. Shouldn’t it be about equality, and not allowing a topnotch scout to draft a better team? The experience has been an adventure, and one I’ve enjoyed. But to be clear, each kid had to perform only for a few minutes. The coaches are working two Saturdays of tryouts, and then a draft. Little League is an activity for the coaching parents — it isn’t just volunteering. It’s fantasy baseball using kids as players. And I like it. And the parents of the players play a huge role in getting their kids drafted, and most don’t even realize it. The whole thing is a game, and one I’m just starting to learn. I’m like a kid all over again. Brett Rudy is the founder of the Boston Amateur Baseball Network. Follow him on Twitter at @bostonbaseball.
April 2012 baseballjournal.com 33