The general manager's role in the first-year player draft in baseball is much different than in other sports like the NFL, NBA or NHL. The actual role of the GM in the MLB draft is limited. It doesn’t matter if you were a former scouting director like Kevin Towers or Jack Zduriencik, a former director of player development director like Doug Melvin or if you come from an administrative background. It’s the scouting director who makes the call for the 30 teams, with the general manager, team president and owner maintaining veto power.
Successful MLB drafts are mostly the result of strong scouting directors who have special evaluative skills and, even more importantly, are surrounded by the hardest working, most underrated and underpaid employees in baseball: special assistants, cross-checkers, supervisors, area scouts and bird dogs.
The following is the breakdown of the general manager’s role in the draft as communicated to me directly from some of the best GMs in the game:
Chris Antonetti -- Cleveland Indians: The scouting director makes the final call on the draft with input from the GM and assistant general manager. Antonetti does not personally scout any players. He tries to approach the draft the same way he approaches trades. He takes all of the information from his evaluators, challenges them by asking the right questions and lets them do their job. The Indians will take the best player available in the first round, after that, draft strategy factors into the scouting director's decisions. These draft strategies could include but are not limited to: positional needs, signability, makeup, physical attributes and the possibilities of a certain player not being available in the next round based on club intelligence.
Theo Epstein -- Boston Red Sox: In some years, he will scout as few as five to 10 players. Other years, when they have multiple picks, he might see as many as 20. He has input on the first couple of rounds, but he doesn’t overrule the picks the scouts feel strongly about. Epstein will participate in the meeting and is part of the process and that is where his influence is heard. He has always viewed it as the scouting director's call, but the Red Sox usually somehow get consensus, and as GM he maintains veto power that he rarely uses. The Sox will take the best player available unless that player is simply not going to sign.
Jed Hoyer -- San Diego Padres: Both years that Hoyer has been GM, he has seen five to 10 players that they will consider for their top pick. He will ask critical questions about each player, trying to make sure the process is thorough, but he trusts assistant GM Jason McLeod and scouting director Jaron Madison completely. Since McLeod and Madison spend the entire year watching the players and learning the context of the draft, Hoyer doesn’t believe it leads to good decisions if he injects himself in the process too late. McLeod and Madison run the draft room and make the decisions for the Padres' draft. The Padres believe in taking the best player on the board and not drafting for need. However, it is Hoyer’s philosophy not to stockpile at a non-skill position (first base or corner outfield), rather staying up the middle or with starting pitching to get the most talented players.
Doug Melvin -- Milwaukee Brewers: Melvin will only see the players that are brought to Miller Park for pre-draft workouts. If the Brewers were picking in the top 5, he would normally see the short list. The scouting director makes the final decision for the Brew Crew, but Melvin has input on one or two players he will say they are NOT taking due to character. The Brewers will select the best player at their turn, as well.
John Mozeliak -- St. Louis Cardinals: Mozeliak tries to have the scouting director make all of the selections, although he will weigh in, but allows him to manage his department. Mozeliak does read reports and studies video but does not spend much time seeing potential draft picks in person. The Cardinals' philosophy is to take the best player available.
Kevin Towers -- Arizona Diamondbacks: Towers scouted roughly 10 prospects this year, only prospects that he would consider taking for their No. 3 and No. 7 picks in the first round. The picks will be determined by their scouting director, Ray Montgomery, and vice president of scouting and player development, Jerry Dipoto. Towers does gives his opinion on how he sees the players if asked. Montgomery and Dipoto are held accountable for the draft, so he doesn’t think they should be influenced by his opinion, unless they choose to be. The scouting director will make the decisions in all the rounds and will carry out Towers' philosophy of taking the players with the highest ceiling for potential, with probability of reaching those projections.
Frank Wren -- Atlanta Braves: Wren intentionally won’t see any players, because he has always believed to have a valid opinion in the draft room you have to immerse yourself in it full-time. He won’t make any selections for the club, but he is involved in the draft and will give opinions based on the team's scouting reports. The Braves will take the best available players early, but will look at organizational depth as the draft moves along.
Jack Zduriencik -- Seattle Mariners: Zduriencik has a different background than both Epstein and Antonetti, so he will tend to be more involved. Remember, in Milwaukee Zduriencik's track record included the drafting of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. He sees as many players as his scouting director feels he needs to see, and Zduriencik always attempts to go to games. Zduriencik strongly believes that you have to trust your scouting director to make the right call. His role is more of a sounding board/advisor and wants to share his experience of success and failure. He, like Antonetti and Epstein, allows his scouting director to make the final call. The Mariners will take the best player on the board with their first pick.
The major league first-year player draft is one of the most exciting times of the baseball calendar. It’s the time of year when the GM is reminded that one of his most important decisions was who he hired as scouting director.
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