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September 3, 2010

Future Shock

Random Thoughts For A Friday

by Kevin Goldstein

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Some random thoughts for a Friday...

Hard Slots Would Make Baseball Whiter

My piece two weeks ago on fixing, or rather not fixing the draft, drew a slew of comments, and one aspect of that discussion got me thinking a bit more. Major League Baseball has put considerable resources in terms of both time and money to address the problem of steadily decreasing participation and attendance from the African-American community. Those efforts are well-founded, honorable, and have already led to a number of success stories. With that in mind, has the Rule 4 draft committee, headed by Braves president John Schuerholz, considered how a hard slot system would, in the end, make baseball that much whiter?

The problem, as explained in the piece two weeks ago, is that a hard slot system will lead to less money being available to high school talent, with much of those players therefore choosing to go to college instead of going pro. If that's the case, with many African-Americans coming from low-income backgrounds, football and basketball will often be more attractive options for multi-sport stars. The crux of the problem is that both sports are revenue-generating, which means that they often provide full scholarships. Division I baseball allows for just 11.7 scholarships per team, meaning that the money is spread around, with even the best of players usually responsible for some financial aspect of their education.

College baseball's race issue is even more staggering than that of the big leagues, as a recent study found that even in the powerful SEC, where the states represented have more than 20 percent African-American population, African-Americans represented less than 2 percent of the player pool, and not even 1 percent of the attendance. Hard slots would certainly help address that issue, but fixing college baseball's problems isn't MLB's concern. Baseball America's Aaron Fitt, who leads that magazine's college baseball coverage, agrees that such a system would be good for college baseball, while hampering advancements made in the pros. “You can envision a scenario where you'd be funneling more players to college baseball,” Fitt said. “But short-term, it would make the pro ranks less diverse as you are no longer buying players away from other sports. Kids are going to go with the full ride—that's just common sense.”

Still, Fitt explained, there is the possibility of such a system helping both sports. “If more players are going to school because of strict slotting, teams could change,” explained Fitt. “It's obviously good for the college game, but maybe it's also a way to level the playing field as you could see some of the smaller schools offering full rides to bring in a star and fill in more of their roster with walk-ons.”

A possibility to be sure, but also an organic one that would take years to come to fruition. MLB's moves to address draft-related problems are usually short-sighted, and that would be no different with a hard slotting system following the current figure, but this time, the collateral damage could potentially be far greater.

Is Josh Leuke Worth the Trouble?

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times reported on Thursday the the Mariners claim to have not known about reliever Josh Lueke's disturbing criminal past before acquiring him at midseason from the Rangers in the Cliff Lee trade. On the surface, it seems like damage control, as I knew, and so did the entire industry. The story wasn't so big when Lueke was an unheralded prospect, but now that he's throwing bullets and is on the verge of the big leagues (at least talent-wise), the right-hander's past is becoming more well known. All of the sordid details are in the link provided above, and it adds to the question of how much can a team put up with in the name of talent. Players with anger issues like Milton Bradley I can understand, even those with some less serious one-time issues like Brett Myers I can handle, but the Mariners deserve every bit of bad public relations they get from having Lueke on the payroll, and the Rangers deserved the same. I'm all for redemption and second chances, and while I'd be against any sort of official ban from baseball for the 25-year-old, I'm equally embarrassed for baseball when teams can't police these sorts of situations themselves and allow him to pursue a big-league career on their dime.

Aroldis Chapman and the 105 mph Fastball

The story seemed apocryphal at first, that Chapman had hit 105 mph on the gun in a Triple-A appearance. A quick Twitter poll I conducted found six responders believing the number, with 83 doubting, and a quick industry poll found about the same ratio. Then came Chapman's two electrifying big-league showings that included 103 and 104-mph readings and all of a sudden things didn't seem so crazy. Or are they? While watching the ninth inning of Wednesday night's Rangers victory over the Royals, closer Neftali Feliz had his fastball recorded at 103 mph, and a quick view of GameDay data for the game has every pitcher in the game throwing 2-4 mph faster than one would normally expect based on previous scouting reports. The game also took place in Kansas City, where Chris Sale was recorded at 101 mph less than two weeks ago. I don't believe Feliz's 103, I don't believe Sale's 101, and because of that, I'm doubting Chapman's 103 and 104, though I'd certainly buy consistent triple digits out of the Cuban southpaw. Radar guns are sensitive pieces of equipment that need to be consistently calibrated, and that could be the extent of the issue, but at the same time, there's been so much good press generated by Chapman's velocity since the 105-mph reading, that conspiracy theorists are starting to ask questions. Now that MLB doesn't have juiced balls or players anymore, are the radar guns juiced?

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Josh Lueke

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