The NFL draft is so big it’s turned a nerdy Baltimore kid named Mel Kiper Jr. into a national celebrity.
The NBA draft is a kaleidoscope of recognizable names and YouTube videos.
The major league baseball draft?
A bunch of kids you never heard of and won’t see for several years. If they make it at all.
Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking that the draft — which will be held today and Friday — is of little consequence.
The Diamondbacks are riding high in the National League West because they’ve drafted so well over the last seven years.
Sixteen players on Arizona’s roster are home-grown talents, including players who were undrafted free agents.
How productive have the Diamondbacks’ drafts been?
Arizona’s starting lineup Wednesday included six players who were selected since 2000: pitcher Brandon Webb, catcher Chris Snyder, third baseman Mark Reynolds, shortstop Stephen Drew, first baseman Conor Jackson and right fielder Carlos Quentin.
Webb is the elder statesman of the group, at 28 years old.
“When you look at the major league team this organization has built through the draft, you realize the importance of it,” director of scouting Tom Allison said.
Success in the draft is imperative for teams like the Diamondbacks, who aren’t willing to have a $100 million payroll. The combined 2007 salaries of Wednesday’s six starters is $7.55 million. Throw Webb out, and Snyder, Drew, Jackson, Reynolds and Quentin make a combined $3 million.
Barry Bonds’ salary: $15.5 million.
Having cheap everyday players enabled the Diamondbacks to upgrade their pitching staff in the offseason. Arizona can’t trade for Randy Johnson and Doug Davis or hold on to Livan Hernandez without getting players like Drew at a discount price.
There’s another benefit to building through the draft, besides fixed costs: an identity.
For the first time in their history, the Diamondbacks have a core group of young players fans can grow up with.
The 2004 Baby Backs were a marketing gimmick. These guys can play, and if the Diamondbacks are able to maintain a strong pitching staff, this year’s pennant race will be just an appetizer.
“For all of us, our first experience following baseball was identifying with players who we grew to love and follow,” general manager Josh Byrnes said. “Obviously, that’s what we hope we can deliver to our fans.”
The draft is emerging from the shadows today. ESPN2 will televise the first round for the first time, and it’s being held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla.
(Playing the part of Mel Kiper Jr.: Daffy Duck.)
Fortunately, ESPN won’t be able to hijack the proceedings and turn them into something so important and so earth-shattering that the first round has to last six hours and we have to listen to Chris Berman go on and on and on …
There’s just not enough interest among the general public to warrant that kind of coverage.
“You can understand why it hasn’t been publicized,” Byrnes said. “There’s just not that immediate plug-in and play (with draft picks). Even the most successful college player needs some minor league seasoning.”
As an event of epic proportions, then, baseball’s draft always will be a distant third behind the NFL and the NBA.
But in terms of importance?
Well, just check out the Diamondbacks.
Stephen Drew, 1st round, 2004
Edgar Gonzalez, undrafted free agent, 2000
Scott Hairston, 3rd round, 2001
Robby Hammock, 23rd round, 1998
Conor Jackson, 1st round, 2003
Brandon Medders, 8th round, 2001
Miguel Montero, undrafted free agent, 2001
Micah Owings, 3rd round, 2005
Mark Reynolds, 16th round, 2004
Tony Pena, undrafted free agent, 2002
Carlos Quentin, 1st round, 2003
Doug Slaten, 17th round, 2000
Chris Snyder, 2nd round, 2002
Chad Tracy, 7th round, 2001
Jose Valverde, undrafted free agent, 1997
Brandon Webb, 8th round, 2000
Listen to Scott Bordow every Monday at 1:05 p.m. on The Fan AM 1060 with Bob Kemp.