Secrets to a Successful Draft

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

In leagues everywhere over the next several weeks, coaches will sit down and determine the fate of their seasons by selecting the players who will make up their teams. Want to make sure you don’t make a mistake with one of those critical first picks? Would you like to find that late round “diamond-in-the-rough” steal? Here are some tips to ensure your draft day goes smoothly and is a success.

Decide the make-up of your team

It would be nice if every player available had all “five tools,” but in most cases, you’ll be lucky to settle for one or two tools! Therefore, if you covet team speed, you may have to sacrifice some power hitting, or vice-versa. Perhaps you may be willing to give up some defense in order to be deep in pitching. On the other hand, maybe you believe that you can teach kids to throw strikes, and plan to focus on putting a stable of players behind them who can make plays and get outs.

On a small field, I always opt for speed. Even if a fast kid isn’t a great hitter, especially at lower levels, there will be plenty of walks, HBP, and errors to get him on base. If you can teach baserunning, once he reaches first base, a weak-hitting fast kid suddenly becomes a first round draft choice – more valuable from this juncture than the strong-hitting but slower player.

On the larger field, where kids can generally field the ball, advancing on passed balls is less frequent and pitchers don’t walk as many players, while foot-speed is always nice, having players who can drive the ball out of the infield might take priority.

Look them over

Once you’ve decided what kind of team you want, it is time to evaluate the talent available. Obviously, tryouts are a good way to get a look at each player and make important decisions, but far too many coaches rely solely on this one measure. Not only can any kid have a bad day at tryouts, but some kids might look better than they actually are. If your league provides information from previous seasons, such as manager’s evaluations, you can generally get a much better snapshot than watching a player take three cuts against a pitching machine after three months off.

But there are some important intangibles to look for during the tryout beyond hitting, fielding and throwing. I like a player who is dressed for baseball and looks like he’s anxious to do well. When running to a base did he ease up as he arrived at the bag or did he run through it hard, trying his best to shave off a couple hundredths of second? Kids who desire to impress are more likely to work hard and respond to coaching on the practice field.

Do some investigation

Ask your child and have him ask his friends what they know about potential draft picks. Kids play all kinds of sports and games at school, away from adults. You can find out a lot about whether a kid can catch, run, or has a good attitude by getting a “peer evaluation.” Knowing if a kid played all-stars, is on a travel ball team, or even plays other sports should weigh in your decision as well. 

Make a List

When you’ve done all of the assessing and feel you know as much about each player as you can know, make a top-to-bottom list. In other words, if there are 120 kids available, rank each kid from 1 to 120. This is the best way to ensure you make no mistakes you regret later. Now, when it comes your turn to draft, you can unhesitatingly take the highest player on your list who has yet to be selected. The only exception to this plan may be when it comes to pitchers and catchers. For instance, let’s say it’s your pick in the third round and you still don’t have a catcher. Player # 31 on your list has played mostly first base and Player #32 is a proven catcher. Clearly, in this case, it would be wise to drop down to #32 on the list. Of course, in the unlikely event the next pick comes your way and #31 is still available, you would select him then. So simply highlight everyone on your list who may play those key positions so you always know their whereabouts.

While this isn’t an exact science, it’s the best system I’ve used. Grouping players by position or by round of draft often leads to confusion and indecision when it is your turn to select. You end up having to rank them anyway, but while under pressure – on the fly. I’ve seen coaches on the clock tear through page after page of notes, sweating profusely, clearly terrified of making a poor choice. If all the homework had been done and each player was ranked high-to-low, the selection would be a no-brainer. And if every coach did this, draft night would last about half as long and everyone would get to go home much earlier.

Of course, there is much more to coaching a youth baseball team than winning. Trying to select a team full of great kids who want to play, who respect their coaches and try their best at all times is really what’s most important. But if you can do all this and win a few games along the way, all the better!

Brian Gotta is a former professional recreational youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is President of Help Kids Play, a collection of companies whose mission is to further the development and enjoyment of youth sports.

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