The lessons of John Olerud
Draft college players, particularly those with versatile skills
After John Olerud was drafted in the third round of the 1989 MLB draft, an almost unthinkable clause was added when he signed his contract. As The New York Times noted at the time, the contract came "with the guarantee that Olerud could begin his career in the majors."
Only a handful of picks in the past three decades have skipped the minors completely -- Cincinnati starting pitcher Mike Leake is the latest, and Pete Incaviglia went directly to the Montreal Expos in 1985 as the first of this era -- so the Olerud clause is pretty startling. But in 1984, Olerud had a startling statistical season: He hit .464 with 23 home runs and a .876 slugging percentage. That's not even the great part -- as a pitcher, he went 15-0 with a 2.49 ERA.
Although Olerud's bat -- and not his left arm -- was, by far, the most significant target of scouts, his skill set is a lesson in a front-office trend: Draft college players and find guys who can do a lot of things well. The greatest risk when drafting players, in the words of one scout, is "that you get a guy up and [have] him rethink the way he does things before he's mastered the basics." That's being minimized by added reps in college.
The biggest loser: the amazing high school arm.
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