Guessing game began with first pick
Royals didn't settle on Hochevar until late Monday
Draft Day is usually one bordering on chaos across all 30 organizations. But Day 1 of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft probably has to go down atop the list in terms of brazenly crossing over that border and causing the biggest morning of scrambling the draft has ever seen.
And the insanity started right at the top, in Kansas City. That's not a condemnation of the pick, rather a reflection of what the decision to take Luke Hochevar -- and at the 11th hour -- did to draft boards everywhere on Tuesday morning.
Up until late last night, and for some into Tuesday morning, the identity of the No. 1 pick was unknown. Sure, there were the whispers and the rumors, but no one knew definitively who the Royals would take. Depending on who you talked to, they were sure they'd end up taking Andrew Miller and hoping for the best -- or -- deciding to go with the "safe pick" of Brad Lincoln -- or -- shocking everyone by going with Hochevar, the re-entry who didn't sign with the Dodgers.
The Royals kept everyone guessing up until the last minute, but it was done with no malice aforethought. Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier knows it put his colleagues in an uncomfortable position, but he'll beg forgiveness for being selfish as it pertains to Kansas City's best interests. "You hate to put anybody -- as scouting directors, we're a body of people -- you don't want to put anybody out, but my first responsibility is to this organization in making the right pick. We wanted to get it right."
It's not that the Royals were wishy-washy. It was more a reflection of who was available, a picture that became even more clouded when Hochevar re-entered it. The Royals weren't playing hard to get. They really didn't know who they were going to take until late on Monday.
"I do think it was a unique draft because there were so many different opinions," Ladnier said. "If there's a consensus guy, that's different.
"The year [Bryan] Bullington came in, there was no guy. I had the same feel. We were going No. 5 that year. We didn't know going into the draft who we were going to get. You don't want to put anybody in that position. But the reality is, I work for the Kansas City Royals. Ownership expects us to make the right pick. If it takes longer to make that decision, then so be it. Anyone else in my position would do that, or at least you'd hope they'd do that. We had to make sure we crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's."
Ladnier may be relieved to know he has some backup in the industry, and it comes from a guy who may have done the most Tuesday morning scrambling in baseball.
"I think it was just the year," said Tigers scouting director David Chadd, who ended being the beneficiary of Andrew Miller sliding down the boards in the wake of the Hochevar decision. "I think there was so much unknown at the top, you had to create every scenario possible.
"We had it a little last year, but it was easier last year at 10 than this year at six. There were way too many variables this year. There were a lot of reasons for that."
The reasons weren't just centered around what the Royals would do at the top. There were question marks surrounding almost every player considered to be a top of the first round talent. There were injury concerns (Max Scherzer, Joba Chamberlain), size concerns (Tim Lincecum), bat concerns (Drew Stubbs) and signability concerns. That's the one that caused Miller to fall after Kansas City decided to go with Hochevar.
"Once we found out where this was going with Andrew, then we had to circle the wagons and make some quick decisions," Chadd said. "But we couldn't be happier. Now the fun begins in the signing period, but we'll get it done."
Call it surprised preparedness. It's not that the Tigers were completely at a loss when they learned Miller would be there at No. 6 (how far he would have falled had they not pulled the trigger, we'll never know). They probably were just caught off-guard. To their credit, they were able to react relatively quickly and take the guy they had at the top of the board.
But what of the main reason for that change? Should people be concerned about the fact that a player who turned down a signable bonus from the team who drafted him a year ago went No. 1 overall? Could this start a trend among holdouts who now might be more willing to take the chance and not come to terms, thinking the grass is always going to be a Hochevar shade of green on the other side?
"Will it have a cause and effect in the industry, I don't know? People have to do what they have to do," Chadd said. "I don't hold the blame to anyone on that.
"From my perspective, we came in here a week ago and we lined up the board, ranked a certain amount of players. For you to tell me a week ago that our selection would be Andrew Miller, I would've been shocked. But how it unfolded, it worked out."
Ladnier, for his part, understands the possible ramifications for the decision. He doesn't want to be a trendsetter and isn't sure what kind of long-term impact this will have on future drafts.
"You don't want to set a precedent," Ladnier said. "I stayed out of that whole process [the negotiations between Hochevar and the Dodgers]. He was the property off the Dodgers and it's pretty well-documented what happened.
"You're rolling the dice as far as the players' perspective to wait it out that long, subjecting yourself to injury, that sort of thing. It's a risk vs. reward. We've seen it work in some players' favors, and it work against some. For the Royals' sake, it worked out to our advantage. I don't know if it'll cause controversy. He was doing what he thought was in his best interest, and obviously it worked for him."
In the end, he got the guy he felt was the best to take with that No. 1 pick. Sure, each draft doesn't necessarily exist in a vacuum, where a decision made one year has no bearing on future drafts. Only time will tell if Hochevar's turnaround into the top overall selection will embolden future amateurs to play that game as well. And even if they do, chances are sometimes it will play out like this unusual scenario did. And sometimes it will play out like it did for Matt Harrington -- who ironically was Hochevar's teammate, albeit briefly, on the indy league American Association's Fort Worth Cats.
Only one thing is certain: Ladnier will be more than happy to pass the top pick baton to someone else in 2007. He'd much rather be in scramble mode than the one causing everyone reconfigure draft boards at the last minute, for a number of reasons.
"It's been a whirlwind," he said. I'd be lying if I said differently. There have been a lot of days over the last 10 with sleepless nights, not just for myself, but for everyone in that draft room.
"You don't want the first pick overall because that means your big-league club has done poorly. I wouldn't wish it upon anybody, but if you get a player that's going to help your organziation no longer finish in the bottom half of the division, then it's worth the effort."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.