MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Luck plays factor when it comes to the Draft

Luck plays factor when it comes to the Draft

The 2016 MLB Draft begins Thursday night. Teams have had scouts checking out players across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, looking for those prospects they feel will help a franchise contend.

They have watched them play games. They have talked to them about their life goals. Players have taken tests that are supposed to determine aptitude and toughness.

For all the preparation and planning, however, good fortune becomes a factor when it's time to make a selection.

Complete Draft coverage

In the spring of 1965, baseball was preparing for its first Draft, and the process was nowhere as sophisticated as it is today.

Billy Capps, a former Minor League player and longtime scout, was scouring his territory in north Texas and Oklahoma when he happened upon a game in Binger, Okla., a town with a population of 600 or so, located where U.S. 281 and Oklahoma Highway 152 cross.

Capps stopped to watch a few innings, but he stayed the entire game. Capps was awestruck by the high school catcher. The next morning, Capps put in a call to Cubs scouting director Gene Lawing to sing the praises of Johnny Bench. Lawing didn't have any information on Bench, so he decided to touch base with his friend Jim McLaughlin, who was the Reds' farm director.

McLaughlin didn't have any information on Bench either. McLaughlin quickly dispatched a scout to check this unknown phenom, and in MLB's first Draft, it was the Reds who used the 36th overall pick to call the name of Bench.

The third team was the charm for the Rockies and Todd Helton. Helton was a second-round Draft choice of the Padres out of high school in 1992, and he appeared ready to sign with San Diego. Scouting director Reggie Waller, however, showed up at Helton's home with a contract that was $50,000 less than the figure that had been discussed. Waller initially blamed it on a clerical error. He then offered to race Helton in a 60-yard dash for double-or-nothing on the difference. Waller may have said it in jest, but Helton didn't see it that way. He asked Waller to leave, and he followed up on his commitment to play quarterback and baseball at the University of Tennessee.

Rockies: Helton, No. 17

Three years later, having given way to Peyton Manning in the Volunteers' backfield, Helton was back in the Draft. The A's, with the fifth overall pick, made it well known that their selection was going to be the left-handed-hitting first baseman. As the Draft began, however, A's president Sandy Alderson informed scouting director Dick Bogart that the team needed pitching help in a hurry and mandated the selection of Cuban defector Ariel Prieto, who was playing for an independent league team in Palm Springs, Calif.

The Rockies, selecting eighth, never had discussions with Helton prior to the Draft, because it was so certain he was going to the A's, but Colorado wound up picking him just the same. The Rockies signed him in a matter of days.

There was no question that Ken Griffey Jr., was the most talented player 1987 Draft. The Mariners had the first pick and owner George Argyros, who lived in Orange County, Calif., preferred right-hander Mike Harkey of California State University at Fullerton.

Griffey Jr. on joining the HOF

When the final grade cards came in, Griffey and Harkey had the same point total from the Mariners' scouts, all of whom were convinced Griffey was the best choice. Knowing Argyros would order Harkey's selection if he saw the grades, Seattle's scouting staff reworked the rankings so that Griffey came out clearly ahead. Griffey became the first player taken in that year's Draft.

Griffey will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July.

Ryne Sandberg was selected by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 1978 Draft. It wasn't like Sandberg was an unknown. Back then, signing bonus money rarely reached six figures, and Sandberg was a big-time prep quarterback, whose full-ride offers included every school in what was then the Pac-8, as well as Notre Dame.

Sandberg, however, kept telling scouts he was interested in playing professional baseball, and Phillies scout Billy Harper believed him. Harper lobbied hard to select Sandberg, and he then convinced the club to give Sandberg what at the time was an excessively large signing bonus of $20,000 for somebody taken that late in the Draft.

Sandberg mentioned Harper in his 2005 induction speech to the Baseball Hall of Fame as the scout who didn't go with the herd and was convinced Sandberg would play baseball, not football.

Piazza tours the Hall of Fame

Sandberg, however, is not the lowest Draft choice to be elected to the Hall of Fame. That honor belongs to Mike Piazza, who will be inducted this July. As a favor to his godfather and then Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers selected Piazza, a first baseman at Miami-Dade Junior College, in the 62nd round, the 1,390th of the 1,433 players drafted that June.

Bret Saberhagen was a 19th-round selection of the Royals in 1982. Two years later, he made the team's Opening Day roster, earning the American League Cy Young Award in 1985 when he anchored a rotation that helped the Royals win the World Series. While attending Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda, Calif., Saberhagen had a sore arm early in the season and saw time at shortstop.

Royals scout Guy Hansen, however, had known Saberhagen from his pre-teen days and was convinced Saberhagen had big league ability. Hansen began lobbying for the Royals to pick Saberhagen in the fourth round.

Saberhagen on baseball memories

Shortly after Saberhagen was drafted, he made a pitching appearance in the Los Angeles City championship game, pitching the only perfect game in the title game history at Dodger Stadium. His asking price went up to $20,000 when major schools, including USC, suddenly offered him a scholarship.

Royals scouting director Dick Balderson was hesitant to give that much money to a high school pitcher who went so late in the Draft, but veteran scout Al Kubski convinced him with the explanation, "You can't stake that money on the pitcher's mound and win games, but we can put Saberhagen out there and win games."

Kubski was correct.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.