SECAUCUS, N.J. -- They didn't have cameras trained on the face of Frank Thomas as his Draft stock slipped. The Big Hurt's hurt as six painful picks elapsed before his name was called on that June day in 1989 could not be captured in high-definition distinctness.
"I really felt I was going to go second," Thomas recalled Thursday night, as the 2013 installment of the First-Year Player Draft played out behind him. "We were hearing it was going to come down to Ben McDonald and I, but I slid down into that seven hole."
|1||HOU||RHP Mark Appel|
|2||CHC||3B Kris Bryant|
|3||COL||RHP Jonathan Gray|
|4||MIN||RHP Kohl Stewart|
|5||CLE||OF Clint Frazier|
|6||MIA||3B Colin Moran|
|7||BOS||LHP Trey Ball|
|8||KC||SS Hunter Dozier|
|9||PIT||OF Austin Meadows|
|10||TOR||RHP Phillip Bickford|
|11||NYM||1B Dominic Smith|
|12||SEA||3B D.J. Peterson|
|13||SD||OF Hunter Renfroe|
|14||PIT||C Reese McGuire|
|15||ARI||RHP Braden Shipley|
|16||PHI||SS J.P. Crawford|
|17||CWS||SS Tim Anderson|
|18||LAD||RHP Chris Anderson|
|19||STL||LHP Marco Gonzales|
|20||DET||RHP Jonathon Crawford|
|21||TB||C Nick Ciuffo|
|22||BAL||RHP Hunter Harvey|
|23||TEX||RHP Alex Gonzalez|
|24||OAK||CF Billy McKinney|
|25||SF||SS Christian Arroyo|
|26||NYY||3B Eric Jagielo|
|27||CIN||CF Phillip Ervin|
|28||STL||LHP Rob Kaminsky|
|29||TB||RHP Ryne Stanek|
|30||TEX||SS Travis Demeritte|
|31||ATL||RHP Jason Hursh|
|32||NYY||CF Aaron Judge|
|33||NYY||LHP Ian Clarkin|
Imagine making that slide in front of a national television audience.
"It would have been tough," Thomas admitted. "I would have been frowning until that seventh pick."
Credit, then, to the nine young men who let their Draft day developments play out in living color, in the shadow of the New Jersey Turnpike, in an MLB Network studio loaded with MLB royalty.
For in this room, you could see the tears of joy in Dominic Smith's mother's eyes, touch the hem of Clint Frazier's pristine white Indians jersey and behold the bright purple brilliance of J.P. Crawford's bowtie, but you could also feel the anxiety of Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin and Jon Denney as they waited -- and waited -- for their names to be called. Poor Denney was still waiting at the end of Day 1. His name went uncalled through two rounds and two supplemental rounds.
"I'm going to be honest," said Clarkin, a California prep left-hander who was projected as high as the late-teens and wound up going 33rd overall to the Yankees, "it was tough to wait that long."
We get this layer of immediate intrigue in an event that gives way to the slow burn of development because MLB has wisely brought it out of the shadows of a classified conference call and into your living room. The old-timers shake their head in amazement when they think about how far the Draft has come, their stories inconceivable in this age of instant information.
"My first pick," recalled Roland Hemond, the longtime executive who got his start as scouting director for the California Angels in the 1960s, "was Jim Spencer, a left-handed-hitting first baseman."
The wire services, however, reported that the Angels had taken the mysterious Glen Burnie.
"I got an emergency phone call from Rosey Gilhousen, who was scouting for us at the College World Series," Hemond said. "He said, 'Hey, Roland, who the heck did we draft? Nobody knows him. We never talked about this Glen Burnie guy!'"
"Take it easy," he told Gilhousen. "It's Jim Spencer ... from Glen Burnie, Md.!"
Maybe we've progressed considerably from that level of miscommunication, but the Draft is every bit a long shot now as it was then, no matter the analytics or the sheer number of scouts logging thousands of miles on rural roads.
The hard truth is that more than 30 percent of first-rounders don't even make it to the big leagues, let alone become stars. And no matter how the selections are presented, there's no escaping the pain, the pressure and the process that connects this show to the real Show.
"You're getting a kid," stressed Darryl Strawberry, here to represent the Mets. "A kid."
A kid who is about to be humbled, somehow, some way.
"A lot of these guys haven't faced adversity and haven't struggled," said Kerry Wood, who represented the Cubs. "The days of not struggling are probably over for them. You're going to struggle at some point, and that determines who's going to stick around and who's not. Some of them won't be able to handle that and they won't make it. Some will handle it fine, and work harder and figure it out and have a 15- or 20-year career. It's all about how they handle that first taste of failure."
If you heard your name called on the Draft's first night -- no matter the number -- you'd be hard-pressed to call it failure. No doubt, though, some level of frustration came into play for many.
"You just had to stay calm, breathe," Clarkin said. "I knew it was going to come at some point, you just had to be patient."
Might as well be the mantra Clarkin and the others take into their pro career. The rest of us could stand to learn from it, too, lest we second-guess any of the developments in an event essentially built on guessing.
The earliest moments of the first round had their share of surprise, certainly, with the Cubs opting for the Draft's best power college bat (San Diego's Kris Bryant) instead of one of its most electric arms (Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray) second overall after the Astros took Mark Appel. Still, the four guys expected to go in the first four slots went in the first four slots, no matter the exact order.
After that, in a Draft pool many believe thinned quickly, teams had to take a hard look at their needs and their values. It's easy to say you took the "best player left on the board," but difficult to sort out those available options in the first place.
And no matter how many mock Drafts pop up in the Internet stratosphere, there is no cookie-cutter way to make those projections. So it was that the Royals, at No. 8, reached for Stephen F. Austin State University shortstop Hunter Dozier despite his second-round status in many projections, while Ryne Stanek's polished college arm went from top-10 status in some outlooks to the Rays at No. 29.
This stuff happens every year, and it can be incredibly interesting to revisit the clubs' mindset and methodologies years later, long after a Mike Trout has slipped through the cracks or a Bryan Bullington has flamed out. But presupposition and instant analysis are part of how we roll in 2013, so every kid in this room was well-versed in where he thought he was, or should be, headed Thursday night.
"I wouldn't want somebody joking around that they were going ahead of me," Frazier admitted. "I'm kind of sensitive to those things."
As more kids like Frazier put their sensitivity on the line and let us peer into the process of becoming a pro, the drama of the Draft will continue to escalate. No, it doesn't speed up the developmental process any. But it does help us better understand the raw emotions and the intrinsic competitiveness at play here, in a room where dreams come true, and then give way to the rest of the story.