It used to be when the Major League Baseball draft rolled around and you were in the Las Vegas sports media, you made plans to be in somebody’s living room.
It was cool to witness the reaction when the name of a local slugger or fireball pitcher flashed on the TV screen during the first round. Invariably, an uncle would slap you on the back. An aunt would ask if you wanted more chicken wings.
The last time it happened was 2014, when Erick Fedde, who pitched for Las Vegas High and UNLV, was drafted 18th overall by the Washington Nationals.
This was the third straight year in which a Las Vegas prospect was not selected in the first round.
From 2010 to 2014, there were no fewer than seven, counting supplemental picks.
Bryce Harper went first overall to Washington in 2010; Tyler Anderson went 20th to Colorado and Jake Hager 32nd to Tampa Bay in 2011; Joey Gallo went 39th to Texas in 2012; Kris Bryant went second to the Cubs and Aaron Blair 36th to Arizona in 2013; Fedde went 14th to Washington in 2014.
Harper and Bryant have been National League MVPs and Rookies of the Year. Gallo has walloped 17 homers this season. All with the exception of Hager and Fedde have played in the majors.
But discounting Phil Bickford, who pitched for the College of Southern Nevada and was a surfer boy from California, no locals have been selected during the TV rounds since 2014.
Has the well dried up?
Is the recent paucity of top draft choices a trend or an anomaly?
Too much club ball
Mike Bryant, Kris’ father and hitting coach and a longtime participant in and observer of the local baseball scene, fears it may be a trend.
Bryant mostly blames the increasing number of traveling amateur baseball teams. In Kris Bryant’s day, and Harper’s and Gallo’s, there was less club ball, he said. The top young players from Las Vegas almost always competed against the top young players from elsewhere.
“Now there’s been an explosion of (club) teams,” Bryant said.
His view: With so many club teams drawing from a finite talent pool, the competition has been watered down. And if it’s happening in Las Vegas, it’s probably happening everywhere.
“They’re just not facing the quality and caliber of talent they used to,” Bryant said of the young sluggers and fireballers.
It might be preferable, he said, if kids played Little League baseball again. And that after all-star teams were identified, they continued to play together in club ball instead of scattering to assorted travel teams in a system lacking structure.
“If you could keep these teams together and play year-round, it would be fine,” Bryant said.
A cyclical thing
Mike Martin, founder of the Las Vegas Baseball Academy who had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 1986, believes the recent shortage of top draft picks is more anomaly than trend. He said Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant and Gallo were special players who have created an unrealistic expectation.
“Those three spoiled us,” Martin said. “Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo are the worst thing that could have happened for youth baseball, because now everybody thinks their kids should be like those guys.
“Yes, there’s a lot more club teams, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.”
Martin says that while playing against the best competition might make a kid a better ballplayer, it’s not going to make him 6-feet-5 and 230 pounds. When it comes to first-round draft picks, he thinks it may be more about genetics and baseball gods that smile upon them than hitting the cut-off man.
He called the recent shortage of local first-round selections “a cyclical thing.”
“If a kid can play, he’s gonna get noticed,” Martin said.
If a kid can really play, you might get a slap on the back from his uncle and another helping of chicken wings from his aunt on draft day.
As they used to say in Chicago, wait ‘til next year.
Contact Ron Kantowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.