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Draft focus on tools, not numbers

Daniel Boyd and Mike Eylward will go down in USF baseball history as twoof the most decorated Bulls to ever button up a uniform. BrendanFuller’s career at South Florida, however, was not quite as illustrious.

But a quick check of the order in which the three were selected in theMajor League Baseball Draft held June 4-5 would lead the casual observerto infer Fuller was the best of the trio. The reason? Boyd was draftedin the 27th round and Eylward went in the 44th, while Fuller was scoopedup in the 13th round.

“The scouts) look for tools, tools, tools,” USF baseball coach EddieCardieri said. “They look for guys they can project as major leagueplayers.”

And projection is a crucial word in understanding how the baseball draftworks. Professional scouts evaluate talent in a five-step process:hitting for average, hitting for power, arm strength, arm accuracy andspeed. Scouts grade players on these qualities and report back to thefront office of the major league club for which they work. When a playeris graded high in all of these categories, he is considered a “five-toolplayer.”

“It’s all projection,” Cardieri said. “Major league baseball is a powergame. They want guys who can hit for power and throw for power, and ifscouts see that kind of ability in someone, they will take a chance onthem, regardless of the numbers they put up.”

And the numbers Fuller put up as compared to Boyd and Eylward certainlyillustrates how scouts will take a chance on a player whose abilityoutweighs their output.

Boyd’s 47 career home runs rank him second on the USF all-time list,while Eylward is only 16 RBI?s behind Ross Gload?s record of 241. Bothendured defensive position switches during their careers whilecontinually producing outstanding offensive numbers. Eylward and Boydare one and two, respectively, on the all-time total bases list and bothhave been named as Conference USA First Team selections during theircareers.

In contrast, Fuller’s career at USF was a bit more checkered. During histhree years at South Florida, Fuller combined for two wins, with both ofthose coming in his freshman campaign. Fuller posted a career-best 8.38ERA as a freshman, then turned in two straight seasons with an ERA over13. For his career, Fuller averaged nearly two walks per inning.

Nevertheless, Fuller was drafted 14 rounds higher than Boyd and 31rounds higher than Eylward and received a considerably healthier signingbonus. How is it that a player who was 0-2 with a 13.34 ERA in his finalseason at USF was taken that high in the draft?

“Fuller has a plus fastball and a plus breaking ball,” scout for the NewYork Yankees Matt Drews said. “In his case, he might not be the bestplayer on his team, but he has the tools and (scouts) try to project howthey will be able to utilize those tools.”

What Drews and other major league scouts are trained to do is separateperformance from projection. Although Fuller?s numbers on the fielddidn?t warrant him being selected in the 13th round, his potential does.Fuller possesses a fastball clocked in the low-to-mid 90s and a hard,biting slider. And these tools are the things major league baseballteams covet in the draft.

“Not many guys have a power arm like that,” Cardieri said. “Guys thatthrow 95 (mph) just don?t grow on trees.”

And baseball, unlike the other major professional sports, has a minorleague system to cultivate and develop players with raw tools. Teams canfocus on harnessing untapped potential into future production.

“In the pros, teams have the luxury of taking a guy with a controlproblem and working with him so he gets a feel for throwing strikes,”Drews said. “They can get them out there in the morning before the teameven comes to work out and give him individual attention.”

According to Drews, this development process can benefit the player morethan the instruction they may receive at the high school or collegelevel.

“In college ball, there is less time, players have their studies andthey have other things going on,” he said. “(In pro ball) you get themout there, not worried about winning games, and concentrating on justthrowing strikes and that?s when a guy sometimes will find it.”

This is why teams are willing to take a chance on players who mightdevelop in the future over someone without the necessary tools toadvance to the major league level.

“A guy might fire one at 95 mph off the backstop, but the next (pitch)ends up in the zone,” Drews said. “Looking at his tools, he would beworth the risk.”

But according to Cardieri, regardless of which round Boyd, Eylward andFuller were selected, each player has an opportunity to reach the majorleagues ? despite the odds being stacked against them.

“You have to make the most of your chance,” he said. “But you also haveto remember that 97 percent of the guys (drafted) aren’t going to makeit.”