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How Paul Goldschmidt became the best #246 pick in baseball history

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Under-rated doesn’t even begin to describe the prospect who was Goldy

2011 XM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 246th pick in the draft is not a spot at which you expect to find major-league talent, let alone a six-time All-Star. Of the 54 players selected there, if you’ve heard of more than three, you’re doing better than me. From those 54 players, 40 signed. The men who didn’t provide one of those recognizable names: pitcher Cliff Lee, who was drafted by the Marlins of high school, but went to college instead. Of those forty, only one-quarter have reached the major leagues, including future Diamondback Brad Halsey, drafted by the Yankees in 2002. The total, career major-league value provided by all 53 non-Goldschmidt players to the teams which drafted them? 5.7 bWAR. Or, as Goldschmidt calls it. a decent season.

Looking at it another way, every team (including the Diamondbacks) passed on Paul. Not just once or twice, but at least seven times they looked at him and said, “Nah, we’ll go elsewhere.” The Angels took eleven players before Goldschmidt was drafted - though since they included the one player worth more WAR than Goldy, they’ve probably got over it [though amusingly, Mike Trout wasn’t even the first guy they picked, preferring Randall Grichuk] Prune out Trout, Goldy and the 27 other top players by bWAR. The remaining 217 players to be picked before Goldschmidt have been worth less combined to the franchises who selected them, than Goldschmidt (36.8 bWAR vs. 40.1).

The D-backs are not immune from this, of course. They skipped Goldschmidt even more times - twelve - before eventually picking him. In typically low-key fashion, Paul wasn’t even paying attention when they did: “I wasn’t listening to the Draft on the internet, but the Diamondbacks called and said they might take me. My parents were listening, they heard it, so it was pretty cool, I was excited, obviously. In terms of the bonus [he signed for the princely sum of $95,000], I put as much as I could in the bank... I ended up buying an engagement ring for my wife -- that’s probably the biggest purchase.” Here are the players they chose over Paul, along with their overall spot in the draft.

  • 16: Bobby Borchering
  • 17: A.J. Pollock
  • 35: Matt Davidson
  • 41: Chris Owings
  • 45: Mike Belfiore
  • 60: Eric Smith
  • 64: Marc Krauss
  • 95: Keon Broxton
  • 126: David Nick
  • 156: Ryan Wheeler
  • 186: Bradin Hagens
  • 216: Matt Helm

Save Pollock, it’s an unimpressive list: no-one else has given Arizona even one-tenth of the value Goldschmidt delivered. Keon Broxton currently has the highest other career bWAR, and he was sold to the Pirates before appearing for us. We on the SnakePit were no different in overlooking Paul. Our draft-day coverage made absolutely no mention at all of our eighth-round pick at the time.

2009

Let the record show that the above is the first mention at all of Goldschmidt I was able to find here (hat-tip to Stephen B for locating it!). More information came in December that year, when Dan Strittmatter covered the top forty prospects in the Arizona system, including Goldschmidt... at number forty. Here’s what he wrote:

Everything to say about Goldschmidt has already been said. The guy demolished the Pioneer Rookie League at an age at which guys who are considered good prospects are supposed to demolish the Pioneer Rookie League. He could be placed either in Mid-A South Bend or Hi-A Visalia to start next season, likely depending on what the organization does with Ryan Wheeler, and how he fares then will almost completely dictate what prospect value he has. The power is certainly there, but at higher levels and against more advanced pitching than what Goldschmidt went up against in Rookie-ball, a huge power swing isn’t going to be enough. Also stuck at 1B defensively, so he’s going to need to translate a lot of that ‘09 production to his next stop in the system.

He had indeed demolished the Pioneer League, batting .334 with a 1.045 OPS and 18 home-runs in 74 games. But there was still a lot of skepticism. In the following year’s Baseball Prospect book, John Sickels of Minor League Ball graded Goldschmidt only as a C-grade, “pending some exposure to better pitching, having been burned by gaudy rookie ball numbers from college hitters before.” He left Goldschmidt off his top 20 list, ranking him behind such names as David Nick, Bryan Augenstein and Wes Roemer. The only place where Paul seems to have been ranked highly at that point, is a Bleacher Report piece which had him at #8, written by someone who cheerfully admits to not being a D-backs fan.

In my personal opinion I think he should have gotten a shot at Low A Yakima. With his age (22) it might have been good to test him at the next level since he was crushing the ball at the Rookie Level. My only thought could be that Wheeler playing 1B in Yakima was blocking him from a possible promotion. He really needs to skip some levels this year and prove he’s worth being on this list. It would be nice to see him hit High A Visalia next season. What hurts Goldschmidt is the fact that this team has Wheeler who is already a level up on him and with the NL having the no DH it takes a possible spot away from him. If he keeps up the production I could see him getting traded.

2010

The following season, he was promoted to High-A Visalia, where he was younger than average for the league. It didn’t matter, as Goldschmidt continued to rake, batting .314 with 35 home-runs, and being named MVP in the California League. Pundits began to take at least some notice of Paul’s talents, though top 10 rankings for him were still rare. Dan had moved the first-baseman all the way up to #12. As well as the juicy pull-quote at the top of this article, he reported positive words being said about Goldschmidt’s defense, but was still concerned about the strikeout. [Goldy had a K-rate that year of 26.9%, the highest of his career]

I want to see the ability to continue to hit home runs against pitchers with off-speed pitches that are actually consistently moving and off-speed. I also want to see what happens when Goldschmidt’s BABIP regresses. The raw power is definitely legitimate, but he’s going to have to lay off or foul off off-speed stuff to be anything more than a fastball-mashing pinch hit bat at the big-league level. That said, I would be stunned if Goldschmidt is anything less than a solid bench bat in his career unless injuries take hold. That kind of raw power will play in big leagues, even if it has to be off the bench.

Bench bat, eh? Why does that sound familiar? :) John Sickels did put him in our top 10, at #9, calling him a “power monster”, but cautioning about the “strikeout issues that could prevent a good batting average/OBP at higher levels.” Overall, he was bumped up to a B- grade, with Sickels writing that “even as a low batting average with power guy, he should still have value.” There were similar questions about whether Paul was “for real” in a July 2010 thread on Diamondbacks Bullpen: “I have serious doubts (confirmed by the MLE models) that he could translate this power to the majors at his current rate of K/BB in A ball. If he improves his “eye” and continues [to] show power like this in AA - we can talk. Until then...”

2011

This was the first time I got to see Paul in action, during spring training. He hit a game-tying home-run in the ninth inning of the first game at Salt River Fields - we’ll talk more about that later in the week. He didn’t make the roster on Opening Day, and went to Double-A Mobile, where the hitting continued. Over 103 games for the BayBears, Goldschmidt hit .304 with 30 home-runs and a career-high 1.061 OPS, winning the USA Today Minor League Player of the Year award. But there were still those who doubted. Most infamously around these parts? Keith Law, who in May called Goldschmidt “pretty limited”, then listed him as a “low-ceiling” prospect (alongside future AZ closer, Brad Boxberger!), evaluating him as follows:

Whether he’s more than [a backup] depends on whether his fringy bat speed will play enough to let him get to that power -- and with a fair number of soft-tossers kicking around the National League, he might be able to make it work. He’s a below-average defender at first who might have to DH, and could end up as more of a right-handed platoon/bench bat who starts against lefties.

In Law’s defense, he wasn’t alone. Also in May, ESPN colleague Jason Grey wrote in his scouting report on Paul: “There are also questions about Goldschmidt’s bat speed; as in, some scouts think his swing might be a touch too slow and/or too long to consistently mash major league hurlers... Can he hit that good fastball, or does he have to cheat to do so, which then makes him vulnerable to off-speed stuff?” But Mobile manager Turner Ward had no such doubts, calling Goldschmidt “a big-league player in the making.”

The Opening Day starter for Arizona at 1B that year was Juan Miranda, but he was sent down to Reno on July 15 - a few days after Goldschmidt had appeared for Team USA in the Futures Game, as part of the All-Star celebrations at Chase Field. Later that month, the Diamondbacks traded another first-baseman, Brandon Allen, along with Jordan Norberto to the Oakland Athletics for Brad Ziegler. Goldschmidt was called up on August 1st. He never went back down, and as they say, the rest is history.

What happened?

How does an eighth-round pick end up posting a minor-league line, of .317/.407/.620, for an OPS of 1.027, with 83 home-runs in 315 games? How did a player who never made a top 100 list, or even Baseball America’s list of top ten organizational prospects, become the most valuable position player in the National League over the last seven seasons? Simple answer? Hard effort, and a relentless desire to get better. Sickels more or less nails it:

By all accounts, Goldschmidt has worked very hard to improve his defense and mobility through better conditioning. Although his height/weight data is the same as when he entered pro ball, he’s in notably better physical condition compared to his college days. His baseball instincts are sound, and he’s even turned into an efficient stealer (26 for 30 in his big league career) despite his size and lack of plus running speed. What separated Goldschmidt was his ability to adapt and remedy his weaknesses, even as he faced better and better competition. Figuring out which players will do that and which won’t involves the intersection of player tools/talent, baseball skills, and human/makeup factors. . .that’s what scouting is all about. Goldschmidt is a good example of how much we still have to learn.

Keith Law concurred, eventually coming around - although it took until late in 2013 before he wrote, “What I didn’t see, or know, about Goldschmidt is that he’s one of the highest-aptitude hitters in the game -- boasting an outstanding work ethic, according to several sources I spoke with who know Goldschmidt personally, but also the intelligence to take instruction and make adjustments as needed. He’s among the best in the game at addressing holes or weaknesses, whether in his swing or on defense or on the bases, such as closing the hole he’d showed on the inner half in his first half-season in the majors, where right-handers especially could beat him with velocity.”

Speaking in 2011, Goldschmidt’s batting coach in Double-A, Alan Zinter, also noted the great mindset Paul brought to the game, even as a prospect. “He came right in and just wanted to be consistent. He didn’t try to do more than he’s capable of doing. For a young kid, you don’t see a kid that consistent. He had a routine. He knew what his weaknesses were. He wanted to work on his weaknesses, not just his strengths. He wants to be a big-league ballplayer.” Paul Goldschmidt in an object lesson in being everything you can be, and more. If you put your mind to it, the expectations of others are no longer relevant to your own achievements - and the sky truly is the limit.