Take a step back and contemplate what we know. When it comes to professional players, we know their stats and their stats fundamentally tell us a great deal. We have a good understanding what's important and have a grasp on the manner of competition they occur against and in what parks they take place. What we don't know is the mushy stuff like temperament, health, motivation and other similar traits which is why we should avoid making declarative statements on those grounds.
When it comes to draft prospects, consider what we know. We know even less about the mushy stuff because now instead of talking directly to the media, many of the quotes only come second-hand from coaches or anonymous scouts and directors talking to the media. We have even fewer reasons to believe in their impartiality. Remember, they're talking to the media for a reason. As far for the numbers, forget about them. The level of competition is almost unquantifiable and varied and the parks are a mess.
Yes, people like Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein are valuable at making us informed about the consensus information. Remember, though, that they are not full time scouts. Even if they were, they are simply one set of eyes and if there's one thing we know about how scouting works in good organizations it's that they never rely on just one person. They can relay to us what they heard from those involved in the actual scouting process, but that's both questionable because we don't know the motivations involved and because it's all subjective analysis that is open to interpretation.
I want to relate a parable from my corporate IT days. A vice president caught a workshop at SXSW about how hot geolocation data was getting on the mobile app stage and wanted us to be a major player on the stage right away. He made it a priority and told our division chief to get on it. She did a little research and then went to one of her managers and assigned the task to him. That manager did a little more research and then went to one of his project leaders (my boss) and instructed him to incorporate geo data into our existing mobile products. My boss came to me and asked me to spec out the project.
My recommendations stretched out to a two-page sheet saying essentially that it would take three months, require additional assets (staff) and some help from outside vendors and even then might not be exactly revolutionary since we were playing catch up. My boss took that and summarized it for the manager and in the process some of the details were lost and the verdict became that we could easily accomplish it within "a couple months" if we got some extra resources. On to the division chief it went, where now it became we could do it in two months, but might need another person to assist. After the executive summary, it was now that we would finish it within 6-8 weeks.
At each step along the communication chain, the subtle aspects were lost or misinterpreted for various reasons. There was some malleable language involved and each person had his or her own predisposition for what he or she wanted to hear. I have witnessed countless examples such as this across a wide spectrum of places. When it comes to subjective qualifications, I am naturally wary that I am getting reliable information. When it's coming third-hand or worse, I am downright skeptical.
Consider Anthony Rendon's health situation. What do we know? We actually know incredibly little. We've been told that he has a shoulder injury that's a muscle strain, but that there were or are concerns over structural damage that may or may not require surgery. We can circumstantially confirm that by his drop in power numbers and the shift away from playing third base. Just before the draft commenced, some said that Rendon's medical reports, finally released to teams, "checked out" or that his shoulder was "fine," but reflect on the parable above and you'll understand why such assurances did little to alleviate my unease.
Here is the process as best as I understand it. Rendon had a work up with a medical professional that included at least his shoulder. He did not undergo tests individually for each team, so it was probably just one exam and then the files from the exam were distributed by Rendon's camp to teams and then eventually word filtered down to us that the files looked okay. Really parse that though and you'll unveil a troubling number of gaps and possible biases.
I've been reading a lot recently on how medical trials are carried out so perhaps I'm hypersensitive to it at the moment. First, who were the doctors to do the initial exam? Did Rendon and Scott Boras pick them? Secondly, what did Rendon actually send to teams? If they received the actual images and numbers from the exam, then okay, but what if they only got a report from the technician and doctor? Thirdly, "checked out" is not a technical term. What "fine" means is fungible, specific to each person and totally dependent on what he or she is looking for.
The more I think about it, the more unsure I become. I know I am outside the process, but given Scott Boras' reputation and that the Mariners were unable, best I can tell, to personally examine Rendon medically, I can easily see how any uncertainty regarding his health could make you wary of selecting him and investing millions of dollars, plus the opportunity cost of selecting someone else, into him.
None of this means that skipping on Rendon was the right call or that taking Danny Hultzen over Bubba Starling or fill-in-your-preferred-choice was the right call, I might have more posts about that after the draft. The pick of Hultzen surprised me, as it did many, and when I am surprised, I go hunting for possible explanations. What I keep coming back to is just how little we know about these high school and collegiate players and how much of what we think we know is actually just guesswork but processed through enough layers of people that it comes out smelling like facts. In my experience, taking an emotional stance on a matter largely based on speculation is a great way to end up looking like an ass if the facts ever come out.