Our spring league player evaluations are only about 4 weeks away, so I thought this would be a great time to bring this up.
Often I see first time coaches or even experienced coaches (shame on them) go into a youth league draft with no plan. They have a list of names they would like to get on their team based on the 1or 2 swings, grounders, throws, and pitches they witnessed at the tryout. Their short list will have evaporated in most cases by the end of the second round of the draft and you can see on their faces that they are just tossing darts at a wall blindfolded. They rationalize their lack of prep by convincing themselves, it’s just a youth league, or it’s just for fun. While the remainder of the coaches steal their lunch money in the subsequent rounds.
My basic plan:
I have the names broken out by position I feel they are most suited for and a best case secondary position.
I try to draft the first 4-5 rounds in this order:
P/SS Best available remaining Pitcher or SS depending on how long it will be until my next pick.
I may have to grab a C earlier if other coaches start picking them before me.
As I make my picks, I’m slotting my batting order based on what the kids have done in the past. I try to fill the key defensive positions while keeping in mind the critical need for pitching and ability to hit the ball. I try to get the best mix of bat on the ball and defensive talent. If I can fill my top 3-4 batting slots by the 6th round, I’ve done pretty well.
Each team needs pitching for sure, but you can’t afford to have weakness at the middle infield or have a huge drop off between your 1st and 2nd catcher. In most youth leagues, all players will have to sit out one or two innings. How ugly are you willing to let things get during those innings?
Usually at this point, the pickings are pretty slim so I switch over to my master player list. I have every player listed in order by overall skill / aptitude by position. I cross them off the list as they are selected. I’m looking for best available player at the most critical remaining unfilled defensive position at this point. Be careful to get kids who can handle flyballs well. Surprisingly, many great middle infielders have difficulty chasing down flyballs because they have never really had to in the past. Their abilities to throw with accuracy and get to ground balls has pigeon-holed them to infield positions and many have never played the outfield! It can certainly be taught easily enough, but another downfall to town league ball is field availability and minimal practice time. It may take a while to develop their flyball skills and you need competent ball shaggers for the beginning of the season.
I’d be interested in hearing how some of you approach little league or senior little league age drafts.
If I can get into the 50/50 W/L range it’s good enough to make post-season and I’m satisfied I’ve accomplished the goal of a town league where everyone who tries out makes a team. If we can win a game or two in the playoffs, all the better. In the end, it’s more about how much progress you have made with each of the kids and how much their confidence has improved than it is about winning all the time. They have experienced enough wins to keep it fun and experienced enough losses to be humble. The teams at each end of the spectrum are unlucky, in my opinion, because they have missed out on some important life experiences. Losing with dignity for the teams that win all the time and the joy of victory is missed by the bottom teams.
I think the goal of youth leagues should be team parity. Often it’s not accomplished with the typical drafts, and that’s a shame.