Family history is one factor in Major League Baseball’s draft selections

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Mariano Rivera Jr.

Monday’s Major League Baseball Draft marks the 50th anniversary of the annual amateur baseball player selection process by professional teams. Since the very first draft in 1965, major league organizations have been selecting promising prospects who have family members that also played professional baseball.

In the 2014 draft, 86 amateur players with family relationships in baseball were among the 1,215 total players selected. So based on just sheer numbers, the 7 percent of drafted players with relatives in baseball doesn’t seem all that significant.

However, there’s no question in today’s saturated, ubiquitous media environment that a young prospect who happens to have a pedigree in professional baseball and has a recognizable surname in baseball attracts more attention than he might otherwise deserve.

A current case in point: the son of future Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera is being talked up in the pre-draft discussions related to this year’s amateur draft. Yet Rivera’s son wasn’t a standout in high school and played at the college level at tiny Iona College in New York State. If he was not named Mariano Jr., he would not likely be on any pro scout’s radar for being selected in the draft.

In the inaugural draft in 1965, pitcher Joe Coleman was a second-generation major league player who was drafted in the first round by the Washington Senators. His name was familiar since his father, also named Joe, had pitched for ten seasons, compiling a 52-76 record.

Young Joe went on to have a significantly better career than his father, winning 145 games in fifteen seasons. When his son Casey Coleman made the big leagues in 2010, they became one of only a handful of three-generation families in baseball history.

Yet there are no guarantees that the sons or brothers of major leaguers can actually reach the big leagues. We sometimes hear the phrase that “baseball runs in the bloodlines” of some families. The genetics certainly don’t hurt, but there are as many examples of offspring being unsuccessful as there are of them matching their relatives’ performance.

Furthermore, there is no entitlement factor for relatives of major leaguers who get an opportunity to play professional baseball. It’s true their last name may give them an initial edge to gain attention as a prospect, but once they are signed and get on the field, they have to put in the hard work to enhance their skills and distinguish themselves from all the other prospects, or else they quickly fade into early retirement.

Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds are frequently cited as the most successful sons of major leaguers who also had standout careers. Yet for every Griffey or Bonds, there are five examples of players, such as Mickey Mantle Jr., Eddie Ford, Larry Berra Jr., Kevin Maris, and Elston Howard Jr. (you can probably guess who their New York Yankee fathers were), who didn’t get very far in their professional baseball pursuits, despite their father’s illustrious careers.

In the game today are several examples of brothers who, on the surface, might appear to be getting preferential treatment as draft prospects. More often than not, they represent situations in which the siblings were raised in families that emphasized baseball at early ages, regularly played against good amateur competition as members of travel or select teams, and often received specialized instruction and drilling from professional coaches or tutors. The baseball environment in which they were raised was of a higher caliber than the average youngster.

Some of the current high-profile families with siblings in professional baseball, most of them having been high draft choices, include Rasmus (Colby, Corey, and Casey), Seager (Kyle, Corey, and Justin), Bundy (Dylan and Bobby), Danks (John and Jordan), Dykstra (Cutter and Luke), Gillaspie (Casey and Conor), Gordon (Dee and Nick), and Zimmer (Kyle and Bradley).

Another situation of family members getting additional consideration in the annual draft are the sons of major league managers, coaches and scouts. The drafting teams have high hopes that the sons have benefitted from the baseball knowledge and experience of their fathers, who took their game beyond the playing field.

Some recent examples of these sons and fathers include: Brett and Bobby Geren (A’s manager Bob Geren), Brody Weiss (Rockies manager Walt Weiss), Jeremy and Justin Jirschele (Royals coach Mike Jirschele), Daniel Fields (Indians coach Bruce Fields), Jeremy and Luke Farrell (Red Sox manager John Farrell), and CJ and Kevin Cron (Diamondbacks coach Chris Cron).

Occasionally, there have been sons of major leaguers or baseball executives selected in the draft, when in fact they are “courtesy” picks because of their father’s history in the sport. These picks usually occur in the late rounds of the draft as a favor to the father, and it is not expected that all these draftees will actually sign professional contracts.

Some of the likely 2015 major league draftees with family relationships in baseball include: Tate Matheny, son of current St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny; Daz Cameron, son of former major leaguer Mike Cameron, Jose Vizcaino Jr., son of former major leaguer Jose Vizcaino; Cameron Gibson, son of former major league player and manager Kirk Gibson, David Lucroy, brother of current Brewer Jonathan Lucroy; and Mariano Rivera Jr.

Indeed, these players will get extra consideration in the draft because of their family history, but living up to the expectations of their relative is usually another story.

Contributing writer Richard Cuicchi maintains the Baseball’s Relatives website on MLB.com Blogs at http://baseballrelatives.mlblogs.com/.

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Richard Cuicchi

Richard Cuicchi

Founder, Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database

A New Orleans area baseball historian, Richard maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Famly Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives.

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