Nate Fury certainly wasn’t the first to go in the MLB Draft. He waited for 1,089 other names to be called before his. Johnny Manziel, who plays a completely different sport and hadn’t played baseball since high school, was drafted 253 picks before Fury.
Nate Fury wasn’t the last to go. The Detroit Tigers selected him in the 36th round, 1090th overall. Four rounds went on behind him, 125 players selected after him.
He won’t get a sarcastic Mr. Irrelevant ceremony or any features stories about him being the absolute last player in the draft. He’s just a name to scroll past, a footnote to be included in the stories about the first- and second-round picks.
But you should pay attention to Nate Fury.
Every player the Tigers drafted after Fury was in high school. Those kids will have another opportunity to be drafted. Most of them will go much higher three or four years from now. Fury is a fifth-year senior out of LSU and unequivocally the biggest underdog in the Tigers system (if and when he signs, of course).
He is middle-inning reliever who posted a 2.15 ERA in 29.1 innings pitched this year, a good but not great pitcher who willed himself onto the LSU team in pursuit of what he called a “lifelong dream” of playing in Baton Rouge. His college career started at Tulane, moved to a junior college and appeared near its end when he tore his ACL. Then he transferred to LSU, rehabbed the knee and won a spot as a walk-on.
At 5-11, 193 pounds, Fury doesn’t have prototypical size. I haven’t seen him pitch but with where he was selected chances are he doesn’t have an overpowering arsenal. As a right hander it’s a lot harder to throw straight trash and get away with it like the left handers do.
Yet here he is.
All your criticisms about the MLB Draft are valid. It’s too long. Teams draft the sons of their executives and the brothers of their players. Draft picks are so invaluable that clubs can waste them on high schoolers they know they’re never going to sign and on star quarterbacks to use as publicity stunts.
But there’s something delightful about the draft and the way baseball is set up, something I didn’t grasp until this year.
In baseball, somebody has to believe.
There was a scout who had seen Fury play sitting in the Tigers’ draft room. He had helped assembled the draft board that had Fury’s name on the list. He believed, at least to a very minor extent, this guy, Nate Fury, can contribute. We can develop him.
It’s not be the most democratic thing. Fury might’ve found a better fit and more money elsewhere if he had been free to choose his team. But there’s still a whimsical quality about a team standing up in front of everybody and saying, “We have at least a kernel of belief in this misfit.”
It’s not like that in any other sport. Hockey is close, but it’s to a much lesser extent. In football, the bottom of the roster is cut every August. Teams can develop players on the practice squad, but they don’t want to develop them to the point where they’re good enough for another team to sign them away. In basketball, the rosters are too small for anybody but the elite to find a spot.
Not including this year, the Tigers have drafted 446 players in the 36th round or later. Some of those picks were fliers on guys of immense talent who were drafted higher, sometimes as high as the first round, in later years. Of those who weren’t, five made it to the majors* That’s one percent.
What if Nate Fury is the one percent? Don’t you want to be following from the beginning?
*(Gary Ignasiak, Gabe Kapler, Mike Garcia, Dusty Ryan, Graham Koonce)