Draft coverage here at LAG Confidential has been a bit sparse this year, mainly due to a few personal circumstances, but also due to this nagging feeling that the draft is becoming more about adding depth and less and less about finding future stars. However, it hasn't always been that way.
Fly Flop Flyball recently took a look at how many Toronto Blue Jays players made it to the majors from the Rule 4 amateur draft. (link) He took a look at a decade long period seeing how many draft picks were able to make it to the majors. For MLS the gap between the reserve team and the senior squad isn't as wide, still we can see how many draft picks got at least a season's worth of appearances.
Over the first decade of the MLS SuperDraft, 64% of the players drafted by the LA Galaxy made at least 34 appearances with the club. Below we have an infographic illustrating how many draft picks made at least 100 MLS appearances. Up until 2006 Doug Hamilton was General Manager, then Alexi Lalas until Bruce Arena's hiring in 2008.
Note the off years in 2002, 2003, followed by a relative steadiness. From 2004 on the LA Galaxy gave the league Joseph Nguenya, Ned Grabavoy, Ugo Ihemelu, Marc Burch, Robbie Findley, Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, and A.J. DeLaGarza. All but Joseph Nguenya are still avtive in MLS.
In that infographic, yellow is great and red is bad. The 2002 draft actually has an interesting story to go with it, as Hemir Niebles was highly touted in the combine and selected by the Galaxy, but had trained with the New York MetroStars (link). Niebles left Galaxy training camp after three days, with promises from the Metrostars but only made the practice squad never actually signing an MLS contract.
We see in that story the seeds that grew the Homegrown Player tree. Now players who have ties to a club in their youth development don't have to worry about being selected by another club in the draft. So a bit of a kerfuffle in 2002 leads to the Galaxy signing a top college talent in 2013.
If we add in the Supplemental Draft rounds, the likelihood of players making significant appearances with the senior squad goes way down. The records for those players, especially in the earlier years, gets a bit spotty hence the focus on the first two rounds.
The biggest difference between baseball and soccer is the sheer size of MLB organizations. Just making it to the majors is considered an accomplishment, even if you're a player like David Purcey: first round draft pick who made six appearances on the mound over four years.
Hemir Niebles is the only Galaxy first round draft pick to never make an appearance with the first team. The second round draft pick in 2002 Byheem Hancock also failed to appear with the Galaxy, the only second round pick not to make at least one appearance.
Of course, the Galaxy won the MLS Cup in 2002, the first in franchise history. Carlos Ruiz was the top goalscorer, and 2002 was his debut season. Ruiz was a free transfer from CSD Municipal. The 2005 championship starred Landon Donovan, whom the Galaxy got by trading Carlos Ruiz to move to the top of the Allocation Order. Then 2011-12 Donovan is joined by free transfer David Beckham and paid transfer Robbie Keane.
That doesn't negate the role Ugo Ihemelu played in 2005, or how important Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, and A.J. DeLaGarza were to the recent Galaxy titles. I would argue that the Galaxy have used the draft successfully as a means to add depth, and have used the transfer market to bring in stars. That combination has resulted in four titles.
Not that it's the only way to run an MLS team, but for Galaxy fans filling that third DP slot with yet another high profile transfer is the bigger storyline this offseason as is the Homegrown Signing. The Toronto Blue Jays drafted Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter, and the Galaxy have Danny Califf and Omar Gonzalez to brag about as draft picks. Time will tell if Charlie Rugg joins that short list, but history suggests any star trajectory will be overshadowed by a splashy transfer.