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How Have Baseball Names Improved Through The Years? A MLB Draft Study

Linguists, nomenclatural researchers, and the people that interact with me on Twitter agree: baseball name technology has taken a remarkable leap forward in recent years. After a century and more of effectively flat progress—in the 1890’s every third player was named like Moose Deer or Shrug Gallblatter, but it’s a long line of Charlie’s and Bob’s after that—we have all awakened in a glorious future in which every MLB Draft is stuffed with expressionistic, aspirational, wonderfully ridiculous names. It is still being debated whether this tracks to the broad and rapidly increasing ridiculousness of our broader culture or just shows that baseball parents in Georgia really like to come up with new spellings of the name Braden. But something has changed. That much is beyond debate.

In an attempt to prove this, I selected random rounds from this year’s MLB Draft and compared the names from those rounds to those found in the 1990 and 2000 MLB Drafts. It’s hard to know what combination of social and cultural forces conspired to move us from a world of Brian’s and Jeff’s to one of Gunner’s and Kheydin’s. But, as this review of the 22nd-through-34th rounds shows, we are unmistakably there. The best names in each round from this year’s draft are in bold, although that seems redundant. Naming your son Bryndan is bold enough as it is. So:

22. Pick one of: Janson Junk/Skyler Messinger/Gunner Halter/Cole Stapler. Kind of an unfair place to start, as this is one of the most astonishingly stacked rounds, for sheer nomenclatural quality, that the game has ever seen. It was not always thus. In 1990, the most distinctively baseball name in this round was Bubba Ashford. In 2000, it was Corbey Medlin. These are fine names, but you see here the beginning of what will become a pattern in the rounds to come. There has been a quantum enhancement in name quality in the last 17 years; it’s doubtful that anyone even had the last name “Stapler” in 2000.

23. Bryndan Arredondo. In 1990, Robin Tumble is probably the most distinctive name in a classical sense, but the one that stands out the most is the one that points most distinctly towards the future. Future Major Leaguer Tanyon Sturtze was the last pick of the 23rd round in 1990, and in many ways the first pick of the future of baseball names. In 2000, that future had not yet arrived. There was a Brett and a Brent.

24. Preston Grand Pre/Montana Parsons/Braxton Light. Again, an extremely impressive round. Duff Brumley, the best-named 24th-round pick in 1990, could have hung with some of these guys, but his (wonderful) name is identifiably a baseball name, and lacks the psychedelic neo-futurism of his present-day counterparts. In 2000, Tapley Holland was pointing towards the future, and a player named Jude Voltz, chosen 711th overall that year, was already there. He struck out a lot and never made it out of A-ball, but one look at his name lets you know that this was only because baseball had not yet progressed sufficiently to understand his aesthetic.

25. Franklin Van Gurp. In 1990, this round featured both a Skeets Thomas and a Chris Wheat, but this only goes to show how far baseball naming technology has progressed in the years since. Today, this would be one player, and his name would be Skeets Wheat or Christhomas Thomas. The same goes for 2000: there’s a Scott Fries and a Hugh Quattlebaum, but there’s no Fries Quattlebaum or Quat Frieslebaum, and there surely is no Franklin Van Gurp.

Yeah, the Tarpon Sture called and they’re all out of YOU. Image via Wikimedia Commons

26. Kameron Esthay/Carson McCusker/Gunner Leger. In 1990, Ranbir Grewal was picked, and so was Britt Craven. In 2000, two guys named Jeremy went in this round.

27. Darius Vines, my favorite 27th round name in 2017, would have fit well into the 1990 draft, let alone the 2000 one. As it happens, he would have dominated the 27th round in 2000, in which every single player chosen was somehow named either Brian or Kevin. Dicky Dixon is a fantastic name in any age, and the alliteration is unfadeable; Bert Bull is also good, if kind of heavy on the Pynchon vibes. Think about what modern naming technology could do with a name like this. Consider: Rifle Bull. Consider, if you dare: Garth-Brooks Bull.

28. Tylor Fisher is probably the best name taken in this uncannily throwback-y round in 2017, just by dint of its extremely Aspirational Floridian spin on a fairly common American first name. It also seems worth noting that two guys named Cameron were chosen back to back in this round. In 1990, the order of the hour was whimsy—Billy Brewer and Devin Peppers were chosen back to back. In 2000, we are dealing with Trevor Tackers and Robert Cheatwoods—names that could have become elite MLB Draft names with a little bit more first-name creativity. Lacrosse Tacker is a MLB Draft name that could hang in 2017. So is Poplin Cheatwood. But, again, those aren’t their names.

29. Brock Deatherage was drafted by the Pirates, and A.J. Bumpass by the Reds. In 1990, Darvin Traylor was taken by the Tigers. In 2000, Denver Kitch was drafted by the Pirates. A rare instance of linear progress, with Denver Kitch the natural evolutionary step between a musical but fundamentally normal name like Darvin Traylor and the transcendent, galactic-grade expression of naming possibility that is Brock Deatherage.

30. Hayden Wynja was chosen by the Braves. In 1990 this round’s most colorful names were cinematic enough, but Noe Najera and Ciro Ambrosio are just not names from the same universe as Hayden Winja. In 2000, the names appeared to come out of a random country club name generator; the only one that stands out is that of Virginia Tech outfielder Michael Vick, who never really panned out despite what we might as well presume were some super-loud tools.

When your name gets called in the MLB Draft. Photo by Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

31. Reagan Biechler, Rockies. The best name in the 1990 31st Round was Weddison Ebanks, which is honestly pretty great, but the rest was extremely normie stuff. There were two Scotts, two Todds. Preston Underdown, in 2000, is a sign of what was to come.

32. Seaver Whalen. I have Darius Gash as the best name in 1990’s 32nd round, and it’s an absolutely great baseball name, but again: it is a name. Seaver Whalen is the best-respected law firm in Macon, Georgia. It is a mission statement, a little peal of devotional music. Callix Crabbe, the best name chosen in this round in 2000, is also one of the best names in the history of baseball, and I can pay him no higher compliment than to say that his name would absolutely play in the 2025 MLB Draft, when players are somehow going to have Facebook Minion Memes as first names.

33. MacLeod Lozer/Peyton Maddox. In 1990, two Jeffs and a Geoff were taken in this round. In 2000, Jon Coutlangus gets the difficult part right and the easy part wrong; Khari Council, also chosen that year, is a good name, but MacLeod Lozer is just absolutely free jazz and Peyton Maddox is a brilliant example of the popular contemporary sports-naming convention of Famous Athlete + Banana Republic Khaki Style.

34. Maverik Buffo stands out, although there was also someone named Edmond Americaan taken in this round. With all due respect to Dustin Longenecker, the best name in 1990’s 34th round, Maverik Buffo is playing a different sport. In 2000, with all due respect to Tanner Osberg, no one was even playing at all. It is impossible to look at either draft and imagine a future in which someone named Maverik Buffo could be swapped in for any of these names. But that’s the thing about the future: it is difficult to imagine and impossible to see until the moment you wake up in it, and realize that you’re already there.

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