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June 8, 2004

Prospectus Today

Draft Recap

by Joe Sheehan

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High school or college, position player or pitcher, the one constant in the amateur draft is that no one seems to like Scott Boras' players.

That was rarely as evident as it was yesterday as two Boras clients, each considered the #1 draft prospect at one point during the college season, fell to #12 and #15 on a draft day marked by an all-out search for pitching.

The Padres, picking first, passed on Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew to instead take local high schooler Matt Bush, who signed almost immediately for $3.15 million. Bush was probably only the second-best prep shortstop prospect in the pool, and joins Adrian Gonzalez has a recent overall #1 who holds his spot in history more for financial reasons than talent ones. Drew, who was rumored to be the Padres' choice as late as Friday, slipped all the way to #15, where the Diamondbacks ended his torment. Given that the gap between #15 money and #1 money has range from $2-$3 million over the past few years, a heck of a negotiation awaits Drew and the Snakes.

Long Beach State right-hander Jered Weaver, who pitched his team into the NCAA super regionals over the weekend, watched an entire rotation of guys whose season is over go before he was claimed by the Angels at #12. Rice's Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend became the first three teammates to go among the first eight picks of the draft. As Boyd Nation pointed out, all are good prospects, but their college numbers have been inflated by a strong defense and Rice's weak conference schedule. Their development is going to be a very interesting story over the next couple of seasons.

The dominant draft story over the past few seasons has been the trend away from high-school players, particularly high-school pitchers. There was little change in the first round, as 13 high-school players, six of them pitchers, were taken. Here's how that compares to recent years:


Year     HS H    HS P   Coll. H   Coll. P   JC H   JC P

2004      7       6        4        13        0      0
2003      9       3       10         7        0      1
2002      9       7        5         8        0      1
2001      3       9        7        11        0      0
2000     10       8        3         7        0      2
1999      7       8        3        12        0      0
1998     10       3        6        11        0      0

The first round was stagnant, but the later rounds saw even more college players drafted. Two years ago, 269 players went in the first 18 rounds--as far as they got yesterday--of a total of 548 players, or just shy of 50%. The past two years, in those same rounds, we saw 325 and 347 college players selected, 59.5% and 63.0% of the total.

I think the first day of drafting provides a clearer view of what teams' priorities are than the entire draft does. At some point, teams have to balance their drafts, especially by position, because they need to fill short-season minor-league teams. Some free agents will be signed after the draft, but for the most part, teams have to keep actual rosters in mind when selecting players on the second day.

This was described as a college pitchers' draft going in, and it played out that way. Thirteen of them were taken in the first round, the biggest footprint any category of players has had on the first round in recent years. The trend continued through the supplemental round and the early part of the second round. The first six supplemental picks were collegians, and nine of the first 11 were pitchers. Overall, of the first 49 picks in the draft, 24--nearly half--were college pitchers.

Other first-day notes:

  • Neither the Cardinals nor the Diamondbacks have taken a high school player yet. The D'backs went college-heavy on the first day last year as well, and were rewarded with a strong group of hitters, currently tearing up the California League. The Cardinals weren't as extreme last year, but did show a preference for college players (11 of first 18).

  • At the other end of the spectrum, the Brewers took 12 high schoolers, the Twins 11. With an entire industry running the other way, the Twins selected eight high-school pitchers. Only the Brewers (six) and Royals (five) selected more than four.

  • The Yankees, Marlins, Mariners and Astros took a dozen hitters each. Three of those four teams feature some of the oldest lineups in the game, so it would appear that drafting for need was in play in Houston, New York and Seattle.

  • In addition to their eight high-school pitchers, the Twins took seven college arms and a JuCo hurler, leading the way with 16 pitchers in toto. Given that they've been developing more hitters than they can fit on a roster, this seems like a solid plan. Doing so by emphasizing high schoolers reiterates the point that the Twins remain an organization committed to the traditional, skills-oriented viewpoint. Only the Devil Rays (eight high schoolers, five collegians, five JuCos) seem as committed to younger players in the draft.

  • The Dodgers had a fascinating first day. While Paul DePodesta's influence can be seen in the overall numbers--ten collegians in 18 rounds, after ten in the first 18 rounds of the last two drafts combined--the Dodgers' opened the draft as if nothing had changed. They selected high-school players with three of their first four picks, including high-school pitchers with the #17 and #58 overall picks. The integration of a "Moneyball" architect into one of the game's most traditional-minded organizations continues to be a great storyline in 2004.

  • The Dodgers and Cardinals--newly listening to performance analysts in one position or another--were the two most obvious converts to a collegiate mindset. The White Sox were the other team that seemed to jump on the college bandwagon, selecting 14 collegians, three JuCos and five high schoolers, a year after taking seven collegians, two JuCos and nine high schoolers.

  • A year after taking no high schoolers in the first 18 rounds, the Padres were the one team to make a big move in the other direction, selecting five, including the overall #1.

  • You can't evaluate a draft this early. I think it's worth acknowledging that the Diamondbacks got perhaps the best player in the draft at #15, and picked up a number of good hitters again in the early rounds. The Angels have to pleased with Weaver at #12; he's been worked hard and he's far from a sure thing, but he's also a potential complement for the team's core of great young hitters.

  • Conversely, the Mariners didn't pick until the third round, and may have drafted an unsignable player with their first selection in Matt Tuiasosopo. The Padres, with a rare chance to add a building-block player, squandered it by taking a local kid who wouldn't ask for too much money.

After I wrote a similar wrap-up article one year ago, I was admonished--correctly--by a couple of readers that one year was not enough to declare a revolution underway. Yesterday's results are no more conclusive than last year's were, so I'll save the declarations. I do think, though, the the body of evidence that the process of selecting amateur baseball players has changed is growing, and cannot be dismissed as a fluke.

Each year, the pool is different, though, and the distinct lack of top-notch high-school talent was definitely a factor in this year's draft.

--

I want to credit two sources for the data in this article: Baseball America, which did their usual great job with draft-day coverage, and BP's James Click and Zack Wolf, who researched the historical information.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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