Each June, high school pitching in the amateur draft is (more or less) is accepted to be the most volatile demographic. On the flip side, there’s been compelling research suggesting prep hitters from powerhouse baseball states such as California, Georgia, Texas, and Florida have a higher correlation with big-league contributions than high school hitters from non-hotbed states. Numerous components of amateur player development undeniably fall in favor of the hotbed-state hitter, especially relative to the kid coming coming out of the snow: Your typical Georgian, for example, gets to play outdoors year-round, while facing off against higher-quality pitching in the aggregate on a game-to-game basis. More swings for development, and more exposure to the sorts of pitches that force development, makes for a more mature hitter, the eminently logical thinking goes.
However, the valuation in regards to a high school pitching prospect hailing from outside these regions seems to be less “one size fits all” across the industry than it does for a hitter. A high school pitcher from a non-hotbed state usually has more projection remaining mechanically and stuff-wise. Additionally, from an injury-prevention standpoint, they’ve generally thrown a lot fewer pitches and innings overall by the ages of 17 or 18. "You draft hitters from the south, pitchers from the north," one scouting axiom says.
This raises the question of whether there's a quantifiable difference in the probability of a high school arm making it depending on his home state, or a difference in how much and for how long said pitcher will contribute once he gets there. In an attempt to measure this, I used all prep pitchers drafted in the top 30 picks between 1996 and 2010—15 drafts in all—in the hopes that I'd be working with a reliable sample, but one without too many recently drafted players still too young for us to make a summary judgments on their careers.
1996-2010 First-Round High School Pitchers: By the Numbers
In the 15 drafts between 1996 and 2010, a grand total of 94 pitchers were selected from the high school level within the draft’s first 30 picks. Of those 94 pitchers, 54 (57 percent) made it to the big leagues, totaling 8,245 total appearances. On a per-player basis, for just those 54 pitchers who made it to the big leagues, the 8,245 total appearances by the group breaks down to roughly 153 career games per pitcher.
Of the 94 high school pitchers in the project, 56 of them (60 percent) were from Florida, California, Texas, and Georgia. Similar to states-of-origin rates for high school hitters in the draft, the four hotbed baseball states provided the majority of prep pitchers drafted in the first round over a 15-year time span—more than all other states plus Canada and Puerto Rico combined. Whether or not the scouting axiom we're working from is true, it's certainly not rigidly enforced.
Texas’ 18 overall first-round prep arms were the most of any individual state in the project, accounting for 19 percent of the whole group, and 32 percent of hotbed-state pitchers. Some of the best pitchers in recent memory were among this group, with names like Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Shelby Miller, and Homer Bailey comprising the Texan cool kids' table in this timespan. Florida had the next-most high school pitchers drafted of any individual state, with 15 draftees. The list of Floridian pitchers is not as deep as the Texas group, however, with Zack Greinke head and shoulders the best of the Sunshine State’s crop. California was next with 14, its list topped by CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels, Jon Garland, and Phil Hughes. Georgia was the only hotbed state to not reach double-digits in first-round high school arms over the 15-year sample, though in general the Peach State is better known for cultivating toolsy position players from the high school ranks. Of the nine Georgian high school pitchers, Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook are the two most notable names—with Zack Wheeler a candidate to join that tier if things break his way in coming years.
Below is a graphic showing the degree that Texas, Florida, California, and Georgia contributed pitchers to both the “hotbed-state only” group, as well as the 94 first-round high school arms selected between 1996 and 2010 overall:
Hotbed versus Non-Hotbed Prep Pitchers:
Looking over certain arrangements of the data points gave light to a handful of themes when it came to comparing hotbed and non-hotbed prep arms. Despite the notion that a high school pitcher drafted from a state besides California, Florida, Texas, or Georgia might have more projection left to his game, there is clearly a higher correlation likelihood of a first-round, hotbed-drafted pitcher reaching the major leagues. Of the 54 first-round high school pitchers who reached the big leagues, 65 percent came from hotbed states, while only 35 percent were from non-hotbed states. In general, this finding falls in line with the numbers behind hotbed hitters, too, with both groups reaching the major leagues with more frequency. Of the 54 pitchers who reached the majors from our sample, 65 percent (35 total) were from one of the four hotbed states.
As mentioned earlier, those 54 pitchers who reached the big leagues as first-round high school draftees (hotbed and non-hotbed, combined) totaled 8,245 career appearances. Of that total, 69 percent of the appearances compiled were by pitchers originally drafted from a hotbed state (5,706 appearances total). Hotbed-drafted pitchers averaged 163 appearances per pitcher, who non-hotbed states’ pitchers avearge 133 career appearances.
This serves as evidence favoring hotbed-state pitchers in the first round of the draft, confirming one of the conclusions reached by Daniel Meyer of Beyond the Boxscore:
High school pitchers from power states have a clear advantage of high school pitchers from regular states. The culture of youth pitching in the power states leads to a much higher ceiling for power state high school pitching prospects. However their increased intensity also may lead to more injuries before reaching the majors which may be to blame for their lower rate of reaching the majors in the early first round.
Still, it doesn't speak to the efficacy or strategic element of drafting non-hotbed pitchers in latter rounds. Perhaps as the draft moves to the later rounds, cold-weather arms with more room to develop hold a developmental advantage over their hotbed-state counterparts.
Next week’s iteration of this two-piece series attempts to quantify general differences in average minor-league development time—as well as average overall health—between first-round prep arms from hotbed states versus non-hotbed states.