Hopefully this won’t be too busy, but I’m going to include the raw and processed data in the same table. I separated all of the known signing bonuses into four groups based on school type and position. I ignored the handful of JC/CC players.
|HS Pos||C Pos||HS P||C P|
|HS Pos/C Pos||HS P/C P|
In Epstein’s first three drafts the Sox spent just under 1.6M on HS position players in comparison to just under 5.9M on college position players. That’s roughly a 4-fold preference for college players. In the last two drafts the Sox spent over 5.6M on HS position players in comparison to just under 700k on college position players. That’s roughly an 8-fold preference for HS players. In other words, the Sox went from spending 27 cents on HS position players for every dollar spent on college position players to spending over 8 dollars on HS position players for ever dollar spent on college position players. That’s a 30-fold increase in spending on HS position players relative to college position players.
This is a pretty dramatic change, especially considering how successful the Sox were in the 2003-2005 drafts. In those three drafts the Sox took five college position players in the first two rounds – Murphy, Murton, Pedroia, Ellsbury and Lowrie. That’s a pretty strong success rate even if Lowrie doesn’t pan out. In the last two drafts the highest drafted C position player was 3rd rounder and relatively cheap and unheralded Aaron Bates. There are, of course, many reasons behind that striking change, but I think one of the biggest is the hunt for power. And also, note that this change is restricted to position players. The HS:C ratio did not change very much on the pitching side of things.
This hunt for HS power bats has lead to commitments to a number of HS 1B – Lars Anderson (850k), Hunter Morris (unsigned, but 2nd round pick opportunity cost), Anthony Rizzo (325k), David Mailman (550k) and although he did not officially sign I think we can throw the 250k offer to Jaren Matthews into the mix as well. In one sense this shouldn’t be a surprise, players with power play 1B. If you’re looking for power bats, you’re going to find 1B. However, one of the scouting truisms is that the best HS talent is found in the middle of diamond. Are HS players already on the far right of the defensive spectrum low upside second rate talent? The Sox obviously don’t think so.
I did some positional breakdowns in my draft research, but I was very concerned about sample size issue so I never tried to dig deeper than infielders and outfielders as groups. Rany Jazayelri was not quite so skittish and did specifically look at HS 1B from 1984-1999. What he found was not very pretty. It led to one of his “Draft Rules”:
Draft Rule #11: Among high school hitters, players on the left side of the infield are the most valuable selections, and players on the right side of the infield are--by far--the least valuable selections, with outfielders and catchers ranking in the middle.
Here’s a chart listing all high school positions:
1984 – 1999 1992 - 1999
Pos Overall Pos Overall
HS 3B - 1.7% HS 3B + 31.1%
HS SS - 6.7% HS C + 17.2%
HS OF - 31.4% HS SS - 16.3%
HS C - 41.5% HS OF - 31.8%
HS 1B - 54.5% HS 1B - 52.9%
HS 2B - 84.0% HS 2B - 89.7%
Jazayerli found that HS 1B underperformed slot expectations by more than 50% both in his overall 1984-1999 study and in the more recent half sample which showed a dramatic overall improvement for HS return over slot. Now I don’t particularly like average return over slot as an endpoint, but a better endpoint would be unlikely to change things very much. To say the least, this is not terribly encouraging. However, let’s take a look at his specific data and then take a more thorough subjective look to see if things have changed since he formulated his Draft Rule.
This is the relevant excerpt from his report by positions.
I included Jazayerli’s speculation about the importance of athleticism because as you’ll see in just a bit it seems to be a big part of the reason that his Draft Rule was already out of date by the time he wrote it.
Moving on to first base:
Pos Years 1st Rd 2nd Rd 3rd Rd Overall
HS 1B 84-91 SSS - 98.6%* - 42.4% - 56.6%
HS 1B 92-99 - 30.8%* -100.0%* - 36.4%* - 52.9%
HS 1B 84-99 - 29.0%* - 99.3% - 39.4% - 54.5%
Years Biggest Bargains Biggest Busts
84-91 Rico Brogna, Reggie Jefferson Drew Denson, Lee Stevens
92-99 Derrek Lee, Nick Johnson Matt Smith, J.J. Davis
Wow. High school catchers get all the bad publicity, but high school first basemen have actually been a worse value for the dollar over the entire 16-year draft study, and whereas teams seem to have learned how to avoid making mistakes behind the plate, they have shown no improvement here.
In total, 39 high school first basemen have been drafted in the first 100 picks from 1984 to 1999. Just one of them--Derrek Lee--achieved stardom. The results of the second round are particularly grisly--of the 16 first basemen drafted in the second round, the most valuable proved to be the immortal Tim Hyers. Let’s put it this way: Chris Weinke was one of the data points.
Why the terrible performance? It’s pure speculation, but if you’re playing first base on your high school team, you’re probably not the most athletic player in the world. No doubt almost all of these players were drafted for their bats, but athleticism has a lot to do with whether that bat develops, particularly since even the best high school hitters need a lot of refinement before they’re ready for the major leagues. It’s not a surprise that Lee, the best player in this group, is a remarkably good athlete for a first baseman, what with his Gold Glove defense and 15 steals a year. It’s that athleticism that has helped him continue to improve as a player into his late 20s.
But most high school first basemen, by definition, have "old players’ skills." It’s a well-established point of baseball analysis that players with old players’ skills--players who take'n'rake but lack speed or defensive aptitude--peak earlier and decline faster than other players. An 18-year-old with old players’ skills is generally not a winning combination.
I used the nifty new searchable draft feature over at baseball-reference.com to put together these tables of drafted 1B. I don’t know the source of the position data, but you’ll note that some of these players moved off of 1B and of course many players who eventually became 1B are not included. I assume these position designations were what position the players were given at the time of the draft. The time period covered is 1987-2006. That’s a little different than Jazayerli’s 1984-1999 study that we will never the less use as a comparator. My studies only went back to 1987 and I’m honestly just not that interested in going back any further. The amateur draft environment was just so different in the 1980s that I don’t think there are any relevant lessons to be learned from going back that far. Of course, I’m extending past 1999 because we want to see if any trends have recently emerged that might make HS 1B better picks.
We’ll look at three groups of players sorted by draft slot. Slots #1-30 are equivalent to current 1st round picks. Slots #31-100 are equivalent to the supplemental round, second round and a little bit of the third round. One hundred is also a nice big round number breakpoint. We’ll also look at the stragglers in slots #101-200.
First Round: Slots #1-30
Over the last 20 years there have been just eleven HS 1B taken in the first round. That makes some sense given the stated truism that the best HS players are in the middle of the diamond. It should also indicate what a critical concern that sample size can be in these kinds of studies.
Only AJ Zapp was a complete minor league flop. Newfield kicked around the majors for a while as a guy who was perennially expected to breakout any minute, but never did. The other nine players can be classified as at least somewhat successful draft picks. Brogna and Long are borderline success, but a few years as a decent regular is not bad for the bottom of the first round. At least to date, Fielder and Lee are the only stars.
That’s a much better return than you’d expect from Jazayerli’s draft rule. His study ended in 1999 just prior to a nice run of HS 1B talent – Gonzalez, Kotchman, Fielder and Loney – in the 2000-2002 drafts. Given the overall small sample of HS 1B taken in the first round even that brief spike is enough to significantly undermine the draft rule.
However, Jazayerli’s speculation about the importance of athleticism does seem to be born out with these players. Aside form Fielder and Cust these players are not typical one-dimensional sluggers. Floyd and Long easily moved to the outfield. Loney, Kotchman and Gonzalez are all known for their complete games much more so than their power strokes. Instead of the classic slugging 1B, these successes are more in the Mark Grace mold – good averages, defense and on base ability offsetting unexceptional power production.
There were 29 HS 1B taken in these slots in this 20 year span, about 1.5 players per year. There are three or four notable successes. Helton did not sign out of HS. He spent three years in college and was re-drafted as a 1st round pick in 1995. Players who don’t sign out of HS are always categorized as college players, but when they were also very highly regarded HS players I think it’s worth at least mentioning that they might have had the same success as HS players. Would Helton have been less of a success had he signed out of HS? I don’t know, but it’s certainly not obvious that college based development is better than low minors development. Helton is a college success not because of any intrinsic characteristics that come from being a collegiate player, but because he made a financial decision not to sign out of HS.
The other three successes are definitely not the kind of complete athletic type of successes that we saw from the 1st rd. Duncan and Morneau are very much classic sluggers with power as their key attributes. Johnson is more of an on base guy than a slugger, but he did clear a .500 SLG in his last healthy year. At least by his doughy appearance he isn’t much of an athlete.
One thing I noticed about the list is that there aren’t a lot of players who established themselves as valuable prospects who just didn’t pan out in the majors. Most of the rest were, I think, busts pretty early in their careers. The major exception is Brian Dopirak, who was very highly regarded after he hit 39 HRs in low-A and hasn’t done much of anything in the three years since. I wonder if present day power is the primary, and perhaps only, tool of these second tier HS 1B. Either their power translates to pro ball quickly and they can get themselves on the Morneau track or it just doesn’t, likely because of contact issues, and they quickly washout. That pattern is true of the Sox Matt Cooper and the Twins Henry Sanchez who are amongst the few busts I recognize. Both had very good raw power and would wow scouts in batting practice, but they just could not make enough contact in pro ball to turn that raw power into usable, game power.
Whereas the more complete Mark Grace types have a more complete set of skills and can hang in, make progress and move up the ladder while their power hopefully eventually develops, these one dimensional players don’t have other skills to fall back on and they quickly washout.
There were 32 players drafted in these slots over this 20 year period. There really have not been any successes. Ryan Shealy and his apparent 4A-ness is the best of the bunch so far. I recognize the Brewers’ Brad Nelson as having been a pretty good prospect after a big year in low-A. He was a one dimensional slugger type and never made the transition to AA.
I was mostly interested in HS 1B, but since I had to separate out the C 1B, let’s take a look at them too.
Here’s another of Jazayerli’s draft rules.
This is another rule that is largely out of date. Most of those significant successes were from the collegiate golden age of the mid to late 1980s. The high end successes since then have been much rarer.
Draft Rule #12: College first basemen are the most valuable group of draft picks by an enormous margin. College first basemen selected in the first round have gone on to have Hall of Fame-caliber careers approximately one-third of the time.
Over the course of the entire draft study, college first basemen have returned a ridiculous +144% in draft value. Thirteen first basemen were selected in the first 30 picks between 1984 and 1999, including Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Todd Helton, and Lance Berkman. John Olerud was a first-round talent who slipped to the third round because he was considered a tough sign.
First Round: Slots #1-30
There were 17 C 1B drafted in these 20 draft. That’s six more than from HS. Giving Pena full credit for having been a very good prospect and having had a great year in 2007, there were seven pretty significant successes. However, note that all three who were drafted in the 1980s were significant successes and only two were drafted between 2000-2006 and both were busts.
In fact, the very high bust rate is the biggest surprise. There is a much higher bust rate amongst the C 1B than there was amongst the HS 1B. I find that very odd. I would think it would be much easier to project the offensive potential of a 21 year old than an 18 year old.
The major successes also tend to be the one dimensional slugger type.
|70||3||1987||John Vander Wal|
There were 26 C 1B taken in these slots (that’s only counting Bozied, who was drafted twice, one time). That’s a comparable number (3 fewer actually) to the HS 1B. There are two major successes here, but both are a bit unusual. Olerud was a consensus top of the draft talent who fell for health and signability issues. Gonzalez was a more typical 4th rd pick (and note again from the 1980s) who didn’t blossom until his 30s and his post-FA years.
Casey had a pretty good career as a decent regular. Broussard has been a decent platoon bat. Lind looked like a pretty good prospect after 2006, but struggled in 2007. This is the Sox Aaron Bates peer group. And it’s a big part of the reason that he doesn’t get much respect as a prospect even after a strong year in High-A. That he’s a RH bat and would end up as the short side of a platoon doesn’t help either.
This is a very large group – 58 players in comparison to 32 HS players. It looks like organizations start to think about drafting the marginal prospects who will hopefully provide a little middle of the order offense to take the pressure off the real prospects.
There is, however, one huge success in Ryan Howard, an absolute stud bat. Howard was considered to have much higher draft potential after his sophomore year, but a weak junior season and the fact that he had just the one tool dropped him all the way to the 5th rd.
Mientkiewicz and Snow were decent, cheap regulars in the vein of second or third tier Mark Grace types.
Atkins moved to 3B, where he’s a bit of a butcher, but he’s hit well. Karros had a long and reasonably successful career. He had some significant OBP issues in the beginning and end of his career – especially for a 1B – but in his prime (ages 27-32) he averaged nearly 31 HR for six seasons. Bates is a different kind of hitter, but I’m sure he’d be thrilled to have Karros’ career as mid-round RH C 1B.
Spezio carved out a long career as a utility man and Wakefield gives the C group an overwhelming edge in knuckleballers produced.
Here’s one more table quickly summarizing the two groups of players.
* I moved Olerud up into the 1st rd group commensurate with his bonus
More 1B were drafted in the first round out of C than HS. The C players had more “star” upside although that advantage is weighted towards the 1980s. The HS players tended to more athletic and well rounded and were more likely to at least be “good”. The overall “good+star” success rate was 64% from HS and 44% from C.
It was exceedingly rare to find a “star” level 1B after the 1st rd. There have only been two that signed – Justin Morneau from HS and Ryan Howard from C. The unsigned Todd Helton eventually became a 1st rd C 1B and a star.
The probability of finding at least a good 1B from picks #30-100 was about 1 in 10 for both C and HS players. There were no good HS 1B drafted between picks #101-200. There were many more C 1B picked in these slots and the success rate is just a little lower than the 1 in 10 seen for the earlier group.
I actually find that rate for non-1st rd picks to be a little better than expected. On the other hand, if you use time in the denominator instead of number of picks, it looks worse. Only two (or three if you count Helton) star level 1B drafted after the first round in the last twenty years? Only nine good ones for an average of a bit less than one every other year? Put that way, really good 1B after the first round isn’t quite Halley’s Comet, but they’re pretty damn rare.
Eh, who cares about generalities what does this say about the Sox potential 1B?
Well, Lars Anderson is the only Sox HS 1B with substantial playing time. His 825k bonus was equivalent to the 41st slot. That would put him on the high end of the slot #31-100 range. The only signed star player from that range in the last 20 years is Morneau. So, uh, Lars can be the one for the next 20 years?
Anderson doesn’t really fit the two types I talked about with respect to HS 1B. He’s not a terrible athlete. Some scouting reports give him modestly warm praise for his defense or athleticism, but I take those reports as “runs fast for a catcher” type damning with faint praise. He’s not a well-rounded, athletic Mark Grace type 1B. He’s not a pure slugger with a lot of present power either though he is going to have to be carried by his bat. In his first full pro season that bat was a bit of a mixed bag. He drew walks and hit for a good average so he does appear to be a complete hitter, but he also struck out a fair amount without hitting for a lot of HR power.
Rizzo signed for 325k which was equivalent to the bonus for slot #104. The way I split the slots that puts him in the group that has produced absolutely nothing from the HS ranks. But it’s also a trivial distance down from Mornean and Nick Johnson who were drafted at #89. Coincidentally the latest issue of BA features Rizzo and Mailman in the Sox organization report. Rizzo is described as being “surprisingly nimble around the bag, which contrasts with his bulky build. But as expected, he can mash at the plate.” Yeah, he’s a hitter only who is going to need his power to drive his progression up the minors. It’s a scouting cliché that “power is the last thing to develop”, but judging from the high rate of early flops for some these HS sluggers you might also say that power only players have a tendency to wash out quickly and they do say because low contact rates nullify their power potential. It’ll be important to watch Rizzo’s strike out rate next year. Amongst the players in this report, maybe an optimistic but reasonable comp would be Chris Duncan.
Mailman signed for 550k which was the equivalent bonus for slot #58. Mailman was immediately rumored to be moving to the outfield so he definitely falls into the more athletic camp. Again from BA, “Mailman is athletic enough to play center at the lower levels, but McLeod sees his future as a corner OF. He’s still undersized, and the Sox are hoping he packs some weight onto his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame.” Obviously, present day power isn’t his game. His most likely path to long term success is as a complete player who does everything well, but doesn’t really standout. He doesn’t really have an obvious comp from amongst the players in this report, but he his game appears fairly similar to Brandon Moss’.
Now nobody cares much about Hunter Morris because he spurned the Sox and I’m sure he has no idea that Todd Helton was an unsigned 2nd rd 1B out of HS. But if I was Morris that’s exactly who I would want to be. Helton’s decision to not sign with the Padres was one of the all-time great draft decisions. Going from a 2nd rd pick in 1992 to a high 1st rd pick in 1995 probably was a gain of 500k. In addition to that, instead of spending 3 years banging skanky low minors groupies, he got to bang U of Tennessee southern co-eds as a 2 sport star. And if that wasn’t enough instead of getting drafted by a team that plays in a sever pitcher’s park he was drafted by the Rockies where he put up ridiculous stats and eventually signed a 140M contract. Major financial gains both short term and long term and yet those are still only the 2nd and 3rd best reasons he made the right choice.