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Which round were the best picks made and what age and level were those players at that time?

 

(If you read this study a few years ago, there have been 35-40 players added to the study and a couple of failed projected successes taken out (Carlos Pena and Joey Mays). Plus, a small section on draft failures and a new set of conclusions have been added.)

 

AL Robinson this spring of 2006 is starting its 16th season. Every draft result, every protection list, and every trade has been recorded and saved since its inception and many “records”, of course, too. That is enough history to give us some insights into among other things when the best players are snared. By examining when those stars were drafted for the last time and their reputations at that moment, we can, perhaps, make some judgments about how soon to pounce on a developing colt or hold off and wait for that breakthrough year at the Major League level.

 

Our understanding of team building would increase if I extended this study to our failures as well as our successes. That will be a follow-up I hope to do soon. However, I do have a brief review of all the first overall picks in the AL Robinson Phase 2 drafts which were considered busts.

 

Every story is unique – not just a matter of numbers. It is worth taking a closer look at the best players (for Scoresheet, anyway) who became available in the A.L. starting 1991. Here they are in chronological order of their selection. Their draft positions referred to are for AL Robinson.

 

Robbie Alomar: 1st round crossover in ‘91. And I mean first round of the first phase. He was only 23 and had already played in one or two all-stars games!

 

Frank Thomas 22 going on 23 and Juan Gonzalez 21 may or may not have been drafted by 1991. If we were as in tune to prospects back then as we are now, they would likely have been protected. Gonzalez was Baseball America’s number four prospect in 1990 after a nice season in AA. Thomas was listed 29th with no particularly impressive showing. However, he hurt AA pitchers so badly that year, an astute SS GM would have locked him up in a July supplemental. They were my 3rd and 4th picks after Robbie Alomar and Cal Ripken and became instant stars.

 

Mike Mussina was bravely drafted R#26 in 1991. This prospect aged 22 was a Stanford grad who pitched a mere 9 professional games – although at the AA and AAA levels. He was called up during the 2nd half of the season and became the Orioles’ instant ace.

 

Chuck Knoblauch 22 was an AA prospect in ‘91 who impressed in spring training and was drafted R#31. A few years later he was rivaling Alomar as the A.L.’s top 2ndbaseman.

 

Ivan Rodriguez was the first overall pick of the July supplementals. That must have been just after this 20-year-old super prospect was promoted to the Rangers.

 

Albert Belle was a 24-year-old troubled soul in ‘92. He made no progress from the previous season, except a name change. His owner had drafted him early (R#14 – third round), didn’t want to concede a mistake, so kept him, anyway. Then pow!

 

Kevin Brown was an average starting pitcher until he hit the magic 27. That’s when he was snared R#17 in ‘92.

 

Bernie Williams at 23 in ‘92 was struggling to establish himself as a New York Yankee. After dropping him, I redrafted him at R#18.

 

Gary Sheffield was scooped up R#19 in ‘92 as a 23-year-old disappointing struggling 3rdbasemen just before he was traded to the National League.

 

Sammy Sosa: I’m as surprised as anybody about his incredible success. (We were naive.) I took him as a 23 year-old with an R#19 pick in 1992, but I just couldn’t keep a National Leaguer who only batted .203. Woops.

 

David Cone a 30-year-old crossover in ‘93 was for a long time the best first overall pick in our league history.

 

Carlos Delgado in 1993 was the number four prospect in the land. He was 20, had consistent OBAs around .400 in the lower Minors coupled with an ever increasing Slugging Avg. now up to .579 in the hitter unfriendly FSL. And, he was a Blue Jay. Our league full of Torontonians let him slip to what was the second round in 1993 R#13. Well, he was originally a catching prospect.

 

Mo Vaughn had spent the three previous seasons murdering AAA pitching, but having a bit of trouble with the MLB. In ’93 he was 25 and selected 20th when he broke through as a star.

 

Jim Thome’s first call-up in ’91 was unimpressive, but he was only 21. In ’92, he spent time at AA, AAA, Cleveland, and the DL. His Minor League hitting was fine, but again didn’t impress the Tribe. Hence, he lasted until R#24, in ’93, when his career took off.

 

Manny Ramirez: R#15 at 21 in 1994 after blazing through AA, AAA, and a September call up. Shame on all of us for letting him slip through to the last pick of R#15. But, oh -

 

Alex Rodriguez 18 was snared two picks later R#16. (Alex Gonzalez was a first rounder in this predominantly Torontonian league.) A-Rod signed too late to have played before ‘94. His superstardom began in 1996.

 

Derek Jeter with a year and a half of pro experience at age 20 was listed as the 10th best prospect in the AL by Baseball America. That and a .374 OBA in the Florida State League was good enough to get him picked R#28 in our league.

 

Jim Edmonds: this surprising talent was nearly 25 before he was snagged R#36 in ‘95. His previous season was spent as a back-up firstbaseman-outfielder.

 

Jason Giambi: a 25 year-old taken in the 2nd round in ‘96 took 5 more years before he developed his MVP swing.

 

Mariano Rivera was an R#20 pick up in ‘96 at 26. He had only mastered AAA, but struggled his first try with the Yanks in ‘95. He’s been one of the best every year since.

 

Nomar Garciaparra 22 in 1996 with only AA experience was drafted R#24. In 1997 he won Rookie of the Year, then ratcheted it up to superstar in the following years.

 

Brian Giles was drafted R#15 as a 26 year-old after pulverizing the International League for three seasons. Still, for the next two years (’97 & ’98) the Indians would only platoon Giles. So when they finally just shipped him off to the Pirates for a lefty reliever (Ricardo Rincon), his AL Roby owner just let him go.

 

Miguel Tejada – I’m proud of this pick as I snagged him out of A ball in 1997 before he appeared in BA’s top 100. He was only 20. However, I’m not proud that I traded him for a bunch of spare parts to shore up my championship drive. I had to trade Glaus to get him back (before Glaus became a crash test dummy and Tejada became a consistent star).

 

Pedro Martinez was 26 in 1998 and replaced Cone as the best first pick crossover ever.

 

Troy Glaus at 21 was ranked 36th by Baseball America without playing any professional baseball. Cory Watson of Scoresheet Canada sets up a youth oriented master draft list for abandoned teams which in 1998 drafted Glaus on the second round (R#15) and Eric Milton on the next.

 

Eric Chavez at 20 in 1998 with a full season in the California League was ranked slightly above Glaus at 30th. However, he wasn’t drafted until well into the third phase (R#27).

 

Jorge Posada drafted R#28 gave George Tsuji two better consecutive star prospects (including Chavez) at a cheaper price than Scoresheet (see Glaus)! However, Posada wasn’t actually a prospect as he had spent ’97 as back-up to Joe Girardi. He would spend the next two season as his platoon mate, before blossoming into a full time star in 2000.

 

Carlos Beltran was stalled in the high A level until suddenly in ’98 he blew them away, then for the second half blew away AA, too. He then held his own in a September call-up. The 21 year-old was drafted with the last pick of the first round in 1999.

 

Magglio Ordonez wasn’t protected after the 24 year-old’s mediocre rookie season of ‘98. Dropping to the 17th round, Ordonez became a big star from age 25 to 29.

 

Tim Hudson didn’t make Baseball America’s top 100 prospects of 1999. Yet, after completely dominating AA and AAA batters over a total of 11 starts early that year, the A’s handed a rotation spot to the 23 year-old. He was drafted in the first round of the July supplemental.

 

Jason Varitek was protected by Blair Tobin as a AAA prospect drafted with Jim McCullough’s last supplementary round of 1997. After a respectable but-not-outstanding rookie season Varitek was dropped, then picked up by Gil Lau in R#16. Varitek was outstanding in his sophomore season, but had a very disappointing third year in the Majors in 2000. Gil won his championship that year and had no room to keep him. So at age 29 Varitek was free again to be grabbed by Saleem Kaleem in R#15. Gil must have missed Varitek, so he traded for him that April. He looked outstanding, but missed half the year due to injury. Varitek was back to mediocrity in 2002, but a bright star ever since.

 

Mark Teixeira 22 without playing any pro baseball was the number 5 AL prospect (according to Baseball America) in 2002. He was our 8th overall pick (R#14).

 

David Ortiz was a young powerful excellent hitting 27 year-old shaking off part-time stigma as he was drafted in the 22nd (9th) round of 2003.

 

Johan Santana was a Rule V acquisition from the low level A ball of the Astros in Y2K. However, the Marlins dealt him to the Twins for someone who never made it. He was obviously over his head, but he was just 21. Surprisingly, the Twins kept him north in ’01 (first hint), although he missed half the season with an injury. Starting ’02 in AAA, he had 75 strikeouts in less than 50 innings (2nd hint). When he was called up, he continued his mastery over Major Leaguers prompting his selection in the first round of the supplemental draft. Why it took the Twins another year and a half to give him his full time starting position, I hope has only to do with preserving his young arm.

 

Vladimir Guerrero was an established big star in his prime (28) available as a crossover, so, naturally he was taken first overall. This was a Pedro-esque first pick.

 

Travis Hafner was a 26 year-old firstbaseman/DH who slowly worked his way through the minors with formidable power and astronomical walk rates along the way. He had spent most of ’03 with the Indians, didn’t disappoint, but became a star after selected in the 19th round of 2004.

 

Here is the full list of successful players selected for this study. As 1991 was the year the league started, only a cross-over and players who likely wouldn’t have been protected are eligible. Players listed in bold are the “big stars” mentioned above and used to examining differences in quantity of good long term selections and higher quality long term selections. You could quibble with my selections (Varitek made it, but Sexson didn’t?), but that has little to do with the point of this exercise.

 

What can be criticized is the method of selecting players for this study. It likely wasn’t thorough enough, nor was it objective. (I’ll be happy to hear of admissions you feel adamantly belong here x8please@rogers.com.) Each player should have, at least, two years of being above average at his position – preferably consecutive or within a span of three years. Some players I included just if they had one incredibly good season (Peralta), or one fantastic season among several roughly average seasons of which he was protected. (The idea being a player is more valuable to his Scoresheet team if his great season was anticipated. Otherwise, he might well have been on his team’s bench for a good chunk of it. Having several near MVP / Cy Young seasons gets the big star designation.

 

Some of the weakest players on this list are first overall picks (Charles Johnson, Carl Everett, Godzilla). That is because I went over each of those picks more closely to determine if they were a hit or miss. Hence, they received a second look instead of so many others I may have overlooked. This special attention to the first overall picks skews the concluding data on the importance of R#14s unless acknowledged.

 

The rest is self-explanatory, I hope.

 

Symbol Key

^ 11 man protection limit in ‘93 or before

! first overall pick

/ generally separates level at previous draft from most current league (excluding Sept. call-ups).

// did not play year preceding pick

\ separates his league two years ago from preceding season - notable if demoted a level

AA... Levels AA & AAA

A+++ Levels A+, AA, & AAA

* dropped prematurely and re-scooped R#14

~dropped due to NL trade; instant stardom

 

Successful Picks YR Rnd# Age Pr.Level  GM

Robbie Alomar         91 R#01  23     NL           Carter

Jim Abbott            91 R14^  23   AL        Sanderson

Terry Steinbach     91 R18^  29   AL        Carter

Mike Mussina       91 R#26 22 univ./AA... Arnone

Chuck Knoblauch91 R#31  22   AA       Haynes

Ivan Rodriguez    91 R#40 20 A+/AA/AL Matthws

Ben McDonald       92 R12^  24   AL       Tsuji

Albert Belle         92 R14^ 25   AL        Arnone

Kevin Brown        92 R17^ 27   AL       Flint

Bernie Williams   92 R18^ 23 AAA/AL Carter

Omar Vizquel        92 R19^  24   AL        Matthws

Gary Sheffield     92 R19^ 23   AL        Tsuji

Sammy Sosa            92 R19~  23  AAA/AL     Carter

Kenny Lofton         92 R#25 24 AAA (NL)Sanderson

Tim Salmon          92 R#37  23  AAA      Matthws

David Cone                93 R12^! 30    NL           Flint

Alex Fernandez     93 R12^  23   AL       Sandrsn

Jay Buhner           93 R12^  28   AL        Ethier

Carlos Delgado   93 R13^ 20   A+        McCullough

John Valentin        93 R15^  26 AAA/AL  Sanderson

Pat Hentgen         93 R15^  23   AL         Haynes

Paul O’Neill          93 R15^  30   NL         Carter

Mo Vaughn         93 R20^ 25   AL         Flint

Jim Thome               93 R24^   22  AAA/AL     McCullough

Al Leiter               93 R#37  27 AAA/AL   O’Leary

Manny Ramirez  94 R#15  21 AA/AAA   Carter

Alex Rodriguez   94 R#16 18   h.s.        Scoresheet

Mike Stanley        94 R#16  29   AL          Haynes

Brady Anderson    94 R#16  30   AL          Sanderson

Ken Rogers*         94 R#18  29   AL          Ethier

Derek Jeter         94 R#28  19   A           Matthws

Ray Durham         95 R#14!  23   AAA      McCullough

David Wells          95 R#14  31   AL          Carter

Tino Martinez       95 R#18   27   AL         McCullough

Jose Mesa           95 R#22  28    AL         Haynes

Jeff Cirillo             95 R#25  25 AAA/AL    Tsuji

Brad Radke          95 R#36  22   AA         Tsuji

Jim Edmonds          95 R#36    24    AL            Milne

Andy Pettitte        95 R#36  22  AAA       Tsuji

Johnny Damon     96 R#14!  22  AA/AL    O’Leary

John Wetteland    96 R#14   29  NL/AL     Lau

Jason Giambi          96  R#15   25  AAA/AL     Lau

Mariano Rivera   96 R#20  26  AAA/AL  Milne

N. Garciaparra         96 R#24   22    AA            Milne

Jeff Fassero          97 R#14! 34   NL         Haynes

Brian Giles          97 R#15  26  AAA/AL  Lau

Miguel Tejada     97 R#16  20   A+        Carter

Garret Anderson    97 R#16  25   AL        Ethier

Shannon Stewart   97 R#18  23   AAA      Tsuji

Damion Easley      97 R#31  26   AL        Haynes

Pedro Martinez        98  R#14   26    NL           Haynes

Troy Glaus           98 R#15  21   univ.    Scoresheet

Eric Milton            98  R#16 22  A+/AA    Scoresheet

Bartolo Colon        98  R#21 23  AAA/AL  Bordage

Richie Sexson       98  R#23 23  AAA      Creaney

Eric Chavez         98  R#27 20   A+        Tsuji

Jorge Posada      98  R#28 26   AL        Tsuji

Charles Johnson    99 R#14! 27   NL        Sowdrn

Paul Konerko        99  R#14 23 AAA/NL   Tsuji

Carlos Beltran     99  R#14 21  A+/AA    Carter

Magglio Ordonez  99  R#17 25   AL        Lau

Mark Mulder          99  R#17 21   univ.      Bordage

Carlos Lee            99  R#18 23   AA        Haynes

Alfonso Soriano     99  R#20 23  Japan//   Lau

Freddie Garcia      99  R#25 22  AA (NL)  Sowden

Tim Hudson         99  R#40 23 AA/AAA  Bordage

Vernon Wells        99  R#41 20  A+/AA    Tsuji

Carl Everett           00 R#14! 29   NL         Sowden

Barry Zito              00 R#27 21 univ./A+++  Sowden

C.C. Sabathia       00 R#28  20   AA         Sowden

Ichiro Suzuki         01 R#14! 27 Japan       Kaleem

Keith Foulke         01 R#14  28   AL         Tsuji

Jason Varitek      01 R#15  29   AL         Kaleem

J. Isringhausen      01 R#17  28   AL         Lau

Trot Nixon             01 R#19  27   AL         Carter

Torii Hunter           01 R#20  25   AL         Carter

Roy Halladay         01 R#21  24  AL          Bordage

Mark Buehrle         01 R#31  22  AAA/AL  Carter

Hank Blalock         01 R#37  20  A+          Sowden

Orlando Hudson     02 R#14  24  AA/AAA  Carter

Mark Teixeira      02 R#14  22  univ.       Cormier

AJ Pierzynski        02 R#17  25  AL           Tobin

Rich Harden          02 R#40  20  A+/AA     Carter

Hidecki Matsui      03 R#14!  29 Japan       Pingree

Michael Young      03 R#18   26  AL          Pingree

David Ortiz          03 R#22   27  AL          Cormier

Johan Santana    03 R#40  23  AL          Sowden

Bobby Crosby       03 R#38   23 AA/AAA   Lau

V. Guerrero         04 R#14!  28  NL          Collette

Curt Schilling        04 R#14   37  NL           Lau

Javy Lopez           04 R#14   34   NL          Pingree

Carlos Guillen       04 R#16   28   AL          Haynes

Melvin Mora          04 R#16  32    AL          Carter

Travis Hafner      04 R#19  26   AL           Pingree

Jhonny Peralta      05 R#19  23  AL\AAA    Lau

 

With a good year in ’06, I would include Lackey, Haren, Felix Hernandez, Crawford, Sizemore, Lugo, Roberts, Ellis, Cantu, and Cano – perhaps, others. Unreliably good players such as Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young have had their share of good or outstanding seasons as a few others on this list, but those are mixed in with too many bad years that it makes them questionably protectable over their time. If Peralta can repeat his showing last year, we’d have to acknowledge him as a big star. Halladay will get an upgrade to star status if he can stay healthy and dominant.

 

I’ve conducted three tallies. The first is by draft round. “First round” is the first round of the 2nd phase. “High 2nd phase” would be the 2nd or 3rd rounds. “Mid 2nd phase” would be what is now R#17, 18, and 19. “Late 2nd phase” is now R#20-R#23. “High 3rd” is now R#24-R#28. Yes, I know R#24 is actually in the 2nd phase, but it makes these fairer brackets, if I include it with the High 3rd Phase. The rest of the 3rd-rounders make up the “Low 3rd phase”.

 

The other tallies are by Previous Level (corresponding to their league or level they were previously established at) and age.

 

Total number of “best long-term picks” or “gems”: 95. Big stars: 35

 

Draft Round                no. of gems                ‘94-’02 rounds

1st Round:       23 (6 big stars)   14

High 2nd Phase:  16 (9 big stars)   15,16

Mid 2nd Phase:   17 (4 big stars)   17-19

Low 2nd Phase:   13 (5 big stars)   20-23

High 3rd Phase:  11 (6 big stars)   24-28

Low 3rd Phase:    3 (1 big star)    29-35

1st Supplemental: 7 (1 big star)    36-39

2nd Supplemental: 5 (3 big stars)   40-43

Note the number of rounds included increases as the rounds get lower.

 

Level               gems   big stars  x-overs

Majors:               43       15           13/4

Japan:                  3         0

AAA:                  20         6            2/0

AA                     13         6            1/0

A+                     10         4

A or less              6         4

 

Age bracket:    gems  big stars  x-overs

18 or 19                2         2

20                        8         4

21                        5         3

22                      11         5            1/0

23                      18         6            2/1

24                        6         1

25                        8         4            1/0

26                        8         5            1/1

27                        7         2            1/0

28                        6         1            1/1

29                        7         1            2/0

30                        4         1            2/1

31                        1         0

32                        1         0

34                        2         0            2/0

37                        1         0            1/0

 

Interpretation of these findings

 

More study is needed. These picks need to be compared to the ones that were just merely useful for the year of the draft and those that were complete wash-outs. It might not make any difference, actually, but we should find out. Certainly any conclusions based on age and league level will be greatly skewed by only looking at this data, because very young players in the Minors are going to be busts far more often than players drafted in their mid 20s to early 30s who are playing in the Majors. Obviously, the number of large successes (as opposed to not being a bust) drops considerably during those years. Subtract the cross-overs from the Age bracket gems and stars above and the drop is even clearer.

 

This study sheds no light on the problem of keeping a player before he blossoms into the star you were hoping for. In Economics we call this opportunity cost. There is the cost of not having the player you could have drafted instead. There is the cost of not being able to draft a low 3rd round draft pick in order to protect your prospect for the following year. Once your star-in-waiting blows his SS rookie status, the cost skyrockets to giving up one of your top 13 regulars. Then, you have to do this for each year of the wait. That cost is serious if you are trying to defend a title or make that final push needed to grab one.

 

This study does blow a little bit of dust off the theory brandied about on mcscoresheet http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/mcscoresheet/ started by Ari Houser that players generally get as good as they’re going to get by about 22 or 23. You can see from the Age bracket table that most often we know how good a player is going to get at around age 23 – not that he will necessarily play that well by then. These numbers make sense when you consider many players these days go to university and aren’t even professionals until they are 22.

 

The Level table might surprise you that almost 40% of successful long term drafts are at the Major League level – that’s excluding the cross-overs and Japanese players. Even if you just look at the biggest stars, that percentage only drops to 35%.

 

Sometimes a championship team is better off trading a prospect for necessary parts in August, then trade to get him back with excess talent before the former prospect gets too good. Well, that’s a thought – it’s not always so easy.

 

Certainly timely trading can help just as much as timely drafting, except, of course, every team gets to use 30 new draft picks each year. No one makes that many trades. However, trades can often involve players who would not be available in the draft. Hence, the impact of a single trade can be worth far more than a first round pick.

 

Mike McEleny managed in AL Robinson for three years and didn’t make one pick which made this list. Scoresheet drafted Alex Rodriguez (out of high school) for him, but Mike passed along ARod for Chris Bosio! However, he turned his team around from perennial losers (around .440) into consistent contenders (around .600) giving me some of the closest pennant races I’ve ever endured.

 

The chart which shows the most conclusive information is the one which shows competent and star picks by draft round. You see a pretty steady decline in pick value until the supplementals come up. Despite the missing bad pick data, this probably shows the relative merit of each pick pretty well. (Don’t forget to multiply the value of the star picks when comparing pick groups. And, notice that each level has more picks.) Considering 9 of the 23 first round gems were the first overall pick, you see that otherwise a first round pick is only marginally (but significantly) better than a second or third round pick. The value of each pick gradually lessons from there continuing to drop rapidly deep into the third phase. However, that huge drop-off with the last seven picks of the pre-season draft is exaggerated unless you consider that many of those picks don’t get used, but are for holding a protected prospect.

 

The value of a supplemental pick appears to be half that of a low 20s pick, but probably higher than a low third phase pick. The large bulk of good supplemental picks come in the first round. Three of the seven best May picks and four of the five July picks were in the first round of those drafts. Those would include all of those gems who became big stars (I-Rod, Edmonds, Hudson, and Santana). Harden is the fifth – and he could move into the star status soon.

 

 

Top Picks Gone Wrong

 

Kevin Mitchell (Matthews) crossed over at 30 three years after his MVP season. Every aspect of his game including health was in decline and it continued into 1992. Seattle sent him back to the NL, and his career revived to some degree for two years before falling apart again for good.

 

Alex S. Gonzalez (McCullough) in 1994 at age 21 after a strong season in AA was the number four prospect in all of baseball (according to Baseball America) – even ahead of Alex Rodriguez (taken R#16) and Derek Jeter (R#28). His career has been one of consistent mediocrity.

 

Chan Ho Park (Cormier) turned 29 at mid-season of 2002 after five and a half seasons as an ace for the Dodgers. His previous two seasons averaged 230 innings and a 3.38 ERA. According to his age, Park was past the theoretical tender arm nexus, however, in reality his arm was finished. Stephane had three other first round picks that year hitting the bulls-eye on the fourth one: Mark Teixeira.

 

By the way, Will Carroll and Thomas Gorman have a series of articles in Baseball Prospectus https://baseballprospectus.com/ called Team Health Reports. I just wish they came out a month earlier. (They are still coming.) The Park incident is a prime example of why injury projections are possibly more important than statistical performance projections. I remember coming across the 2002 Sports Illustrated spring training issue in my fitness club and reading from their secret scouts that Park had nothing left. If Stephane Cormier had the fortune to see the same article, he wouldn’t have wasted his best pick.

 

Last year’s 2005 number one pick Adrian Beltre (Lau) has been a large disappointment. However, he was good enough and is still young and promising enough that he was protected and could well turn into a success.

 

Well, that’s all I have to say for now. Send me x8please@rogers.com your observations and suggestions and, if you allow, I can incorporate them into my follow-up report which will include more on the bad picks.

John Carter