I have always accepted the conventional wisdom that cracking a major league roster was exponentially more difficult for a late round pick than for an early round pick. I decided to do a deep dive into the construction of the current major league rosters and see just how tough it might be for a kid drafted after the tenth round. Please accept this disclaimer that there is nothing scientific about my approach in this exercise. I literally captured one moment in time and went through each and every big league roster tracking draft positions of active players. There are some items that skew the results, but I don’t think it renders my work as useless. For example, the New York Yankees current active roster has been decimated by injuries as they have 5 first round draft picks on the IL (Judge, Frazier, Hicks, Tulowitzki, and Ellsbury). So the numbers represented in my case study are probably off a tad, but with 750 active major leaguers the adjustment should be reasonably minimal.
In its current state, the average MLB 25 man active roster is composed of (6.77 international free agents, 13.77 players drafted in the first ten rounds, and 4.43 players drafted after round ten).
On a percentage basis 27% IFA, 55% drafted in first ten rounds, 17% drafted after round ten, additionally, 20% of the players currently rostered were drafted in the first round of their respective drafts. So… in essence 28% of drafted players currently on rosters were taken in the first round. This is a staggering percentage considering that only 3% of drafted players are taken in the first round. For the sake of that percentage I used 45 players as first round selections to compensate for competitive balance picks, it’s not an exact number but it is better than using a flat 30.
The strength of first-round picks makes sense. Theoretically they should be the most talented players and with the amount of financial investment that goes into them, teams are always trying to save face by salvaging those costs and making sure they get to the show. Also, draft pedigree makes former first-rounders great reclamation targets if and when they fail with their original signing organization. Whereas a failed late round pick doesn’t have nearly the amount of leeway, it is often a small window of opportunity and a long road back to organized ball through the Independent leagues. Lesson learned, kids playing baseball should try to be drafted in the first round <sarcasm intended>.
One cool aspect of this exercise was I found that four current major league players (0.005%) were not drafted by a big league club. Trevor Richards, Mike Ford, Aaron Wilkerson and Wes Parsons all made the journey to the majors by starting their careers in the Independent leagues. Interestingly, after being signed as a free agent by the Marlins in 2016, Richards was named their minor-league pitcher of the year in 2017. His ascension through the ranks is pretty remarkable considering that he made his big league debut one year and eight months after he signed his free-agent contract.
Another thing I found was that there is an overwhelming amount of superstars that were first-round picks. The likelihood of someone being a franchise player or ace pitcher is minimal if he wasn’t taken in the first or second round. There are some notable exceptions which include staff aces Jake DeGrom 9thround, Chris Paddack 8thround and James Paxton 4thround. For position players some of the franchise type players not taken in the first two rounds include Paul Goldschmidt 8thround, Mookie Betts 5thround, Anthony Rizzo 6thround and the biggest outlier JD Martinez 20thround. It also wouldn’t be right not to mention slam-dunk hall of famer Albert Pujols who was drafted in the 13thround.
Someone asked me whether I thought HS or college draftees were more likely to become super stars. I didn’t really have an answer, but after looking at this I have a little bit more clarity. Of the pitchers I identified as rotation ace type (there were 24 total), 14 were drafted from college (58%) and 10 were drafted from high school (42%). Mind you, this is very subjective about what constitutes an ace. For example I used Carlos Rodon as an “ace” so you will have to make up your minds. Admittedly, there are recency factors on my list, sample-size biases, etc. However, this is my list so if you have read this far I assume you are interested. The college aces included: Rodon, Sale, Buehler, Paxton, Scherzer, Cole, Verlander, Strasburg, Gray, DeGrom, Nola, Bauer, Stroman and Kluber. The high school aces included: Lester, Kershaw, Snell, Taillon, Syndergaard, Flaherty, Greinke, Paddack, Bumgarner and Berrios.
As this topic relates to hitters I found that all-star type hitters seem to be equally spread around between the international free-agent market, and both college or high school draft picks. The international free-agents accounted for 13 of the 43 players I qualified as all-stars 30.2%. Once again this is my opinion on what qualifies an all-star and I try to incorporate future potential into my thoughts. The international players I chose were: Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Jose Abreu, Gleyber Torres, Juan Segura, Vlad Guerrero Jr, Jose Altuve, Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Starling Marte, Marcell Ozuna, and Shohei Ohtani.
The college hitters accounted for 13 of the 43 players 30.2%. The list of college drafted all-star type players included: Anthony Rendon, Alex Bregman, Matt Chapman, Paul Goldschmidt, Peter Alonso, Kris Bryant, AJ Pollock, Aaron Judge, George Springer, Charlie Blackmon, Michael Conforto, JD Martinez and Matt Carpenter.
The high school draftees accounted for 17 of the 43 players 39.5%. The list includes: Javy Baez, Cody Bellinger, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, Josh Bell, Nolan Arenado, Francisco Lindor, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Carlos Correa, Austin Meadows, Christian Yelich, Bryce Harper, Corey Seager, Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton and Trevor Story.
Keep in mind I tried to account for future potential and also eliminated those with declining skill sets like Albert Pujols, Buster Posey, etc. Obviously both of those players are far superior to many of the guys on my current-future all star lists. However, if I had to choose today, I would take Austin Meadows over Albert Pujols. I also may have missed some guys so… in the immortal words of Abe Vigoda in The Godfather, “can you get me off the hook Tom? for old times’ sake.”
I hope you found this to be an interesting read. If not, thanks for looking.