Where in the Draft are Major League Regulars Selected?

Three weeks ago I wrote a post about undrafted players from Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico (the countries covered by MLB’s June amateur draft, who I will refer to here as “domestic players”) who eventually made it to the major leagues.  The subject got me thinking about where in the Draft players who play regularly in the major leagues are typically drafted.  Obviously, the largest share of major league regulars is going to come from players selected in the first round, but I was curious to see exactly what the drop-off is like after the first round going down to the 40th round, currently the last round of June Draft.

As stated above, I’m most interested in players who play regularly or at least semi-regularly in the major leagues, and thus are the players who contribute most heavily to their teams, at least in terms of playing time.  I thus looked at all players in the 2013 season who, if they were position players, had at least 290 plate appearance (I originally set the cut-off at 300, but decided I would also catch those players who just missed) and, if they were pitchers, either made at least 60 appearances, pitched in at least 70 innings, faced at least 300 batters or led their team in saves (a surprising number of closers in 2013 did not meet any of the other three criteria).

I ultimately came up with a list of 569 players, or just a hair under 19 players per major league team.  Needless to say, first round draft picks made up the largest share of these players at 147.  The second largest group was undrafted foreign amateurs and professionals at 121.  After the first round, the number of players selected in any subsequent round of the June Draft declined dramatically.  However, it is worth noting that first round picks and undrafted foreign players still made up only 47.1% of the 569 regular and semi-regular players playing in 2013.

Here are the numbers as I crunched them: 1st Round = 147 (or 32.8% of all domestic players); 2nd Round = 52 (11.6%); 3rd Round = 28 (6.3%); 4th Round = 30 (6.7%); 5th Round = 20 (4.5%); 6th Round = 14 (3.1%); 7th Round = 15 (3.3%); 8th Round = 12 (2.7%); 9th Round = 10 (2.2%); 10th Round = 13 (2.9%); 11th through 15th Rounds = 32 total (7.1% or on average 1.4% per round); 16th through 25th Rounds = 45 total (10% or on average 1% per round); 26th Round through end of Draft (before 1998 unlimited; 50 rounds from 1998 through 2011 and 40 rounds the last two years) = 22 total (4.9% or roughly 0.2% per round); undrafted domestic players = 8 (1.8%).

It’s worth noting here that the 1st Round of the June Draft is typically more like a round and a half due to supplemental picks awarded for various reasons.  I made no effort to distinguish the first 30 picks from the supplemental picks for purposes of this study.  However and in any event, it appears clear that a 1st Round Draft Pick is at least twice as likely as a 2nd Rounder to eventually become a major league regular, at least based on the 2013 season.

Further, 3rd and 4th Round picks are a little more than half as likely to become major league regulars as 2nd round picks, and 5th Round picks are a little less than half as likely to become major league regulars as 2nd Round picks — the average for Rounds 3, 4 and 5 is exactly half that for Round 2.  A player drafted in any of the 6th though 10th rounds had roughly the same likelihood (slightly higher for rounds 6 and 7, slightly lower for rounds 8-10) of developing into a major league regular, an average rate almost exactly half the rate of the average for Rounds 3, 4 and 5.

Players selected in Rounds 11 through 15 are exactly half as likely to develop into major league regulars as players selected in Rounds 6 through 10.  Players selected in Rounds 16 through 25 are approximately 30% less likely to develop into major league regulars than players selected in Rounds 11 through 15.  After the 25th round, the likelihood that a player will develop into a major league regular really collapses, only one-fifth of the rate of Rounds 16-25.

To summarize, if, for the sake of comparison, a 1st Round draft pick has a 50% chance of eventually developing into a major league regular, subsequent rounds look like this: 2nd Round = 25%; Rounds 3-5 = 12.5%; Rounds 6-10 = 6.25%; Rounds 11-15 = 3.1%; Rounds 16-25 = 2.2%; Rounds 26 through End of Draft = 0.4%. [The undrafted domestic players are a complete outlier, as they represent only eight out of tens of thousands of high school and college players who went undrafted over the last ten or so years.]

While the likelihood of a player drafted after the 10th Round developing into a major league regular is a small fraction of a 1st Round pick’s likelihood of developing into such a player, those late round picks who do become major league regulars include some major stars.  Here is a list of some of the current stars selected after the 10th Round of the Draft:

11th Round: Dan Uggla, Mat Latos; 12th Round: Jason Kubel; 13th Round: Albert Pujols, Daniel Murphy, Juan Pierre, Matt Carpenter, A. J. Griffin; 14th Round: Dexter Fowler; 15th Round: Jake Peavy, Kevin Gregg; 16th Round: James Shields, Mark Reynolds, Chris Young; 17th Round: Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler, Josh Reddick, Mitch Moreland, Russell Martin; 18th Round: Mark Trumbo; 19th Round: Pacido Polanco. 

20th Round: Jose Bautista, Dominic Brown; Brad Ziegler; 21st Round: Dillon Gee, Trevor Rosenthal; 22nd Round: Andy Pettitte, Tommie Hanson, Logan Morrison; 23rd Round: Evan Gattis, Matt Adams; 24th Round: Dan Straily; 25th Round: Derek Holland, Nate McClouth; 27th Round: Ryan Cook; 28th Round: Sergio Romo; 29th Round: Adam LaRoche, Kyle Lohse.

30th Round: Scott Feldman, Hector Santiago, Eric Young; 31st Round: Travis Hafner; 33rd Round: Mike Dunn; 34th Round: Chad Gaudin; 36th Round: Raul Ibanez; 38th Round: Mark Buehrle, Rajai Davis.

If you couldn’t put together a winning major league team out of these players, you aren’t trying.

So what conclusions can we draw from all of the above?  For one, we can begin to understand why teams are increasingly valuing their 1st Round Drafts — it’s a team’s one chance in the Draft to get a player with a high probability of future major league success.  After the first round, a draft pick’s chances of future success go down exponentially.

Second, it helps to explain why teams draft so many players each year and why they maintain so many farm teams.  You have to cycle through a lot of players to find those few diamonds in the rough.

Simply based on the limited degree of eventual success for players drafted after the 25th Round, I could see major league teams eventually limiting the Draft to 25 or 30 rounds and even eliminating one or two of the seven minor league levels teams currently use to develop players (Dominican/Venezuelan Summer league for young Caribbean born prospects, rookie league for draftees out of high school, short-season A for draftees out of college, full season A, A+, AA, and AAA).  With the rise of successful Independent A leagues like the Atlantic League, the American Association and the Frontier League, MLB could use these leagues to find and identify the few real prospects that aren’t drafted now until after the 25th Round.

Of course, the main thing that will determine how many rounds the June Draft lasts in the future is the point at which the MLB teams will compete against each other for undrafted domestic players, thus driving up their costs.  The whole purpose of the Draft is to eliminate competition between clubs for amateur talent.

As a final note, we have to wait and see what effect the recently imposed slotting and bonus cap systems will have once players who have been drafted under this new system reach maturity.  I suspect that a lot of the late round draft picks who eventually make it to the major leagues are high school players whose talents were recognized but were expected to go to college, which is why teams did not draft them earlier.  The ability to offer big bonuses to these late drafted players to convince them to forego college has become much more difficult under the new slotting and cap system.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball History, Minor Leagues

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