Are Junior College Players Undervalued at Draft Time?

One thing I have noticed recently is that when a current or recent major league star was drafted after about the 7th round, roughly the first 200 picks of any draft, they seem disproportionately to be players who were drafted out of junior college, rather than high school or four-year colleges.  Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Jorge Posada, Mike Piazza, Roy Oswalt and Andy Petitte are some prominent recent examples, and there are others.

I haven’t done the research, and I haven’t been able to find anything on the internet about it, so my hunch may be no more than that.  However, the anecdotal evidence is highly suggestive.

The reasons why junior college might be undervalued is the fact that they may be considered either too poor academically or athletically, either to have been drafted out of high school or to have received a scholarship to play at a four-year school.  Obviously, teams want young players viewed as having major league tools and perceived as being smart enough to learn once they make the professional ranks.

It could also come down simply to the fact that elite high school and four-year college players are more heavily scouted than junior college players.  Also, there may be an expectation that if a junior college player develops substantially in junior college, he will opt to move on to a four-year school in order to improve his draft chances substantially after his junior season.  Thus, teams may not want to “waste” their higher selections on junior college players, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophesy for junior college players to elect to transfer to a four-year school before making themselves available for the draft.  It may also be assumed that JC ball is inferior because most of the elite college prospects receive scholarships attend four-year schools.

The obvious potential advantages to junior college players compared to high school or four year players are that with respect to high school players, a year or two of JC ball means another year or two to develop physically, especially important to late bloomers, recover from high school senior year injuries, and the fact that JC ball is a higher caliber of baseball than high school ball.  The advantage compared to four-year college players is that JC players can be drafted after their age 19 or 20, while players at four year schools can only be drafted after their junior years, which is typically their age 21 season.  Most MLB teams believe that youngsters are more likely to develop in their own professional systems rather than college, if given the choice.

An awful lot of four year college players drafted in the first five rounds of the draft were previously drafted out of high school in the late rounds, because teams anticipate that promising high schoolers not promising enough to be drafted in the first five to seven rounds of the draft will elect to go college unless they receive signing bonuses well above what would now be the slot amounts.  In fact, it seems that most of these players do go to four-year colleges, while most later drafted JC players were not drafted out of high school.

If I ever have the time, I will have to do the research on this issue.  I imagine someone else must have done so already, but I haven’t been able to find it.

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