A note on the draft

Playing off of a comment that the Braves 1994 and 1999 drafts weren’t unusual…

Very few drafts — Rany Jazayerli says he thinks only four — produce no Major Leaguers. A draft like 1999, where a team takes fifty guys and maybe three will have any Major League appearances at all, is very rare and I’d guess happens at most once a year. Every team, every draft, should produce at minimum a Wes Helms-caliber player. Take that 1999 draft:

40 players were picked in the first round. 15 have Major League appearances, and several more will this year and next. The first player picked, Josh Hamilton, is probably a washout, but the D-Rays got Carl Crawford in the second round. I haven’t done a full survey, but of the first half-dozen teams I looked at that didn’t get a regular in the first round, all got one in the second or third.

Take the 1994 draft, then. That was eleven years ago, the odds are virtually everyone who’s going to make the majors from that year already has. Maybe one or two guys might make it as filler, or someone will have a Lockhart-type career and make it very late, but that’s rare. Most of the guys who haven’t made it by now have moved on. 34 players were taken in the first round that year; 27 made the majors. That was a bad draft at the top, when the first two players (Paul Wilson and Ben Grieve) turned into marginal Major Leaguers and the best careers of anyone in the top ten have been turned in by Todd Walker and Dustin Hermanson. But the second ten saw Garciaparra, Konerko, and Varitek go 12-14.

The seven players drafted in the first after Jacob Shumate with the 27th pick all had Major League appearances, highlighted by Jay Payton. Troy Glaus went with the second pick of the second round. About half the second round made it to the Show, including Lombard but not Pointer. The pick after Lombard was Matt LeCroy.

There are 750 players in the Majors at any one time. Throw in players on the DL and it’s more like 820. Now, even using an impossibly generous average length of service — say ten years — that means that an average team in an average draft picks at least five Major Leaguers every two years. That’s bona fide Major Leaguers. Now, you get some players as international free agents, but that’s no more a quarter of what’s needed, probably less. And the actual Major League average length of service is nothing like ten years. It’s probably less than half that. At five years, the average team needs to produce four or five through the draft every year.

Of the Braves’ 1999 draft, only Foster seems at all likely to make it, and he’s no more than 50-50 even if he’s a lefty, seeing he’s already had an injury. Of the 1994 draft, it’s just Helms, if you don’t count the guys they couldn’t sign. And these are pretty marginal talents. A team of Helmses would probably be worse than the Royals.

Now the Braves’ international team has done a great job. Finding Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, and Andy Marte in a ten-year period, plus some random pitchers — that’s a spectacular base to build on. But you can’t win on that alone, and if you don’t develop some domestic talent you’re in big trouble. The Braves developed very few real players through the draft in the ten years after Chipper: it’s basically Schmidt, Millwood, Ramirez, Marquis, and (if you squint a little) Rocker among the pitchers, Dye, Helms, and Giles among the hitters. Maybe I’m missing one or two. Only because of the exceptional durability of the starting pitchers were they able to stay on top without going nutty on free agents. As it was, they had to fill too many “ordinary regulars” jobs with overpriced imports like Galarraga and Jordan. Ten years with only three hitters produced is awful. (As it is, Dye only succeeded when he got out of the system and might not have with the Braves’ philosophy. Giles was a late-round fluke who wouldn’t let the Braves overlook him. Helms still basically sucks.)

That seems to be changing a little. Adam LaRoche is exactly the kind of “ordinary regular” player that the Braves couldn’t produce in that period. Ryan Langerhans might be, disappointing as his start has been. I like Kelly Johnson but I doubt he’s going to be a star; instead he should be a good player. Even a guy like Nick Green or Pete Orr — the Braves couldn’t even develop depth in utility infielders in the nineties, coming up with only DeRosa.

Updated because Drewdat pointed out I screwed up on the number of Major League players.

23 thoughts on “A note on the draft”

  1. I guess I’m with Grst in that I don’t see the point of all this. The Braves start five homegrown players every day and a sixth who was directly acquired for one. Two fifths of their rotation is homegrown (ok, I’m cheating and using Davies). More importantly, they develop players other teams want allowing them to package minor leaguers to get stars like Neagle, McGriff, Drew, Hudson, etc. Currently the farm system boasts the best prospect in baseball and more than a few very interesting ones. That’s not too bad considering they draft last every year.

  2. Maybe not. I guess I was there was supposed to be a point. If this is just reminiscing about players that crapped out, don’t mind me.

    Remember when we flipper Rocker and first round bust Troy Cameron to the Indians for the very useful Steve Karsay and Steve Reed. That was awesome.

  3. If I may:

    What the hell is the point of asking what the point is?? My understanding is that a blog consists of what the author chooses to write about. Is Mac obligated to entertain you? I would find it insulting, frankly, to take the time it must have taken to look into this, and follow it up with posts that are well-written and chock full of interesting information, only to endure someone taking 5 seconds to ask what’s the point. Don’t read it if it doesn’t interest you — I’m enjoying it, and I’m sure I speak for others.

  4. I agree with sansho. Of course, this paints a pretty bleak picture. Especially with the way the bravos are playing these days.

  5. My understanding is that a blog consists of what the author chooses to write about. Is Mac obligated to entertain you? I would find it insulting,

    Wasn’t going for insulting. Just making the point that the Braves farm system has been more than servicable over the years despite some lean drafts.

    Thanks for the lecture on blogs and blog writing though.

  6. I’m going to bring up Cameron in a future post. I think he’s still kicking around independent ball, though he may have gone overseas now. He may actually be a better player than Helms, though it never did him much good.

    There may actually be a little bit of a point, now that I think of it. Note the drafts in those years where they didn’t have a first round pick to splurge on some high school pitcher because they’d signed someone like Galarraga or Jordan or Weiss. If they had been developing players like they should have, they wouldn’t have had to make those deals. The perceived fondness of the Braves for veterans in secondary roles in support of the Joneses may only be a perception. They didn’t have a choice.

  7. BTW, in the 2002 draft they turned the compensation for Karsay into Dan Meyer. Not bad. (Also The Other Tyler Greene, who didn’t sign.)

  8. Thanks for the draft recaps Mac. Where do we stand with the other teams tht have won in the 90’s and earl 00’s in terms of putting farm guys on the major league field? It seems the Yankees and Red Sox’s have few homegrown guys compared to us, but off the top of my head can’t think of teams like the Cardinals, Giants. It seems we have done pretty well though.

  9. I’ll check into it soon. I know that the Cards and Giants have had generally weak farm systems in the last few years, but I don’t know about going back to the nineties. It’s a little harder because I can’t tell at a glance who was at least a prospect. The Yankees start behind because they never have any first round picks because they sign free agents every year.

  10. I know a few years ago we didn’t have a 1st round pick. I think our minor league pitching coaches have devleoped quite a few bull pen guys and some boarderline guys that turned out to be busts. Melvin Nieves was reguarded as a fairly good hitter in the Braves minor league system before he was pakaged for McGriff, then fell apart. I am not sure we drafted him though. We have developed quite a few bull pen guys that have done well around the league. I think we don’t want to spend tons of money on guys we draft. We can save money and get better players from over seas. There is no way the Braves are going to give a massive singing bonus to a Borris client comming out of high school. Fracour was thought by many to be on his way to Clemson to play football and a lot of teams weren’t going to take a chance on him.

    I’d say our farm system did get a little weak in the mid 90’s but is starting to looke pretty good again.

  11. Gleep. You’re right, and I knew that. The replacement level at ten years is more like 2 2/3 per year, over 5 at a more realistic five year career.

  12. Smitty hits on exactly what I’m wondering about. Could the results we’re seeing be a direct result of some sort of risk/reward philosophy the Braves have been employing. It would be interesting to know how the Braves average signing costs for drafted players compare to the costs of other teams.

  13. I’m going to touch on some of that as well. Several players, including Lombard, got a lot more money than their draft slot would normally have justified to keep them from college. I think — I haven’t studied it — that the Braves tended to spend more money on the draft in the nineties and less in the current decade.

  14. I was wondering something along the same lines of what Drew said as well. Unless you were intentionally leaving off 23rd – 25th man/5th outfielder types. I thought there was 700+ as well…
    And it’s interesting what you are saying about a (relative) dearth of players to come through the system – I know that, pretty much year-in & year-out, the Braves farm system has been rated pretty well. Not always at the very top, but certainly not empty. It almost seems like the perception of a deep system leads teams to trade with the Braves, and more often than not, the team that gets the Braves farmhand(s) end up with busts or marginal ML’ers at best. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but it actually seems to have served their needs pretty well. Turning Fernando Lunar & Luis Rivera for BJ Surhoff did not seem to be a smart trade at the time, but we didn’t lose anything from it. Rivera seemed to be a can’t miss, who somehow did miss anyway. Lunar was never anything special, and BJ was an average asset to the team (not that that seems special in itself, but looking at this year’s outfield, you realize you can’t always just take that for granted).
    Also mentioned were the Mcgriff trade & Karsay/Steve Reed for Rocker/Cameron. Obviously not all trades work out as well as you’d like, but I really have to say that JS has proved much more shrewd (or lucky? has a deal with the devil? whatever…) with his trades than most anyone expected. I think, without much controversy, the biggest stinker was Klesko/Boone for Joyner/Veras/R. Sanders – and even that didn’t cost the Braves a championship (ok, maybe you could argue that it cost them when the playoffs rolled around, but you’re arguing from a standpoint where we’ll never know what would have happened, obviously).
    Anyway, I’ve gone on way too long and if I edit, I’ll probably chuck half (or more) of what I wrote, but my point is that the management team is one heck of a team. JS does not always get the best people and Bobby does not always use them optimally and Leo is not always the magician with every pitcher he comes into contact with (Kolb, anyone?), but you put them together and they’ve had a winning combination longer than anyone thought they would. And it’s still probably not just that simple, but to me, it’s just amazing that, year after year, they win even though all the experts predict that this is the year they fall apart. And maybe this year is the year – but I’m not going to believe it until they are actually eliminated (whatever year that happens).

  15. Mac the mean major league career is slightly over two seasons, the median is even lower. There are a huge number of “cup of coffee” players every year that never get 100 ABs or 20 IPs in a season. But if you use them in the calculation, the average roster is closer to 35 players (~1000 major leaguers per season).

    I haven’t looked at this since the late 90s, but back then, the core 20 men on the roster averaged just over 6 seasons of major league experience. In other words, the average team turns over a little more than 3 “core” players per year.

  16. I have also seen where the Braves try to draft local guys as well. Nick Green, Davies, Francour, so on. There is some real talent in the south east, at least the Braves think so.

  17. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t bother with players but with seasons. Every year, a team has 25 man-seasons (not counting September callups) to fill. That means an average teams has to add 25 seasons a year. One guy who plays 15 years and another who plays 10 — that’s your 25. Four guys who average 6 1/4 a piece — that’s also 25.

  18. As I recall from a sports econ article somewhere (I can picture the article, as it involved the argument that the first years of the reserve clause are recompense for a “free” farm system), the average team employs roughly three minor leaguers a season, often to fill bullpen and bench roles. For some teams–crappy ones–the number will be higher, and for others–the Yankees–it will be lower, but the average is roughly 3. I’m not talking about the cup-of-coffee players who get callups in September or two weeks during the season to fill in for somebody, but someone who spends a significant portion of the season on a team’s roster (or a combination of minor leaguers who do that, akin to the Great Bullpen Shuffle of 1997).

    That 3 player measure also includes non-drafted players, which comprise roughly 25% of current MLB rosters (if I remember correctly). If this be the case, there are about 90 spots taken up by minor leaugers (give or take), 22.5 of which are taken by non-drafted players, leaving 67.5 for draftees. If you want to do it from a draft-by-draft perspective, that’s about 2.25 regular 25-man players per team per year. Supposing, once more, that the 3 player figure is roughly correct, the 1999 draft was still a bust, but it’s not a huge one. And you can generally find two or three Braves in any given season who come up through the farm system and stick around for a good bit of time. They may not be any good, or may just pitch out of the back of the bullpen, but that’s usually how it goes early on, anyhow.

    Atlanta has had a problem drafting the mid-level players and developing them, but there is a potential reason for that. We expect the Braves to win lots of games. It is very difficult to make the playoffs with a First Baseman hitting in the .230s because he’s a rookie whose ceiling is between Rico Brogna and Box O’Rocks. Hence, Atlanta brings in mid-level guys, guys who other teams have spent the time developing. The Braves pay a premium (prospects or cash), but the benefit is somebody who will perform at a generally known level without much worry.

    Furthermore, the Braves have had the good fortune to have longevity. Consider an average 1999 lineup, which featured Javy Lopez and then Eddie Perez, Randall Simon and Brian R. Hunter (who was an original Braves minor leaguer), Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko and Andruw Jones as regular position players. That’s 5 of the 8 starting positions taken by people who came up in the Braves farm system. The rotation had Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood, and Odalis Perez. The bullpen had John Rocker and Kevin McGlinchy in it. That’s 13 of the 25 positions taken up by guys who came up in the Braves farm system or made their major league debuts as Braves (in Smoltz’s case). And today’s team? Perez, LaRoche, Giles, Chipper, Langerhans, Andruw, Orr, Betemit, Colon, Foster, Gryboski (who made his debut with Atlanta), Ramirez, Smoltz, and Davies (who I’m imagining will get enough Innings because of Thomson’s injury). That’s 4 position players (I wish it could be 5…), 3 starters, 3 relievers, and 4 bench players, for a total of 14. Outside of perhaps Minnesota, you would have a very difficult time finding a team with more players who made their debuts with their present team than Atlanta, especially one which is any good.

  19. Kevin, that was exactly what I was trying to get at. For a team as successful as the Braves have been for so long, we employ an awful lot of homegrown talent. And I don’t think you can say that for any other successful teams (Twins, although they haven’t done but for a couple of years now). Can’t wait for the next draft installment Mac.

  20. The reason the Braves draft from the Atlanta area, and the South in general is because they have more access to the kids in the Atlanta area, can talk to their coaches, and watch these kids more, and the warm weather states produce more prospects because they get to play more ball.

    Also, they may not all be in Atlanta anymore, but Atlanta has one of the top numbers of players currently in the Majors who were originally signed or drafted by Atlanta. Meaning they can spot talent, and develop players. They just might not be able to get the best out of all of them, as a number of them didn’t produce until they left Atlanta. Jason Schmidt anyone?

  21. Also, they may not all be in Atlanta anymore, but Atlanta has one of the top numbers of players currently in the Majors who were originally signed or drafted by Atlanta.

    Is that factually true? Someone recently ran a list of players by their original club, but I can’t seem to find it. For what its worth, it seems to me that those ex-Braves are not significantly more numerous than ex-any other team; instead its an image problem: as a fan of the Braves, I recognize Jason Schmidt as a product of the Braves system, but I am unlikely to remember that Randy Johnson came up as an Expo or Curt Schilling went from the Red Sox to the Orioles as a minor league prospect.

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