MLB Draft: the Funny Thing about Acquiring High School Hitters
One does not have to be a baseball expert to understand that you have to be prepared to exercise a good deal of patience after drafting a position player out of high school.
No matter what level of pitching those players may have faced during their prep years, there is still a vast difference between the best high school hurler and the No. 4 starter on even a AAA team.
As a Royals' fan, patience is hard to come by, especially when your best hope for an everyday impact bat is last year's high school draft pick. In Mike Moustakas, the Royals drafted what was considered the premier high school power bat in the country.
They followed up their 2007 pick by picking Eric Hosmer in the 2008 draft. Who, coincidentally, is the premier high school power bat in the country this year.
So, as Moustakas struggles with a .225 batting average in his first full season of A ball, the Royals fan in me looks for affirmation from other high school draftees of the past. It seemed logicial to assume that many of these "high school bats" would struggle in their first exposure to the rigors of everyday full season ball.
What I learned both reassured and troubled me.
To begin with, there were 17 high school hitters drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft and none of them are higher than A ball. Some have struggled, some are experiencing great success (Moustakas' high school teammate, Matt Dominquez is hitting .333 average, .423 OBS, .467 slugging) and, in the case of Josh Vitters, some have battled injuries.
Certainly, the jury is still out on each and every hitter from this draft as it is for the 2006 crop as well. Ten high school sluggers went in the first round that year and just one has made the jump to AA so far.
Now, however, is where it gets intriguing. Three of the eight high schoolers picked in the first round of the 2005 draft have already made the majors: Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin and Jay Bruce.
Only Upton, who hit .263/.343/.413, struggled in his first full professional season. Maybin hit a robust .303/.385/.458 and Bruce an equally solid .291/.355/.516. That makes the Royal and Cub fans among us a little edge as Moustakas and Vitters struggle.
The 2004 first round crop of high school sluggers has not been quite as successful, with only two of eight players reaching the majors. Those two and their A ball season debut numbers are: Billy Butler (.348/.419/.636) and Blake DeWitt (.283/.333/.428). With Butler back down in AAA for some remedial work, the 2004 crop is looking a little weak, but even that year has time to prove itself.
By anyone's measure of baseball prospect development, the players drafted in 2002 and 2003 should have at least tasted the majors by now. There were twenty high school bats drafted in the first round of those two drafts and, I have to admit, I was surprised to find that 14 of them have already made the major leagues. Most of those players had very good A ball debuts:
- 2002 FIRST ROUND PICKS
- B.J. Upton—.302/.394/.445—made the majors in 2004
- Jeremy Hermida—.284/.387/.393—majors in 2005
- James Loney—.276/.337/.400—majors in 2006
- Jeff Francouer—.281/.325/.445—majors in 2005
- 2003 FIRST ROUND PICKS
- Delmon Young—.320/.386/.536—majors in 2006
- Ian Stewart—.319/.398/.594—majors in 2007
- Lastings Milledge—.337/.399/.579—majors in 2006
- Daric Barton—.313/.445/.511—majors in 2007
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia—.273/.348/.437—majors in 2007
Three guys from these two drafts had sub par A ball debuts and turned into, or are turning into, everyday major leaguers:
- Prince Fielder—.241/.320/.384—posted a .935 OPS the next season
- Brandon Wood—.251/.322/.404—hit 51 doubles and 42 home runs the next year
- Adam Jones—.267/.314/.404—never hit less than .300 in the minors after that
Of the remaining eight players in our research category that either have not made the majors (like Chris Lubanski, Eric Duncan and Matt Moses) or have just gotten short looks (such as Scott Moore and Denard Spann), only two had good A ball debuts. Eric Duncan hit .260/.351/.479 in A ball and Serigo Santos hit .287/.368/.408: good, not great seasons.
To summarize the first round high school hitters from the 2002 and 2003 drafts:
- Twelve have established themselves as major league players (be it everyday or quality reserves) and only three of that group had sub par A ball debuts.
- The remaining eight are either fringe major leaguers or have yet to play in the majors. Six of those eight had average or worse A ball seasons and not a single one posted an OPS over .800 in their debut in full season ball.
In the end, I was surprised to see such a high percentage of high schoolers making the majors, but I was equally surprised to see so few of them struggle in the early portions of their careers. Certainly it appears that patience does indeed pay off when you draft a high school hitter with a high pick.
Still, it also appears that early career struggles cannot simply be written off as part of the "being patient process".
For Royals' fans, it makes us a little leary of how much we are counting on Mike Moustakas to develop in the future. Perhaps he will go the way of Prince Fielder and Brandon Wood, terrorizing high A ball next year and accelerating his climb to the majors.
The odds of that, however, would seem to make that a little less likely than I had originally believed when I started researching this column.
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