MLB Draft: What Can You Expect from the First and Second Rounds?

Theo GeromeCorrespondent IIIJune 16, 2011

DENVER, CO - JUNE 12: Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Colorado Rockies throws the ball to second base against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 12, 2011 at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. The Dodgers won the game 10-8. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

I’ve still been thinking a lot about the draft even though it was last week, so I decided to take one more quick look at it in a different way.

I looked at the first and second round drafts from 1990 through 2005 (I needed players with some history in the majors) and looked at each year’s best players and when they were picked.

More specifically, I went through Baseball Reference’s draft database, sorted each first round and second round by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and marked down the top three players for the first round and top player for the second round.

All of this was to see what picks in the first round usually yield the best results.

Via request, I also noted how many first-round picks made the majors, how many had positive career values and how many have reached certain career WAR marks. For the WAR numbers, I mostly stuck to round numbers to approximate various levels of success (five as a sort of journeyman/bit part player, 10 for a bit player with some success and 20 for a player that had at least some all-star years).

I’m not positive if these exact numbers are right, but they should at least provide an estimate. Also note that, as I move forward, the numbers will start to skew as more and more active players are included.

1990: No. 1 overall pick Chipper Jones is the top first-round player (81.1 WAR and counting). No. 20 Mike Mussina is a close second, only 6.5 WAR behind him.

After that, it’s a long way down to the third best player, fourth overall pick Alex Fernandez (who, I must admit, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of). Rondell White is a close fourth place, picked at 24. From the second round, No. 4 pick Bob Wickman leads an unimpressive group.

First-Round Picks in the Majors: 30/40
Positive Career WAR: 16 of the 30 players have a positive career WAR
5+ WAR: 11 of the 16 were above 5 WAR for their career
10+ WAR: Nine of those 11 were above 10 career WAR (with Steve Karsay just missing at 9.9)
20+ WAR: Four of those Nine were above 20 career WAR

1991: Manny Ramirez went at No. 13 overall this year, and he towers over all of the other first round picks, with nearly 67 WAR. Only Shawn Green (No. 16, 29.4 WAR) and Cliff Floyd (No. 14, 27.3) managed to get more than 20 WAR. The 1991 second round was even weaker than 1990’s, led by 10th pick Kevin Stocker.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 29/44
Positive Career WAR: 18
5+ WAR: 12
10+ WAR: Seven
20+ WAR: Three

1992 The ’92 draft is headlined by a trio of players still going at it. Derek Jeter (70 WAR) went sixth, Johnny Damon (50.1 WAR) went 35th, and Jason Kendall (37.7 WAR) went 23rd.

After that, the draft consists of various players who managed stretches of relevance, including Charles Johnson (No. 28) and Phil Nevin (No. 1, who’s actually seventh best, career-wise).

The second round sees its first marked successes between No. 17 Todd Helton (picked by the Padres but didn’t sign this year, so he really doesn’t count) and Jason Giambi (No. 20 who did sign, and does count and has 53.2 WAR).

After that, Jon Lieber is the only other player with more than 20 WAR (21.4); the rest of the round was career minor leaguers, relief pitchers, bench players, and such who combined to be worth minus-.8 Wins.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 23/38
Positive Career WAR: 13
5+ WAR: 11
10+ WAR: Eight (with Jeffrey Hammonds falling short at 9.9)
20+ WAR: Four (and Shannon Stewart missed by a still miniscule .2 WAR)

1993: The 1993 draft was strong all around. The No.  overall pick, Alex Rodriguez, is easily the best player to come out of Round 1, with over 100 Wins.

After that, there are several players spread out through the 20s: Derrek Lee (No. 14, 29.9 WAR) and Billy Wagner (No. 12, 29.3 WAR) round out the top three, while Torii Hunter (No. 20, 28 WAR) and Chris Carpenter (No. 15, 27.2 WAR) are close enough to catch up to either one.

Jason Varitek would be next if he had signed with the Twins when he was taken at No. 21. Meanwhile, No. 4 pick Scott Rolen dominates the second round, with 65.6 WAR.* Jeff Suppan second of the second-rounders, and he only has 13.5, so it’s quite the drop off.

*Taking a page from Joe Posnanski and his love of side note asterisks: expect to see a lot about Rolen, especially about the Hall of Fame. He’s one of my favorite players.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 28/42
Positive Career WAR: 19
5+ WAR: 10
10+ WAR: Eight
20+ WAR: Six

1994: This draft seems to pale slightly in comparison to the previous year. Twelfth overall Nomar Garciaparra leads all first-round picks with 42.6 WAR, followed both literally and figuratively by No. 13 Paul Konerko (24.1 WAR) and No. 14 Jason Varitek (23.2 WAR).

Troy Glaus (picked third in the second round by the Padres) would lead the way had he signed; instead, that honor goes to Mike Darr.*

*I really thought we couldn’t get a much less notable career than Kevin Stocker. I can’t see anyone else topping them in an irrelevent-off, should we have one for this article (no offense to either of these two should they happen to read this).

First Round Picks in the Majors: 27/34
Positive Career WAR: 15
5+ WAR: Eight
10+ WAR: Four (and Dustin Hermanson and Todd Walker represent our first duo of “just missed” 9.9 WAR players)
20+ WAR: Three

1995 Todd Helton, No. 8 overall, still leads all 1995 first-rounders with 59.2 WAR. But pick No. 17 is Roy Halladay, and he already has 57.2 WAR, so I’d wager that the order changes in the near future.

After that, it’s a mishmash of fairly successful players, including (in order) No. 1 pick Darin Erstad (27.8 Wins), No. 4 pick Kerry Wood (25.2 Wins), No. 3 pick Jose Cruz (22 Wins) and No. 9 Geoff Jenkins (19.3 Wins).

Carlos Beltran, picked 19th in the second round, has run away with the second-round title (59 Wins and counting, a 32.9 Win advantage over first pick of the second round Jarrod Washburn).

First Round Picks in the Majors: 19/30
Positive Career WAR: 12
5+ WAR: Eight
10+ WAR: Seven
20+ WAR: Five

1996 This is arguably the weakest draft year covered here. The resurgent Eric Chavez, picked 10th, leads all players from Round 1 with 36.4 WAR. After that, it’s ninth overall Mark Kotsay (17.9 WAR) and recent retiree and 22nd pick Gil Meche (15.5 WAR).

Meanwhile, the second round is represented by eleventh pick Jimmy Rollins, at 31.2 WAR, but after that, only No. 5 Milton Bradley (18.1 WAR) and No. 2 Jacques Jones (9.7 WAR) have positive career values.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 23/35
Positive Career WAR: 14
5+ WAR: 10
10+ WAR: Six
20+ WAR: One

1997 Another strong draft. Lance Berkman, picked No. 16, leads all first-rounders with 48.5 WAR. J.D. Drew would be second if he had signed with the Phillies as the second pick of the draft; instead, Troy Glaus gets runner-up honors, with 34.5 WAR as the third overall pick.

Vernon Wells gets the third highest career value, even with his atrocious 2011 to date; the #5 pick has 25.4 WAR so far, even though he’s been worth minus-0.8 this season. Jon Garland (No. 10, 23 WAR), Adam Kennedy (No. 20, 20.6), and Jayson Werth (No. 22, 19.7 WAR) are all right behind him, poised to take over second runner-up should he continue to falter. While Philadelphia might remember this draft for their failure to sign Drew, they also got lucky due to another failed signing.

Chase Utley would lead the second-round picks, but the Dodgers failed to sign him after drafting him 24th in the round. Second pick of the round Randy Wolf (21.5 WAR) instead leads the group.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 31/52
Positive Career WAR: 14
5+ WAR: Nine
10+ WAR: Seven
20+ WAR: Six

1998 Yet another solid draft. The group is currently led by J.D. Drew, picked No. 5 by the Cardinals. He has amassed 47 WAR. However, like in 1995, another pick looks poised to pass him.

CC Sabathia, pick No. 20, is still roughly in his prime (and, at 30, is five years younger) but sits only 1.9 WAR back, at 45.1. After that, Aaron Rowand (picked 35th) is next, with 19.7 WAR. Pat Burrell (No. 1) would have passed him if not for his atrocious play down in Tampa (18.4 WAR).

Meanwhile, Adam Dunn (seventh pick of Round 2) has 26.5 WAR, giving him the lead for his round. Brandon Inge is the only other major pick from this round (18.4 WAR, pick No. 14)

First Round Picks in the Majors: 30/43
Positive Career WAR: 19
5+ WAR: 16
10+ WAR: 10
20+ WAR: Two

1999 Barry Zito leads the first round, which I find kind of surprising for some reason. He was picked ninth and has 31.8 WAR to date. Josh Beckett, picked second, is next in line, with 26 WAR (although, again, I’d guess that he takes the title from Zito soon enough).

Brian Roberts is next for now, with 21.7 WAR. He was the second-to-last pick of the round, at No. 50. Ben Sheets (No. 10) is next, at 20.8 WAR, but the player that I think is most likely to break into the top three is No. 1 overall Josh Hamilton (currently at 17.5 WAR).

Meanwhile, the second round is topped by first pick Carl Crawford (27.2 WAR), while teammate John Lackey (No. 17 of the round) is the only other player even somewhat close. He’s at 25.2 WAR.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 23/51
Positive Career WAR: 15
5+ WAR: Eight
10+ WAR: Seven
20+ WAR: Four

2000: Chase Utley makes his second appearance on this list, and this time he actually signed. The Phillies picked him at No. 15, and he’s gone to put up 39.5 WAR so far. He leads No. 1 overall Adrian Gonzalez, who was actually picked by the Marlins (before being traded to the Rangers, and then the Padres).

Gonzalez has 25.1 WAR. After that, it’s Braves pick Adam Wainwright (who, of course, was later traded to the Cardinals). Wainwright went 29th and has posted 20.5 WAR so far.

Really, Round 1 of 2000 was shallow. After those three, there’s Kelly Johnson (No. 38) with 14.4 WAR and then the already-retired Rocco Baldelli. The second round, meanwhile, is headlined by...Chad Qualls (27th pick of the round). At least it’s not Mike Darr.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 23/40
Positive Career WAR: 10
5+ WAR: Five
10+ WAR: Four
20+ WAR: Three

2001: Like 2000, the first round of 2001 is incredibly top-heavy. First pick Joe Mauer leads the way with 38.8 WAR, followed by fifth pick Mark Teixeira with 38.1 WAR and 38th pick David Wright with 31.9 WAR.

2000 and 2001 are the first two drafts I’ve gotten to where all three of the top players still look like promising Hall of Fame candidates. After them, it’s famed burn-out Mark Prior (No. 2) with 13.7 WAR and still-playing Gavin Floyd (No. 4), with 9.9 WAR (on a side note, I’m not sure if Baseball Reference’s draft pages update with the rest of the site, as Floyd’s player page has him at 10.4 WAR).

Meanwhile, Dan Haren is the top of the second round, with 29.5 WAR to date. He was the 28th pick of the round. J.J. Hardy (No. 12) is next, with 11.1 WAR currently.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 26/44
Positive Career WAR: 19
5+ WAR: Nine
10+ WAR: Five
20+ WAR: Three

2002: In contrast with the last two drafts, 2002’s first round was incredibly deep. This is also where I started to notice just how many players listed were still active and in their prime, thus skewing the career WAR numbers.

Sixth pick Zack Greinke currently has a slim lead over the next closest players, 25th pick Matt Cain and 17th pick Cole Hamels. Greinke has 23.1 WAR, to Cain’s 22.0 and Hamels’ 20.9.

Right after them on the list are Nick Swisher (No. 16) and Prince Fielder (No. 7), with 17.7 and 17.5 WAR, respectively. I have a good feeling that those two will at least make it to 20 career WAR.

This round is also home to other varying degrees of success, like Scott Kazmir (No. 15), Jeremy Guthrie (No. 22), B.J. Upton (No. 2), Joe Blanton (No. 24), Denard Span (No. 20) and Joe Saunders (No. 12).

The second round is pretty good in its own right, with Jon Lester (No. 16 in the round, 20.0 WAR) leading Brian McCann (No. 23, 19.0 WAR) and Joey Votto (No. 3, 16.3 WAR). Good luck figuring out which one finishes first out of that group.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 27/41
Positive Career WAR: 18
5+ WAR: 13 (plus Jeff Francoeur, who currently sits at 4.9)
10+ WAR: 10
20+ WAR: Three (so far)

2003: After how strong the last few years have been, 2003’s first round is a bit of a let down. No. 9 pick John Danks has the most WAR so far, with 17.6. Nick Markakis, one of my favorite players, is in a virtual tie with 17.5 WAR. He was picked seventh.

Aaron Hill closes out the top three, with 16.8 WAR to date from the 13th pick. This round has also produced promising players Chad Billingsley (No. 24, 14.2 WAR), Rickie Weeks (No. 2, 10.2 WAR), Adam Jones (No. 37, 8.6 WAR), and Carlos Quentin (No. 29, 8.5 WAR).

Meanwhile, Scott Baker, picked 21st in the second round, holds a slim lead over 25th pick Andre Ethier, 12.1 WAR to 11.8 WAR.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 27/37
Positive Career WAR: 19
5+ WAR: 11
10+ WAR: Five
20+ WAR: Zero (again, so far)

2004: The 2004 first round is headlined by a pair of early AL Cy Young favorites for this year. Jered Weaver, No. 12, and Justin Verlander, No. 2, have both already accumulated over 20 WAR (23.9 and 21.5, respectively).

Stephen Drew, pick No. 15, is next with 10.7 WAR, followed by Huston Street, pick No. 40 with 10.4 WAR. However, this is where I began to suspect I was getting too close to present day.

All of these players were picked out of college, meaning they should make the majors first. However, further down, there are several much younger players (drafted out of high school) who may work their way into the top of this list.

Billy Butler (No. 14) is the only other player from 2004 with more than 5 WAR, and Gio Gonzalez (No. 38) is getting close. Phil Hughes (No. 23) and Neil Walker (No. 11) are also in this group.

Meanwhile, Dustin Pedroia (No. 24) leads a surprisingly impressive second round, with 20.1 WAR. After him are Yovani Gallardo (No. 5, 11.2 WAR), Hunter Pence (No. 23, 9.6 WAR), and Kurt Suzuki (No. 26, 9.1 WAR).

First Round Picks in the Majors: 32/41
Positive Career WAR: 20
5+ WAR: Five

10+ WAR: Four
20+ WAR: Two

2005: This was the final draft that I looked at. I decided to cut it off here because this first round has the same problems the 2004 first round did but on a much larger scale. Troy Tulowitzki (No. 7, 21.1 WAR), Ryan Zimmerman (No. 4, 17.9 WAR) and Ryan Braun (No. 5, 17.6 WAR) are the current leaders.

All three were drafted out of college, as were fellow first-rounders Matt Garza (No. 25, 10.1 WAR), Jacoby Ellsbury (No. 23, 9.5 WAR), Clay Buchholz (No. 42, 8.5 WAR), Ricky Romero (No. 6, 7.7 WAR), Alex Gordon (No. 2, 5.8 WAR), Cliff Pennington (No. 21, 4.4 WAR), Jed Lowrie (No. 45, 4.0 WAR) and Mike Pelfrey (No. 9, 3.1 WAR), all of whom have had varying levels of success.

Players picked out of high school are well represented as well, with Andrew McCutchen (No. 11, 10.9 WAR), Justin Upton (No. 1, 9.3 WAR), Colby Rasmus (No. 28, 7.1 WAR), Jay Bruce (No. 12, 5.9 WAR) and Cameron Maybin (No. 10, 3.1 WAR) leading the charge.

The oldest of these players are 27, right in their prime, so for however many have 5 or 10 WAR already, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number multiply in the future. I don’t know if this means that teams are getting better at drafting, or if this year is an irregularity or what.

But this is about as recent as I can get where the players have at least something of a track record in the majors. Meanwhile, Yunel Escobar (No. 27, 14.9 WAR) leads the second round.

First Round Picks in the Majors: 35/48
Positive Career WAR: 22
5+ WAR: 12
10+ WAR: Five
20+ WAR: One

First Round Picks that Yielded a Top Three Player:

#1 |||||
#2 ||
#3 |
#4 ||
#5 ||||
#6 ||
#7 ||
#8 |
#9 |||
#10 |
#12 |||
#13 |||
#14 |||
#15 ||
#16 ||
#17 ||
#20 ||
#22 |
#23 |
#25 |
#29 |
#35 ||
#38 |
#50 |

Second Round: #1, #2, #4 (x2), #7, #10, #11, #16, #18, #19, #20, #24, #25, #27 (x2), #28

So what does this all tell us? Obviously, the first pick is far and away the best, the first 10 to 20 picks are still very good, and the rest of the first round can still yield success.

The second round may also have some good players left, but for the most part, there will only be one or two really good players left in a best case scenario. I didn’t get to study Rounds 3 and on intensively, but I would imagine they have results similar to Round 2: one or two good players per year, with a generally lower WAR representing the round’s best player.

I also couldn’t find a way to study this comprehensively, but I noticed many of the first round picks were drafted earlier in later rounds. This is obvious in cases like Todd Helton and Troy Glaus, where they showed up in both Round 2 and 1.

However, some other first-round picks were drafted earlier in later rounds; many deferred signing to enter college. For example, J.D. Drew was drafted in the 20th round out of high school in 1994 but went to college instead.

Or, for another example, Barry Zito went in the 59th round in 1996 and the third round in 1998 before going in the first round in 1999 after returning to college for another year. This seemed to turn up frequently when I searched individual’s player pages, but I’m not sure how to go about studying this occurrence.

Additionally, teams may be getting better at drafting. Just from glancing at the numbers, the amount of 5, 10 and 20 WAR players didn’t seem to take too drastic a hit, even as most of the players being studied were still playing.

The quality of the draft can vary year to year. But usually, from the first round, half of the picks will wind up with positive career value, and around half will end up being at least starters for several years.

And lastly (again, just rough estimates from glancing at the numbers), somewhere from around two to six players a year will wind up major successes.