MLB Draft 2020: Do More Future Stars Come from High School or College?
Are more future MLB stars drafted out of high school or college?
It's a simple question without a simple answer, and that is precisely why the annual MLB draft is such a crapshoot.
The 2020 draft is set to take place next Wednesday and Thursday, and this year's crop of amateur talent skews college-heavy. Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, Vanderbilt center fielder Austin Martin, Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy, Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock and New Mexico State infielder Nick Gonzales headline the 2020 class.
Using examples from recent history, the present and the future to build a comprehensive sample size, we set out to determine whether teams have a better chance of finding a future star by drafting a high school player or a college player.
Also included in the data is a look at how international prospects factor into the equation.
Over the next six slides, we'll lay out the data from the past, present and future for some of the top hitters and pitchers in an effort to clearly answer the high school versus college question.
Let's get to it.
A full breakdown of all the data from this article can be found on this spreadsheet.
To get a snapshot of recent MLB history, we first compiled a list of every hitter who has posted at least one season of 5.0 WAR or more over the last decade, according to FanGraphs.
The resulting list featured 121 different players who broke down as follows:
- JUCO/College: 55 (45.5 percent)
- High School: 42 (34.7 percent)
- International: 24 (19.8 percent)
To better highlight the bona fide superstars from that group, we then took a closer look at all the players with multiple 5.0 WAR seasons:
- JUCO/College: 28—Ryan Braun, Alex Bregman, Kris Bryant, Lorenzo Cain, Matt Carpenter, Matt Chapman, Chris Davis, Josh Donaldson, Brian Dozier, Brett Gardner, Paul Goldschmidt, Alex Gordon, Yasmani Grandal, Curtis Granderson, Aaron Judge, Ian Kinsler, Evan Longoria, Jonathan Lucroy, Russell Martin, J.D. Martinez, Buster Posey, Anthony Rendon, Kyle Seager, Andrelton Simmons, George Springer, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Turner, Ben Zobrist
- High School: 21—Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado, Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Seager, Giancarlo Stanton, Trevor Story, Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Joey Votto, Jayson Werth, David Wright, Christian Yelich
- International: 9—Jose Altuve, Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Gomez, Miguel Montero, Jose Ramirez
With Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Francisco Lindor, the high school group appears to hold a quality advantage, even if the college group has them beat in terms of quantity.
Next up was the pitching side of recent history and a list of every pitcher who has posted at least one season of 5.0 WAR or more over the last decade.
The resulting group featured 47 different players who broke down as follows:
- JUCO/College: 25 (53.2%)
- High School: 16 (34.0%)
- International: 6 (12.8%)
To focus on the true ace-caliber pitchers, here's a look at the guys with multiple 5.0 WAR seasons from each group:
- JUCO/College: 10—Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Corey Kluber, Cliff Lee, David Price, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver
- High School: 5—Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, CC Sabathia, Adam Wainwright
- International: 3—Carlos Carrasco, Felix Hernandez, Luis Severino
The college group features three No. 1 overall picks (Cole, Price, Strasburg) and 11 Cy Young Award wins, while the high school crop features arguably the two best pitchers of the last 20 years in Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay.
Turning our attention to the current MLB landscape, we next compiled a list of every hitter who was projected for at least 3.0 WAR in 2020, according to the Depth Charts projections at FanGraphs.
With the season delayed, those projections are out the window, but they still effectively narrowed the field for the sake of this exercise.
The 59 hitters projected for 3.0 WAR or higher in 2020 broke down as follows:
- JUCO/College: 22 (37.3%)
- High School: 20 (33.9%)
- International: 17 (28.8%)
For a more detailed picture, here's a look at the top 10 players from each group and their projected 2020 WAR:
- JUCO/College: Alex Bregman (6.7), Matt Chapman (5.6), Anthony Rendon (5.3), Yasmani Grandal (5.0), Aaron Judge (4.9), Josh Donaldson (4.8), George Springer (4.8), Marcus Semien (4.7), Kris Bryant (4.5), Bryce Harper (4.1)
- High School: Mike Trout (9.1), Cody Bellinger (6.5), Francisco Lindor (5.8), Christian Yelich (5.6), Mookie Betts (5.4), Nolan Arenado (5.1), Carlos Correa (4.7), J.T. Realmuto (4.4), Freddie Freeman (4.3), Manny Machado (4.3)
- International: Juan Soto (5.3), Jose Ramirez (5.3), Ronald Acuna Jr. (4.7), Xander Bogaerts (4.5), Jose Altuve (4.4), Ozzie Albies (4.4), Rafael Devers (4.4), Ketel Marte (4.2), Gleyber Torres (4.2), Yoan Moncada (4.1)
Once again, the college group has the advantage in quantity, but the high school group has six of the 12 players projected for 5.0 WAR or higher.
Now it's on to the state of pitching and all the hurlers projected for at least 3.0 WAR during the upcoming season, once again via the Depth Charts projections at FanGraphs.
There were 43 pitchers who fit the bill and broke down as follows:
- JUCO/College: 21 (48.8%)
- High School: 15 (34.9%)
- International: 7 (16.3%)
Which category did the game's best pitchers fall into?
Here's a look at the 10 best from each group:
- JUCO/College: Gerrit Cole (6.6), Jacob deGrom (6.1), Max Scherzer (5.6), Stephen Strasburg (5.3), Shane Bieber (4.8), Justin Verlander (4.6), Trevor Bauer (4.4), Walker Buehler (4.4), Aaron Nola (4.2), Patrick Corbin (4.2)
- High School: Jack Flaherty (4.5), Clayton Kershaw (4.3), Lucas Giolito (4.2), Blake Snell (4.2), Charlie Morton (4.1), Zack Wheeler (3.5), Tyler Glasnow (3.5), Mike Soroka (3.5), Max Fried (3.4), Jose Berrios (3.4)
- International: German Marquez (4.1), Yu Darvish (4.0), Luis Castillo (3.9), Carlos Carrasco (3.2), Eduardo Rodriguez (3.1), Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.1), Frankie Montas (3.0), Masahiro Tanaka (2.7), Jose Quintana (2.7), Dinelson Lamet (2.7)
The college guys have the clear advantage in this one, with the six-highest projected WAR totals all coming from pitchers who honed their skills on campus.
With that said, look out for guys like Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito, Mike Soroka and Jose Berrios from the high school crop as the next generation of aces.
To complete the puzzle, we finished by looking at the demographics of the Baseball America Top 100 prospect list to provide a glimpse into the future.
Here's how things broke down among the 61 position players on that list:
- JUCO/College: 14 (23.0%)
- High School: 28 (45.9%)
- International: 19 (31.1%)
To further highlight the elite-level talent, here is a look at how prospects in the top 25 were distributed among each group:
- JUCO/College: 1—Adley Rutschman, BAL (5)
- High School: 8—Jo Adell (3), Gavin Lux (4), Dylan Carlson (10), Jarred Kelenic (11), Carter Kieboom (15), CJ Abrams (22), Brendan Rodgers (23), Bobby Witt Jr. (24)
- International: 5—Wander Franco (1), Luis Robert (2), Julio Rodriguez (8), Cristian Pache (12), Marco Luciano (19)
The college group held the advantage among hitters and pitchers in the past and present breakdowns, but there is a dramatic shift when we turn our focus to the future.
Part of that has to do with the fact that younger high school prospects offer more projection. Appearing on a top-100 prospect list is far from a guarantee of future MLB success.
Still, there's a considerable shift in the narrative when we turn our attention to 2021 and beyond, at least on the position player side of things.
What about the pitchers...?
Finally, we wrap up the data-collecting with a look at the pitching prospects who appeared on this year's Baseball America Top 100 prospect list.
Here's how things broke down among the 39 elite pitching prospects:
- JUCO/College: 16 (41.0%)
- High School: 15 (38.5%)
- International: 8 (20.5%)
There were 11 pitchers among the top 25 prospects, and here's how they broke down:
- JUCO/College: 4—Nate Pearson (7), Casey Mize (13), Brendan McKay (14), A.J. Puk (21)
- High School: 5—MacKenzie Gore (6), Jesus Luzardo (9), Matt Manning (17), Dustin May (20), Forrest Whitley (25)
- International: 2—Sixto Sanchez (16), Luis Patino (18)
Flame-thrower Nate Pearson was drafted out of Central Florida Community College in 2017. Jesus Luzardo and Dustin May were both third-round picks in 2016.
In other words, top pitching prospects don't always have elite pedigrees at the onset of their pro careers. It's all about whether they can take those next steps on the developmental path.
So what did we learn?
Simply put, college players have been the safer bet to turn into stars over the past decade. That narrative could shift in the years to come, though, if the current prospect landscape is any indication.
Past WAR totals and 2020 Depth Charts projections courtesy of FanGraphs.