A lot has happened since the last Ask BA three weeks ago. The college season is in full swing now, the World Baseball Classic is underway and the 2009 draft order is nearly finalized. We've also released our annual Top 100 Prospects list, which leads us to our first question.
One of these things is not like the others. Strasburg might be the most anticipated pitching prospect of the decade, more than Mark Prior or David Price. Harper might be the most anticipated high school hitting prospect I can remember, more than Alex Rodriguez or Justin Upton. Harvey is a prime candidate to go No. 1 in 2010, but he's not in the class of Strasburg or Harper.
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters and Rays lefty David Price are the clear top two prospects in baseball, and after them, there's little consensus as to who should rank No. 3. If they were eligible—we consider only professional players affiliated with major league organizations for the Top 100—Strasburg would rank No. 3 and Harper would rank No. 4.
Some scouts might take Strasburg over Price, and it's possible to argue that Harper could match Wieters' offense while providing better defense. However, Wieters and Price have established a high level of performance against a much higher level of competition, and I can't put a college junior or a high school sophomore over them at this point. When I did a story asking player-personnel experts how they'd stack up Price vs. Wieters , most believed it's harder to find a catcher than a No. 1 starter. I'll still take Strasburg over Harper, because he'll make a near-immediate impact in the majors and Harper is still 2½ years from pro ball.
I like the top pitcher in the 2008 draft, Orioles lefty Brian Matusz, more than Harvey, and Matusz ranked No. 25 on the Top 100. Harvey would fit more in the 35-45 range, somewhere between pitchers Derek Holland (Rangers, No. 31), Wade Davis (Rays, No. 32), Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals, No. 41) and Tim Alderson (Giants, No. 45).
Through the first 40 drafts (1965-2004), 67.1 percent of the 1,045 first-round picks have played at least one game in the majors.
The best draft for producing first-round big leaguers was 1990, which went 22-for-26. The first eight players selected, starting with Chipper Jones (Braves), reached the majors, and only Ron Walden (Dodgers), Eric Christopherson (Giants), Tom Nevers (Astros) and Don Peters (Athletics) fell short. The worst first round for big leaguers was 1999, which went 14-for-30 and is the only draft to fall short of 50 percent. Outfielder-turned-pitcher Rick Asadoorian (Red Sox) was the only other remaining 1999 first-rounder active last season, and the Dodgers cut him loose in June.
In terms of significant careers (1,000 at-bats, 300 innings or 100 pitching appearances), 42.1 percent of the first-rounders from 1965-2004 have achieved that distinction. Another 15-30 players from those drafts, such as Josh Hamilton, should reach those milestones, which will move the percentage closer to 44 percent.
The 1993 first round did the best job of producing significant big leaguers, going 17-for-28. That draft began with the best No. 1 overall pick ever, Alex Rodriguez (Mariners), and also included Billy Wagner (Astros), Derrek Lee (Padres), Chris Carpenter (Blue Jays), Torii Hunter (Twins) and the unsigned Jason Varitek (Twins).
Scouts thought the 2000 talent pool was disappointing at the time, and they have been proven correct. Just five of the 30 first-rounders have become significant big leaguers, most notably No. 1 overall pick Adrian Gonzalez (Marlins) and Chase Utley (Phillies). Unless two out of Billy Traber (Mets), Sean Burnett (Pirates) and Chris Bootcheck (Angels) reach the necessary milestones, 2000 will go down as the worst first round for significant careers, eclipsing 1975, which went 5-for-24.
Below is a decade-by-decade breakdown:
|Success Rates Of First-Round Picks, 1965-2004|
Jennings got around the NBA rule that players be 19 and one year removed from high school before entering the draft by becoming the first American to forego college to play professionally in Europe. The closest equivalent in baseball would be for an 18-year-old high school junior to become draft-eligible by getting his GED diploma, which is the route Jeremy Bonderman took to becoming a first-round pick of the Athletics in 2001.
A U.S. high schooler couldn't just opt to move to another nation to avoid the draft and enter pro ball early. I suppose he could renounce his U.S. citizenship and become a free agent by becoming a citizen of a nation not subject to the draft, but that's not something that can just happen overnight. Even if it did, the only U.S. high schoolers this decade who were close to established as elite talents by age 16 were Justin Upton and Bryce Harper. For everyone else, it would have been financially worth the wait to continue to develop and enter the draft as a high school senior.