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Though I can look out my window and see snow in my backyard in suburban Chicago, it warms my heart to know that the baseball season is about to begin. The college baseball season, that is, which kicks off Friday.

The first weekend of play features two matchups between teams ranked in Baseball America's preseason Top 25. No. 9 Stanford (featuring three first-team All-Americans in righthander Mark Appel, first baseman Brian Ragira and outfielder Austin Wilson) visits No. 18 Rice (led by a talent pitching staff fronted by juniors Austin Kubitza and John Simms, sophomore Jordan Stephens and freshman Kevin McCanna). No. 13 Mississippi (with a pair of potential first-round righthanders in Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers) plays host to No. 14 Texas Christian (loaded with talented sophomores such as first baseman Kevin Cron, lefty Brandon Finnegan and outfielder/righty Jerrick Suiter and standout freshman such as lefty Alex Young and righties Mitchell Traver and Riley Ferrell).

Two other matchups caught my eye. Unranked Minnesota has a pair of prominent draft prospects in lefties Tom Windle and D.J. Snelten, so they could pull an upset series win at No. 12 UCLA. And who's responsible for scheduling Coppin State (1-53 last season) to visit defending national champion and No. 24 Arizona? That's not a worthwhile series for either team, though I assume Coppin State will cash a nice check in return for getting blown out three times.

    Have you ever looked into whether teams have been getting better at drafting over the years? There are a lot of variables, I realize, such as an increasing percentage of foreign players and draftees falling due to bonus demands. But if the best players are increasingly coming from the upper rounds and are therefore less randomly distributed throughout the draft, that would be an indication that clubs are doing better at projecting talent. Have better scouting, increased attention to data and learning from past mistakes resulted in the draft drifting more toward a science and less of an oft-described "crapshoot"?

    Bill Springer
    Fairfax, Va.

The problem with trying to provide definitive analysis to this question is that the players drafted in the last decade or so are still in the midst of their careers. But that didn't stop me from using to put the following two charts together:

50-WAR Players Signed From Draft
Years Total Picks 1-30 Picks 31-100 Picks 101+
1965-69 9 22% 33% 44%
1970-74 13 46% 31% 23%
1975-79 12 17% 33% 50%
1980-84 9 33% 44% 22%
1985-89 20 55% 10% 35%
1990-94 8 63% 25% 13%
1995-99 6 50% 17% 33%
2000-04 1 100% 0% 0%
2005-09 0
Total 78 42% 26% 32%

20-49.9 WAR Players Signed From Draft
Years Total Picks 1-30 Picks 31-100 Picks 101+
1965-69 38 34% 16% 50%
1970-74 26 35% 27% 38%
1975-79 33 45% 15% 39%
1980-84 36 19% 36% 44%
1985-89 36 33% 25% 42%
1990-94 36 39% 6% 56%
1995-99 41 39% 22% 39%
2000-04 25 44% 28% 28%
2005-09 6 100% 0% 0%
Total 277 37% 21% 42%

Teams have gotten better at taking the best players in earlier rounds, though that improvement comes when compared to the first 15-20 years of the draft. There wasn't a marked difference between where the best players went in the 1985-89 drafts and the 1995-99 drafts, and it's far too early to draw any conclusions from the drafts of the 2000s.

I agree with Bill that it makes sense to believe that clubs would have gotten more efficient at scouting and interpreting data. I'd also add that teams do a better job of gauging signability and have an increased willingness to pay for top talent, so the best players are less likely to slide in the draft for financial reasons. But one thing does remain constant: It's extremely difficult to project what high school and college players will be 5-10 years down the road.

    After receiving my copy of the 2013 Prospect Handbook last week, I must call "conspiracy" on one particular aspect! In the personal Top 50 Prospects lists turned in by J.J. Cooper, Will Lingo, John Manuel and yourself, all four of you happened to rank the Orioles' Kevin Gausman and the Royals' Kyle Zimmer consecutively. While I understand how it can be tough to differentiate between the two righthanders—after all, they were taken back to back in the 2012 draft and have very limited pro experience—it didn't help as far as making my own distinction. Apparently, even you fine folks at Baseball America have similar issues! Do you think ranking them together is simply hedging your four respective bets? And because Gausman and Zimmer will inevitably be linked for years, can you compare them a little more in depth against each other?

    Jason Catania
    New York

I purposely listed Gausman and Zimmer back to back (at Nos. 23 and 24) on my personal Top 50 for precisely the reason Jason outlined: They're hard to separate. But until he mentioned it, I hadn't realized that the other editors had done the same.

The top two college pitchers drafted in 2012, Gausman went fourth overall and Zimmer went fifth. They were born eight months apart in 1991 (Gausman is older) and have similar height (6-foot-4 for Gausman, 6-foot-3 for Zimmer), though Zimmer is 30 pounds heavier (215 vs. 185).

Both have lively mid-90s fastballs and can reach 98-99 mph. Zimmer's curveball is a plus-plus pitch at times and is superior to Gausman's breaking ball, an average slider that showed improvement in instructional league. Gausman has the better changeup, a true plus pitch, while Zimmer's is more average to solid. Both are quality athletes who should have above-average control and at least solid command. Both have the potential to be frontline rotation options in the majors, possibly No. 1 starters, and should arrive in the big leagues in early 2014.

It's hard to find negatives on either. With Gausman, it's his lack of an quality breaking ball, though some scouts believe he'll develop one. With Zimmer, it's the fact that his stuff fluctuated last spring at San Francisco and that he required minor surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. I went with Gausman in the Handbook, though I'll admit I preferred Zimmer on draft day.

    Is Royals righthander Kyle Zimmer's BA Grade of 70/Low in the Prospect Handbook a typo? That seems overly optimistic considering he had elbow surgery in the fall. With that rating he would be one of the top five prospects in baseball.

    John Alcorn
    Glenshaw, Pa.

Indeed, that is a mistake. That grade belongs to Wil Myers, who was our Royals No. 1 prospect before getting traded to the Rays, and it didn't get changed when we moved players around. Zimmer should be a 65/Medium, which puts him among the game's 30 best prospects rather than the top five. (Incidentally, we'll reveal our 2013 Top 100 Prospects list on Feb. 19.)

One other player has the wrong BA Grade in the Handbook. Righthander Robinson Yambati, our Royals No. 28 prospect, should be a 45/High rather than 50/Extreme, though those two grades are equivalent.

« Feb. 4 Ask BA