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Is The Draft Really A Crapshoot? Not Exactly

All across the major leagues, there are stars who were drafted much lower than they should have been in hindsight.

Mike Trout wasn’t selected until the 25th pick in the 2009 draft. Mookie Betts wasn’t taken until the 172nd pick in the 2011 draft. Albert Pujols famously lasted until the 402nd overall pick in the 1999 draft.

Since the inaugural draft in 1965, there have been hundreds of mid-to-late round picks, and even undrafted players, who have gone on to more prolific careers than those selected before them.

This repeated outcome, naturally, has led to many characterizations of the draft as a “crapshoot.” To be fair, luck certainly plays an element in career outcomes, primarily with regard to injuries.

When looking at the full picture, however, that characterization doesn’t quite hold.

In advance of the 2022 draft, Baseball America examined the total Wins Above Replacement, as measured by Baseball-Reference, of every player selected at each of the top 200 picks from 1965-2020. To avoid double-counting players who were drafted multiple times, only players who signed are counted in each pick’s career WAR total.

Two notable themes emerged.

First, teams historically have an excellent track record of correctly identifying the top three players in each draft and selecting them in order. Teams also have a strong track record of correctly identifying and selecting the top seven players in a draft within the top 10 picks.

Outside of the top 10 picks, however, outcomes become extremely varied. For example, players picked No. 22 overall have a higher career WAR than those picked Nos. 11-20. Players picked No. 74 overall have delivered roughly equivalent production as those drafted No. 29. Players drafted with the 109th pick have exceeded the careers of those drafted at the Nos. 21 and 24 picks, selections traditionally made in the first round. Players drafted No. 200 overall have yielded a higher career WAR than more than half of the selections made in front of them.

In the opinion of longtime scouting directors and front office officials, it’s not necessarily that the draft is a crapshoot once you get past the top 10 picks. It’s that after the top tier of talent in a draft class, the margins between the remaining players are often much thinner than perceived.

“Whether it’s three or five or seven just elite, talented kids every year, they’re almost hard not to take or screw up,” one National League scouting director said. “And then after that, the margins are way smaller. Besides the benefit of just picking first of that same kind of group of players, which is a benefit, there probably is no benefit in talent overall (picking) from 10 to 30.”

It is particularly notable how much the players selected at the top of the draft have historically exceeded their peers. Players drafted first overall have produced 1083 career WAR, more than 400 career WAR more than players drafted at any other pick. Players drafted No. 2 (681.2) and No. 3 (630.6) are the only other selections to have accumulated more than 600 career WAR. The only five draft positions to produce at least 500 WAR come in the top six picks.

That isn’t to say there isn’t value outside of the top of each draft. The players selected at each of the top 32 picks have cumulatively produced more than 140 career WAR, as have the players at many additional spots later in the draft.

The differences between players just get smaller and smaller the later the draft moves on. The difference between players taken No. 1 overall and No. 10 overall is more than 600 career WAR, an average of more than 10 WAR per player since the draft began.

The difference between players taken No. 11 overall and No. 30 overall is only 61 career WAR—an average of just over 1 WAR per player since the draft began—with the No. 30 picks actually outperforming the No. 11 picks.

“Honestly, the margins are pretty thin,” another longtime NL scouting director said. “When you look at the very top, there are usually a handful of guys that truly separate themselves and have either real, real standout tools or they’re more complete players and balanced with the tools packages.

“I think once you start getting to pick 10 really all the way through pick 40, it’s a lot of what the teams are looking for, what they value, because each player is flawed in a way and it just depends on what that team feels they can do with the player’s strengths and deficiencies in the development process and kind of what they value.”

Even in that context, teams have generally done a solid job of sorting draft prospects into the tiers they belong in. Based on both average total WAR and average WAR per player, players drafted between Nos. 1-10 have outperformed those drafted between Nos. 11-30, who in turn have outperformed those drafted between Nos. 31-50, and so on.

While individual pick numbers have exceeded the range around them—the No. 185 overall pick, randomly, has been oddly lucrative for teams—clubs generally have been accurate in how they group players in each draft class.

“We always thought that (it’s) the first five or 10 players and then there is a line, and then there is another line probably around like pick 50, and then another line at pick 100 and then it’s all kind of almost the same,” another NL scouting director said. “But we’ve always used the mark of if we can get two of our top 25, which ends up usually being two players taken in the top 50 (picks), that was the goal. (Based on) some of our research and data, if you can get two of your top 25 on your board, that’s a winning ticket.”

MLB Draft Pick Outcomes By bWAR, 1965-2020

Pick Nos.

Average Total WAR

WAR Per Player



















Source: Baseball-Reference

Even with the success of hundreds of mid-to-late round picks in the major leagues, a full accounting shows the draft is far from a crapshoot at the top, and that teams generally get it right.

Outcomes are much less consistent outside the top 10 picks, and there is an argument to be made that the draft is a crapshoot within certain tiers once you get past the top 10. But overall, teams generally at least get right which players belong in which tiers right through the top 200 picks.


Ten More Notable Minor League Top 10 Prospects Rankings

The top 10 Minor League Top 10 Prospects classes ever, as measured by WAR, plus 10 others that just missed the cut.

Pick No.Total WAR*Average WAR*Best Player
1108319.3Alex Rodriguez
2681.212.2Reggie Jackson
3630.611.3Robin Yount
459410.6Barry Larkin
54187.5Dwight Gooden
6599.110.7Barry Bonds
74357.8Frank Thomas
8283.85.1Todd Helton
9281.15.0Kevin Appier
10475.58.5Mark McGwire
11291.95.2Max Scherzer
12304.85.4Nomar Garciaparra
13374.76.7Manny Ramirez
14310.25.5Jason Heyward
15287.15.1Chase Utley
16311.85.6Lance Berkman
173406.1Roy Halladay
18185.83.3Willie Wilson
19389.16.9Roger Clemens
20407.67.3Mike Mussina
21140.72.5Rick Sutcliffe
224277.6Rafael Palmeiro
231903.4Jason Kendall
24113.62.0Rondell White
25244.84.4Mike Trout
26126.72.3Alan Trammell
27123.42.2Vida Blue
28136.92.4Lee Smith
29218.43.9George Brett
30352.96.3Mike Schmidt
31143.82.6Greg Maddux
321512.7Aaron Judge
33651.2Mike Gallego
34147.52.6Mark Gubicza
35155.22.8Johnny Damon
36231.64.1Randy Johnson
37157.12.8Frank Viola
38209.53.7David Wright
39123.92.2Lance Lynn
40100.91.8Kevin Tapani
4196.41.7Fred Lynn
4293.41.7Dennis Leonard
4358.31.0Bob Knepper
44146.42.6Joey Votto
4559.81.1Trevor Story
46181.63.2Scott Rolen
47197.83.5Tom Glavine
48166.73.0Cal Ripken Jr.
49194.93.5Carlos Beltran
50162.62.9Dennis Eckersley
513.10.1Chris Haney
5285.91.5Carl Crawford
53117.32.1Gary Carter
54118.82.1Scott Sanderson
55127.32.3Bert Blyleven
56154.12.8Jimmy Key
571542.8Jon Lester
58201.73.6Tony Gwynn
59104.21.9Nolan Arenado
6048.10.9Lynn McGlothen
6181.61.5Ken Holtzman
6264.51.2Andre Ethier
63159.22.8Eddie Murray
64961.7Brian McCann
6593.91.7Dustin Pedroia
6674.91.3Chase Headley
67212.13.8Rick Reuschel
68111.32.0John Lackey
69107.71.9Tim Salmon
7081.71.5Andrelton Simmons
71121.52.2Ken Caminiti
72182.73.3Ray Lankford
73460.8Sid Fernandez
74218.93.9Graig Nettles
7598.91.8Grady Sizemore
76109.22.0Giancarlo Stanton
775.50.1Alex Wilson
7857.51.0Freddie Freeman
79113.82.0John Olerud
80111.62.0Curtis Granderson
81330.6Jerry Mumphrey
8264.31.1Kyle Seager
8349.80.9Cliff Johnson
8442.90.8Ian Desmond
85132.92.4Denny Neagle
86102.71.8Ozzie Smith
8728.70.5Brandon Lowe
8825.40.5Kirk McCaskill
8963.11.1Justin Morneau
9060.11.1Luis Gonzalez
9149.60.9Jim Beattie
9259.61.1Mike Witt
9340.50.7Paul O'Neill
9467.51.2David Justice
95100.41.8Amos Otis
96176.83.2Rickey Henderson
9764.51.2Dave Goltz
9865.71.2Jack Morris
991011.8Lou Whitaker
10058.11.0Ron Gant
10139.40.7Jonathan Lucroy
10215.90.3Joe Price
10329.60.5Eric Plunk
10496.91.7J.T. Realmuto
10581.21.5Cliff Lee
106141.62.5Tim Raines
10712.80.2Clyde Wright
10814.80.3Ricky Nolasco
109145.32.6Dwight Evans
110104.51.9Jeff Bagwell
11119.20.3Corbin Burnes
11277.21.4Scott Erickson
11365.31.2Yadier Molina
114260.5Jonathan Papelbon
11549.70.9Michael Bourn
11647.50.8Ryan Klesko
11778.11.4Brandon Crawford
11866.71.2Mickey Tettleton
11981.41.5Sal Bando
120140.3Mickey Morandini
12135.50.6John Valentin
12242.90.8Steve Buechele
12320.20.4Steve Sparks
12442.50.8Bill Wegman
125601.1Garret Anderson
12656.41.0Bob Boone
12777.21.4Marty Pattin
12844.60.8Cecil Cooper
12943.10.8Greg Gagne
13031.40.6Derek Norris
13136.90.7Ed Whitson
132129.72.3Devon White
13348.90.9Pat Hentgen
13470.31.3Corey Kluber
135101.61.8Jamie Moyer
13629.60.5Angel Pagan
13729.70.5Joe Crede
138601.1Bill Doran
13946.50.8Lance Johnson
14086.51.5Javier Vazquez
14120.70.4C.J. Wilson
1424.80.1Rhys Hoskins
14330.20.5Gary Disacina
14442.70.8Bob Howry
145-4.2-0.1Josh Hancock
14622.10.4Dave Hollins
14729.40.5Brandon Belt
14847.20.8John Burkett
14949.80.9Michael Young
15014.80.3Daniel Hudson
1518.40.2Mike Marshall
152440.8Mike Boddicker
1539.30.2Todd Pratt
1548.50.2Randy Ready
15549.20.9Brad Penny
15612.10.2Andy McGaffigan
157470.8Tom Gordon
15810.20.2Rheal Cormier
159110.92.0Charlie Hough
16012.80.2Bill Simas
16185.41.5Mike Hampton
16235.80.6Aubrey Huff
16379.71.4Von Hayes
16414.60.3Scott Karl
16531.10.6Brian Moehler
1661132.0Wade Boggs
16782.51.5Willie Randolph
16816.40.3Kevin Kouzmanoff
16999.61.8Jim Edmonds
1703.50.1Bobby Madritsch
171310.6Don Slaught
17281.31.5Mookie Betts
17320.0Scott Olsen
174290.5Marco Estrada
175330.6Storm Davis
17617.40.3Bill Hall
1771.80.0Glenn Abbott
178-1.40.0Ty Blach
17996.81.7Bill Russell
18068.91.2Reggie Sanders
18148.50.9Matt Kemp
18213.30.2Pat Neshek
1835.50.1Richard Bleier
18467.71.2Ben Zobrist
1851292.3Tim Hudson
1869.80.2Trevor Wilson
18726.30.5Erik Bedard
1882.10.0Andrew Bailey
18935.30.6Casey Blake
19028.80.5David Bell
19131.50.6Josh Harrison
19212.10.2Chuck McElroy
1935.50.1Matt Capps
19437.10.7Shane Victorino
19529.10.5Aaron Harang
19614.50.3Tommy Edman
197-3.2-0.1Craig Stimac
19822.40.4Jody Reed
19936.80.7Tim Naehring
200861.5Eric Davis

*Only includes players who signed
Source: Baseball-Reference. All WAR totals are through June 12.

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