Opening Day Assignments Raise Concerns For Druw Jones, Elijah Green


Image credit: Druw Jones (Photo by David Durochik/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: The career and median BWAR numbers have been updated, although no conclusions were altered.

Less than two years after they were drafted, 2022 first-round outfielders Druw Jones and Elijah Green will have to buck a lot of history if they are going to be big league regulars.

That may seem like a rash and premature statement, but studying this for the past 20 years has made it clear: where teams decide to assign players provides plenty of useful information about their long-term prognosis.

Both Jones and Green began their second full seasons in pro ball at Low-A, which is a flashing red light for long-term MLB success. While there are examples of high school first rounders who went from Low-A in their second full season to big league success, those examples are very few and far between.

Brandon Nimmo, the only first-round prep hitter ever taken from Wyoming, Aaron Hicks and Randal Grichuk all managed to overcome slow starts to carve out solid or better MLB careers.

But more often, when a top 10 pick like Josh Vitters (third pick in 2007), Donovan Tate (third pick in 2009), Bubba Starling (fifth pick, 2011) or Alex Jackson (sixth pick in 2014) gets sent to Low-A to begin their second full season, it’s an early warning sign that their hitting ability hasn’t lived up to pre-draft expectations.

Of the 140 high school position players who signed who were drafted in the top 30 picks between 2000 and 2019, 48 of them (34.3%) were sent to Low-A (or held back in extended spring) to start their second full pro season.

Considering it’s more than one in three prep first-round picks, it doesn’t seem all that unusual. The more common assignment is being sent to High-A, with 75 (53.6%) doing that. The standouts are those who were sent to Double-A. Only 17 (12.1%) were deemed that advanced.

It’s just one data point, and it’s one that doesn’t make any allowances for injuries, different development paces or anything else. But if you have just this one piece of information, it offers a very clear snapshot of a prospect’s long-term potential. The outcomes of those players are dramatically different depending on where they are sent.

LevelPlayersAvg WARMedian WAR< -0.1 Career WARDidn’t Reach Majors

Players sent to Double-A are ticketed for stardom. Players who begin at High-A are a much more mixed bag. There are plenty of stars, a solid number of solid big leaguers and a number of players who never reach the majors.

But for first-round prep hitters who begin their second full pro season in Low-A, they are more likely to finish with a sub 0.0 career WAR or never reach the majors than they are to have a significant MLB career.

The 17 who started in Double-A two years after they were drafted included Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, B.J. Upton and Bobby Witt Jr. 

Every one of those 17 made the majors. The least productive of the group were still big leaguers with lengthy careers. Sergio Santos eventually converted to pitching and pitched as a reliever, while Delmon Young finished second in Rookie of the Year voting as a 21-year-old, but was out of the majors by the time he was 30. Them, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus are the worst performers from a group filled with perennial all-stars. 

Among the High-A group, there are a number of stars. Carlos Correa, Christian Yelich, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Byron Buxton, Corey Seager, Kyle Tucker and Francisco Lindor all were players who were on the standard development track when their second full pro season began.

But there also are plenty of these players who go on to have up-and-down MLB careers or didn’t make it. Of the 75 players who started at High-A, 13 have posted 15+ bWAR for their career. Four had 10-15 bWAR, 30 had 0.0-9.9 bWAR. That left 30 who either didn’t post a 0.0 WAR or didn’t reach the majors.

When you get to the group sent to Low-A, the track record becomes much more dire. The long-term success stories are Nimmo, Hicks and Grichuk. Those are the three of 48 who have 10+ career bWAR. Delino DeShields Jr. had a few solid seasons after being a Rule 5 pick. Tyler Stephenson has had a solid career so far and is mid-career. Alex Kirilloff and Will Benson are early in their pro careers and could reach that level.

Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe looks set to become a success story as well, but that one comes with a caveat. As a 2019 draftee, Volpe didn’t get to play in 2020 because of the cancellation of the MiLB season because of the coronavirus pandemic. That may have played a role in him beginning the 2021 season at Low-A.

Of the 48 sent to Low-A, 20 who have not reached the majors and another 14 have posted negative career WAR.

It’s too early to make any career comparisons for prep first-round position players taken since 2020, but here is a look at where those players were sent to begin their second full pro season. Much like the 2019 draft class, the 2020 class data could be affected by the lost 2020 covid season, which meant that players didn’t make their pro debut until 2021.

Robert Hassell20208HiA
Zac Veen20209HiA
Austin Hendrick202012LoA
Ed Howard202016HiA
Nick Yorke202017HiA
Pete Crow-Armstrong202019LoA
Jordan Walker202021AA
Carson Tucker202023LoA
Tyler Soderstrom202026HiA
Marcelo Mayer20214HiA
Jordan Lawlar20216AA
Benny Montgomery20218HiA
Brady House202111LoA
Harry Ford202112HiA
Khalil Watson202116HiA
Colson Montgomery202122HiA
Max Muncy202125HiA
Jackson Merrill202127HiA
Carson Williams202128HiA
Jay Allen202130HiA
Jackson Holliday20221AAA
Druw Jones20222LoA
Termarr Johnson20224HiA
Elijah Green20225LoA
Jett Williams202214AA
Justin Crawford202217HiA
Cole Young202221AA
Xavier Isaac202229HiA

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