Top 25 College Programs In MLB Draft From 2012-2019
The 2012 draft was the first to feature bonus pools and capped spending on draft picks. In the 10 drafts subject to the bonus pool format, demand for college players has risen sharply.
A full 32% more college players were drafted and signed in the top five rounds of the past three drafts (109) than the first three drafts of the bonus pool era (82).
To get a handle on which programs had met MLB teams' demand for college talent, we dove into the numbers.
We looked to answer a few questions to determine which programs had provided the most value through the draft.
- Which college programs have produced the most draft picks since 2012?
- Which schools have produced the most high bonus draft picks since 2012?
- Which schools have produced the most top five round picks since 2012?
- Which schools' draftees have the best major league production by players drafted during the bonus pool era?
To do this I needed to set parameters for this exercise. First, I determined that the sample would start in 2012, due to the dawn of the aforementioned bonus pool era. Second, I chose the 2019 MLB Draft as an endpoint. This allows us to miss the shortened drafts of 2020 and 2021, while also providing a two-year cushion for the final college class in the sample to gain professional experience.
Next, we will only include players who signed. All drafted players who returned to campus and signed in the following draft were counted once.
We now need to identify our data points. Earlier we identified four questions we sought to answer.
They are: Which college programs have produced the most draft picks since 2012, the most high bonus draft picks since 2012, the most top five round picks since 2012 and the best major league production by players drafted during the bonus pool era?
Three of these we can answer in a straightforward way by totaling up all draft picks, bonuses and top five round picks per school between 2012-2019. We scored this by applying a highest to lowest score for each school's rankings with a particular category. With over 600 schools with a player drafted and nearly 10,000 players drafted during this window it provided a fairly large sample.
The final question of how to weigh and calculate the major league production of players from each program proved to be less straightforward. We needed a way to value overall production between hitters and pitchers on a fairly equal scale. It made the most sense to use Baseball-Reference’s WAR metric to measure the total major league impact per school. We once again ranked each school by this category and applied a score.
One point of clarification. Programs with a negative total WAR ranked higher than schools with no major league players. The logic behind this is simple: if a school produces major league players, even if they are below-average, it is still better than producing none.
To finalize our measure of a program’s ability to produce lots of good draft talent and impact major league players we totaled up all of our scores and ranked schools based on their total score.
My plan is to revisit these each season at the dawn of the college season and see how the WAR of this group and the addition of the 2020 class alters the rankings.
Measurement: total number of signed draftees, bonuses, total of top-five round picks, total of WAR via Baseball Reference
With the highest overall bonus total and a strong group of MLB regulars in Walker Buehler, Bryan Reynolds, Dansby Swanson and Mike Yastrzemski, Vanderbilt has an embarrassment of riches. This should only get stronger in the coming years with the additions of recent draftees such as Austin Martin and Jack Leiter.
A steady flow of top-notch talent has developed into a bounty of former Gators making an impact in MLB. Names like Harrison Bader, Pete Alonso, Jonathan India and Mike Zunino are all former Florida players to star in the major leagues. Florida is neck-and-neck with Vanderbilt at the top of the rankings.
LSU is the WAR leader on the list. Former Tigers have accounted for 73.9 WAR since 2012, nearly 40% more than the No. 2 school on this list. The combination of Alex Bregman, Aaron Nola and Kevin Gausman has done the heavy lifting, with more than 67 WAR since 2012.
Players signed: 49 (20 in top five rounds)
Bonuses: $30,570,100 | Top: Brendan McKay ($7,005,000 - 2017)
Total WAR: 18.9 WAR | Top: Chad Green 8
The 2013 and 2016 Louisville draft classes account for a good portion of the former Cardinal production in the majors. While late-round picks like Chad Green and Adam Engel are the standouts from the 2013 class, the 2016 class is heavily buoyed by second-rounder Will Smith of the Dodgers.
While top bonus signee Mark Appel has yet to provide any value in the major leagues, the Cardinal has produced a strong contingent of major leaguers since 2012. Tommy Edman, Cal Quantrill and Stephen Piscotty lead the way.
Tied for the third most top-five round signees with Louisville and Virginia, the Aggies alumni boasts the likes of the Red Sox's Michael Wacha, the Reds' Tyler Naquin and the Blue Jays' Ross Stripling. The addition of Asa Lacy next year should give A&M’s ranking a boost.
In five years time it would not be outrageous to see Oregon State as the overall WAR leader among programs. With current major leaguers like Michael Conforto, Matthew Boyd, Nick Madrigal, and Drew Rasmussen, and future big leaguers like Adley Rutschman and Steven Kwan, the Beavers could make a sizable jump in 2023.
A loaded 2013 draft class provides the Bulldogs a strong foundation of productive major leaguers between the Brewers' Hunter Renfroe, the White Sox's Kendall Graveman, and the Mariners' Adam Frazier. Additionally, Brandon Woodruff has been one of the best starters in the major leagues over the past few seasons.
Despite 10 former Cavaliers taking home bonuses north of $1,000,000, the Dodgers' Chris Taylor has provided the most value by a former Cavalier in the big leagues. Few schools produce more Day One talent year in and year out than UVA.
While the Tar Heels boast numerous current major league players, the former Diamond Heels are heavily carried by the Diamondbacks' Zac Gallen and the Marlins' Jacob Stallings. The program ranks eighth overall in total picks since 2012 and is tied for 14th in players selected in the top five rounds.
2021 Baseball America MLB All-Star Teams
Major league first-team and second-team all-star teams, as selected by Baseball America.
Despite seven players that have made their major league debuts, only Jon Gray has been a productive major leaguer among the former Sooners. The 2018 class had nine signings but the top two players from that class are Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and the Texas Rangers' Steele Walker.
While Kris Bryant has supplied a majority of the wins above replacement for former Toreros, the mid-major has provided draft talent at the rate of a power five program, with as many top-five round picks as Mississippi State and as many players drafted as Texas A&M.
The 2014 NC State class arguably has the best two-player combination of any school on the list with Carlos Rodon and the Dodgers' Trea Turner both going in the first round that year. The dynamic duo has combined for the entirety of NC State’s WAR total.
Between the years of 2012-2014, Fullerton produced a three-win or better player in each draft. The quartet of the Athletics Matt Chapman, the Angels' Michael Lorenzen and the Marlins' Dylan Floro have all been strong performers at the big league level.
Despite producing a heavy flow of players to professional ball, only the Cubs' Trevor Williams has been productive at the major league level. That’s all about to change as the 2020 class boasts top overall pick Spencer Torkelson as well as a handful of other top-five round picks.
The Seminoles program has long been a strong pipeline for the professional ranks and with 42 players drafted between 2012-2019 that holds true. However, a lack of impact major leaguers is apparent as their WAR leader from this period is the retired Devon Travis.
With the 2018 class still finding its way to the big leagues a majority of the major league production has come from the left arm of the Twins' Taylor Rogers. The 2018 class has a shot to produce a few MLB players with 13 players signing from that class, though it lacks impact stars.
The TCU rank has a chance to really jump in coming years as Nick Lodolo and Brandon Williamson make their big league debuts. A combo of top 100 arms from the same 2019 draft class is a distinction no other program on this list can currently boast.
Uplifted by a strong group of young pitchers just making their name at the big league level, former alumni like the Yankees' Jordan Montgomery and Clarke Schmidt and the Pirates' Wil Crowe, the Gamecocks have a trio of potential big league rotation stalwarts for years to come.
Aaron Judge’s production looms larger in this ranking, which I suppose is fitting. However, outside of the production provided by Judge, the Bulldogs have the 25th highest total of players signed between 2012 and 2019.
Another program with a high number of draft signees and top-five round picks, but little production at the major league level to show for it. That could change as the Red Sox's Bobby Dalbec, the Pirates' Jared Oliva and the Mets' Tylor Megill are all fairly early in their big league careers.
Oregon dropped its baseball program in 1981, and did not field a varsity team again until 2009. Considering that factor, Oregon has ramped up over the last 15 years and built a national contender, with former players Ryon Healy, David Peterson and Cole Irvin leading the former Ducks at the major league level. With strong pools of talent in recent classes, Oregon could be a mover in the coming years.
While Cal Poly has produced a high number of picks overall, Haniger has carried the program’s reputation in pro ball.
The Tigers boast strong showings in both total picks and top-five round picks, but have a lack of impactful major leaguers at the moment.
Georgia’s 18.1 WAR is tied for 15th among schools with at least one draftee. Unfortunately, it lacks the same volume of total players drafted and top-five rounders that would be needed to sneak into the Top 25.
The Cowboys have a great deal of players picked, ranking 13th among all schools, and a signature alumnus in Andrew Heaney. Their lack of top-five round picks detracted from their overall grade and placed them outside the Top 25.
While Casey Mize is its signature pick among the eight classes studied, Auburn had a consistent steady supply of six-figure bonus draftees. The lack of top-five round picks and sheer volume overall knocked it outside the top 25.
The Blue Devils lack the volume of other schools but have a high rate of their picks going inside the top five rounds and have a signature major league star in Marcus Stroman.
Takeways, Stats, and miscellaneous observations.
UCLA Has A WAR Problem
Between 2012 and 2019 UCLA has 49 drafted players, tied for fifth most with Stanford and Louisville.
Total WAR of those 49 players since 2012
Stanford: 27.2 WAR
Louisville: 18.9 WAR
UCLA: -0.9 WAR
It’s not much better when you focus on just the top five rounds. For example South Carolina, TCU, UCLA and UNC are tied with 11 top-five rounders since 2012.
Total WAR of those Top-Five Round Picks.
South Carolina: 8.5
Among all schools that rank among the top 100 overall in our draft metric only four have a worse cumulative WAR rank than UCLA’s 409 points.
Timing did not help UCLA’s case as the sample starts a year too late to reap the benefits of both Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer’s WAR. Due to its severe hit in WAR, UCLA is outside the Top 25 rankings—at least for now, as a talented group of 12 players from the last two draft classes will join our rankings, including Garrett Mitchell and Matt McLain.
California Represented Well
The only state with more than two schools ranked within the Top 25 is California, with six. It’s impressive depth as the programs inside the Top 25 span a variety of conferences, and arguably the most historic baseball program in the state (UCLA) is outside the Top 25. California had four programs in the 26-50 range with UCLA, St. Mary’s, Long Beach State and UC Irvine all ranking highly. Those 10 teams mean California schools made up 20% of our top 50.
Vanderbilt and Florida Dominate
The two SEC powerhouses sit atop the rankings, only separated by a point with a sizable gap between two and three. Each school ranks within the top five in all four categories, the only two schools to do so. To go a step further, the signing bonuses for both Vanderbilt and Florida were greater than 30% more than the No. 3 team: Louisville. At this time, we have a true 1A and 1B situation.
Surprise! The SEC Is The Top Conference
With the top three teams in the rankings and six of the top 10 the SEC owns the top of the list. Overall, there are eight SEC teams among the Top 25 with both Georgia and Auburn just outside the Top 25. The next closest conferences are the ACC and Pac-12, each with five teams in the Top 25, followed by the Big West with three, the Big 12 with two and the Mountain West and West Coast each with one school. Only the SEC, ACC, and PAC-12 had a school rank within the top 10.