Where Major League Baseball Players Come From In 2019
Two years ago, we sought to answer the fundamental question "Where do big leaguers come from?"
The point of the draft, after all, is to find major leaguers. Over the next three days that's what all 30 teams will endeavor to do, some more successfully than others.
The road to success is difficult. Less than 20 percent of players drafted each year reach the major leagues. Less than three percent, on average, amass the modest total of five career Wins Above Replacement.
But looking at the success stories in the majors, there are clear demographics that fare better than others. Certain trends emerge, and ultimately provide guidance for where teams can expect their future players to come from.
To update the answer to the question "Where do major leaguers come from?", we examined the 40 most frequently-used players at each position this season through May 31 as well as the 150 most frequently-used starting pitchers and sorted where they originated (college, high school or international).
Here are the results, and the lessons they provide for the future.
NOTE: Junior college players are counted under “college”
High School: 13
Star Qualities: The best catchers tend to come from college (Buster Posey, Yasmani Grandal, Jonathan Lucroy) or outside the continental U.S. (Molina, Willson Contreras, Gary Sanchez). The top catchers from U.S. high schools are Realmuto, who was drafted as a shortstop, and Brian McCann, who was drafted in 2002.
A Closer Look: Of the 13 high school draftees playing catcher in the majors, three were drafted from Puerto Rico (Yadier Molina, Martin Maldonado, Christian Vazquez) and four were drafted at other positions (J.T. Realmuto, Tony Wolters, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Carson Kelly). Only six of the 40 primary catchers in MLB played catcher in high school in the continental U.S. Of those, Jeff Mathis is the only first-rounder.
Bottom Line: Sticking to the college or international ranks for catchers is much wiser than drafting a high schooler from anywhere in the 50 states, especially in the first round.
High School: 10
Star Qualities: Lefthanded-hitting high schoolers (Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, Eric Hosmer, Matt Olson) and players who converted from other positions (Josh Bell, Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion) make up most of the top first basemen in the majors today.
A Closer Look: Righthanded-hitting college first basemen were previously a bad bet to become productive major leaguers, but that is slowly changing. Paul Goldschmidt and C.J. Cron began to reverse the trend earlier this decade, and they’ve been joined recently by Rhys Hoskins and Pete Alonso. However, the majority of big league first basemen are still lefthanded hitters, position converts, high school draftees, international signees or some combination of the above.
Bottom Line: Righthanded-hitting college first basemen are having more success than they used to, a trend that bodes well for California’s Andrew Vaughn this year and Arizona State’s Spencer Torkelson in 2020.
High School: 6
Star Qualities: Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano are examples of amateur second baseman who became stars at the position, but they are exceptions. The best second basemen mostly started at other positions, something true of both domestic draftees (Derek Dietrich, Whit Merrifield, DJ LeMahieu) and international signees (Ozzie Albies, Jonathan Schoop, Cesar Hernandez).
A Closer Look: Only nine of the 40 primary second basemen in the majors today played second base as amateurs. Most (25) were drafted or signed as shortstops. All six high school draftees playing second base in the majors were either shortstops or third basemen in high school.
Bottom Line: Major league second basemen mostly play other positions at the start of their professional careers, and there are zero current examples of high school second basemen playing the position in the majors.
High School: 4
Star Qualities: The best major league third basemen are overwhelmingly college draftees, headed by Kris Bryant, Alex Bregman, Anthony Rendon, Matt Chapman and Josh Donaldson. There is a rising tide of international stars at the hot corner, led by Jose Ramirez, Rafael Devers, Eugenio Suarez, Yoan Moncada and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
A Closer Look: Big league third basemen tend to be high draft picks. Of the 24 major league third basemen who came in through the draft, all but four (Matt Carpenter, Brandon Drury, David Bote, Ty France) were selected in the top 10 rounds.
Bottom Line: Amateurs capable of being third basemen in the majors often reveal themselves prominently—even if they are playing a different position at the time—and go early in the draft.
High School: 9
Star Qualities: While most shortstops are international signees, the best tend to be high school draftees (Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Corey Seager, Trevor Story). Quality shortstops can be found in the college ranks as well (Andrelton Simmons, Brandon Crawford, Paul DeJong, Marcus Semien.)
A Closer Look: Shortstop is the only position where international signees outnumber college or high school draftees. The international group encompasses all tiers—established standouts (Xander Bogaerts, Jean Segura), rising young stars (Adalberto Mondesi, Jorge Polanco) and veteran contributors (Freddy Galvis, Jose Iglesias).
Bottom Line: The top major league shortstops are more likely to be signed as teenagers—internationally or out of high school—than drafted out of college.
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High School: 16
Star Qualities: Standout future left fielders can be found in both high school (Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley, Tommy Pham, David Dahl, Joc Pederson) and college (Andrew Benintendi, Ryan Braun, Kyle Schwarber, Alex Gordon). The international crop is rapidly improving with a wave of young stars (Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto, Eloy Jimenez).
A Closer Look: Left field is the only position where high school draftees outnumber college draftees. Most left fielders are position converts, largely from center field (McCutchen, Benintendi) but also catcher (Schwarber, Wil Myers), first base (Jake Bauers), second base (Jeff McNeil), third base (Gordon, Braun) and shortstop (Chris Taylor, Niko Goodrum).
Bottom Line: Talented left fielders can be found anywhere, but they will likely be playing a different position at the time they sign.
High School: 11
Star Qualities: The best center fielders are almost exclusively domestic players (Mike Trout, George Springer, Cain). Starling Marte and Ketel Marte are the best of a middling crop of international center fielders, although Acuna could improve the international group if he moves to center long-term.
A Closer Look: Center field is far and away the position with the most late-round draft picks who are major leaguers. Lorenzo Cain (14th round), Ramon Laureano (16th), Adam Engel (19th), Scott Schebler (26th), Kevin Kiermaier (31st round), Kevin Pillar (32nd) and Jarrod Dyson (50th) highlight the group.
Bottom Line: The best center fielders come out of the draft, and they have a real chance to be late picks as well as early ones.
High School: 12
Star Qualities: Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich are three of the best players in the game and were all drafted out of high school. Notably, all three were drafted as infielders—Betts as a shortstop and Bellinger and Yelich as first basemen.
A Closer Look: Right field is the position where players drafted from junior colleges or small schools are most prevalent. Bryce Harper (a special case, of course), J.D. Martinez, Nick Markakis and Josh Reddick headline the junior college/lower-division college crop, while Aaron Judge, Mitch Haniger, Adam Eaton and Hunter Pence were all drafted out of mid-major college programs.
Bottom Line: When it comes to looking at smaller colleges for un-mined talent, right field is the place to look.
High School: 46
Star Qualities: The top seven pitchers with the most Wins Above Replacement since the start of the 2018 season, as measured by FanGraphs, are all college draftees, Of the top 15 overall, only three were drafted out of high school (Blake Snell, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler) and three were signed internationally (German Marquez, Carlos Carrasco, Luis Severino).
A Closer Look: Half of starting pitchers in MLB came from college, tied with third base for the highest percentage of college draftees of any position. It’s not just depth starters either. The best starting pitchers in the game (Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole) were largely drafted from four-year schools.
Bottom Line: Despite common tropes about college pitchers being "safe” and teenaged prep or international arms being "high upside,” the best starting pitchers in the majors today are overwhelmingly college draftees.