Friday, May 20, 2011

When to draft college guys and when HS players?

I was looking at the recent Rays drafts and I started to figure out kind of a tendency. I’m sure the Rays mostly go with the best player available approach (maybe taking signability a bit into account), but maybe they are weighing college guys and the higher security that comes with them more in a particular spot while weighing the more developable players more in another spot.

First I looked at the, by the Rays drafted, players on the 40 man roster and the round as well as the level (COL, HS, CC) these players were drafted out of. I didn’t take ex-players (CC, Rocco Baldelli, Johnny Gomes) into account as they were developed in the minor leagues before the Friedman-regime took over. Looking at the table below we see that only 4 players out of college (not counting CC) are on the 40-man roster. 3 of them have been taken within the first 4 picks of the respective drafts. Only Andy Sonnanstine made it to the majors while being drafted later than the first round. Of the 8 HS draftees on the roster only one of them was drafted in the first round. This tells me that the Rays are way better in finding later round gems out of high school than out of college. They even found above average MLB starters in rounds 3 (Davis), 4 (Hellickson) and 16 (Shields). And don’t forget about Alex Cobb (4th round) and top prospect Matt Moore (8th round, 2007). The Rays are really good in finding top pitchers later on as they are exceptionally well in developing them.

Looking at the drafts from 2006-2009 which are the first 4 drafts of the Friedman-regime we can see a similar picture (I didn’t take 2010 into account as it’s way too early to tell for these prospects). While the first rounders out of college (namely Evan Longoria and David Price) have been perfect selections, the Rays couldn’t find any top prospect out of college later than in the first round (Tyler Bortnick seems to be the best later COL pick). High college picks like Josh Butler (2nd round, 2006), Will Kline (2nd, 2007), David Newmann (4th, 2007), Jake Jefferies (3rd, 2008) and Mike Sheridan (5th, 2008) have not developed as hoped. At least the 2010 draft looks a bit better with Derek Dietrich and Jake Thompson. Meanwhile, the HS selections from 2006-2009 brought lots of potential future major leaguers to the system (Moore, Morrison, Barnese, Cobb, Beckham, Bailey) while only Tim Beckham was a first round pick.

So … what does this tell me for the upcoming draft? The Rays like it to draft nearly finished college guys whom they like very much early on (who doesn’t?). And as this draft is pretty deep also in the college ranks, I think they’ll take one or two nearly finished college guys and/or a guy they like very much while not being that polished in the first round. The names that come to my mind are Kolten Wong, C.J. Cron and Tyler Anderson as very far developed quality picks and Mike Mahtook (higher upside but with some holes in his swing), Alex Meyer (exceptional upside, control problems) and Anthony Meo (#2 starter potential, lacks a bit polish) as picks the Rays could love cause of their upside. They all are legitimate candidates for the selections 24, 31 and 32. After that I do think that the Rays will only go the college route if they think that the respective player has ways to go in his development, but therefore a high ceiling. Names popping to my head are for example Jack Armstrong out of Vanderbilt, Ryan Carpenter whom the Rays drafted 3 years ago. Other than that I think they’ll go with lots of prep picks after the first round. There will be lots of excellent HS players available in the first supplemental round for example.

So … I see the Rays taking 2 college players in the first round if they think the talent level is as deep as everybody says. They won’t draft a college player in the first round if the upside is not at least that of an average major leaguer. Later on I see them going more the HS (and CC) route. They’ll mix in some college picks (some to save money and some they particularly like) here and then, but the amount of prep talent they can select will simply be way too enticing for them. Look at the success rate they have when developing HS kids, especially pitchers. Of the 7 supplemental round and 2 2nd round picks I see them at least going with 5-6 prep players.

Based on John Sickels mock draft (1st rnd., 1st supp. rnd.) and the players available at his draft for every Rays pick) I like the following selections for the Rays. What do you think?

  • 1st, 24: Kolten Wong (2B; COL; above average MLB potential, simply a player)
  • 1st, 31: C.J. Cron (1B; COL; he fills the only big hole in the Rays MiL-system: power AND a great approach at the plate)
  • 1st, 32: Anthony Meo (RHP; COL; 3 college guys in a row! Meo has a very high ceiling but is not as polished as Tyler Anderson for example; The Rays have to go for high ceiling!)
  • 1st supp, 38: Brandon Nimmo (OF; HS; typical Rays pick. Great tools and swing. Prep kid out of Pacific NW)
  • 1st supp, 41: Trevor Story (SS; HS; John Sickels made this pick, stating that it’s a typical Rays pick. I agree!)
  • 1st supp, 42: Michael Kelly (RHP; HS; Could be the next top pitching prospect; Exceptional potential)
  • 1st supp, 52: Ryan Carpenter (RHP; COL; A project out of college; Rays drafted him before; Good potential)
  • 1st supp, 56: Charlie Tilson (CF; HS; Another typical Rays pick; Has some power and great speed)
  • 1st supp, 59: Jack Armstrong (RHP; COL; Was hurt at beginning of season; Now in relief; Rays could see him as a starter with great FB and #3 potential)
  • 1st supp, 60: Cody Kukuk (LHP; HS; Just one of the nearly endless amount of high ceiling prep pitching prospects; workhorse build)


  1. These are interesting questions. It seems like it might be easier to tell with college guys but then again the upside might not be there. Then again, sometimes upside is overrated because the potential is never achieved in the first place. If you think you have someone of Justin Upton's talent, you better take him as a high school player and early in the first round. Looking back on things, should the same arguments be made for his brother BJ however?

    If you think you got Buster Posey coming out of college, it certainly makes sense to take him. In 2008, it seemed like it was a better (safer) pick to take Gordon Beckham over Tim Beckham. After the year Gordon had last year, maybe Tim will still turn out to be the better pick. Baseball might be the hardest sport of all to predict accuarately how somone will turn out years down the road. There was even some disagreement on Tim Linceum when he came out of college. Obviously, there can be no disagreement now.

  2. If the draft ended up like the one you listed at the bottom, I would be overjoyed! two above average college bats who could be fast risers in the system, high ceiling college pitchers(Meo and Armstrong), few high ceiling HS bats in Nimmon and Tilson, One of my favorite HS pitchers in Kelly, and other players(who I dont really know much about). This would be one of my best case scenarios coming out of the draft. I do think they go high school with the first pick like they have done recently unless they fall in love with someone like Wong who may not be available at 31.

  3. When do they start letting the guys in EXT spring training know where they are going

  4. How can you say the Rays like to draft nearly finished college guys early on? In the last three years, Dietrich is the only college player they’ve taken in the first 75 picks (8 picks total). The evidence that could support this (Niemann, Longoria, Price) were all top 5 overall selections, far different from picking at the end of the first round. If you look at the Rays’ first selections for the past 10 drafts, you get 5 college players (Brazelton, Townsend, Niemann, Longoria, and Price) and 5 high school players (Upton, Young, Beckham, Washington, and Sale) with the last three being high school players. Looking at the current roster to make this conclusion will skew the results towards older drafts.

    I agree that they will emphasize high school and junior college guys later, that seems to be their MO, as is an early emphasis on bats, with 14 out of 18 top-5 round picks in the last three years being hitters. I know with the pitching in the majors improving, good hitters have become more valuable, and hitters also have a higher success rate, but it still scares me to be drafting so few pitchers in those early rounds, no matter how good you are at developing them.

  5. Also, as a PS to my comment above, I see them going high school hitter heavy after the first round (Fisher and Nimmo are the only HS bats I have between 20 and 30 on my personal draft board), because I see a lot of those guys who could go in the supplemental and second round, such as Smith, Tilson, Delmonico, Harrison, Flamion, etc.

  6. Yes, the sooner we know where the fellas in Extended Spring Training are going maybe some of us parents can get our plane tickets now.

  7. On XST, still a month to go before short-season ball, and we don't know who we've drafted yet (or who has signed and is ready to play). The Rays have the XST guys slotted for where they expect them to begin, but in the next month people get hurt, and they don't know who will be available from draft signings, so it isn't written in stone yet.

    Just as an FYI, opening games:

    Hudson Valley: June 17th
    Princeton: June 21st
    GCL: June 20th

    As far as plane tickets, hope your son is going to HV, I hear Bluefield/Princeton International Airport is a real zoo! :)

  8. @Anon: That's right, the only "finished" college players the Rays took early on were Price, Longo and Niemann and they were taken in the top 5. But, as I pointed out in my post, this draft is much deeper and there could be some nearly "finished" college players available later in the first round. Over the last years there were nearly zero such prospects available later on and that is why the Rays selected Washington, Sale and O'Conner. This year especially Kolten Wong, Tyler Anderson, C.J. Cron and also Michael Levy are advanced college players with lots of polish in their game. And a certain combination of them will be available at 24 and 31/32.

    My point was that the Rays don't get much out of their selected college players later than in round 1. Only Derek Dietrich (2nd round, 2010) and Tyler Bortnick (16th round, 2009) seem to pan out. That's why I expect them to take one or two of the above college players (or of the high ceiling players with question marks listed in the post) in the 1st round cause they won't be available later on. High ceiling prep players, though, will be available in the 1s round and further on.

    Oh ... and I've the Rays taking 5 pitchers with their next 6 picks (75 Flamion (HS/OF), 89 Wiper (HS/RHP), 119 Maronde (COL/LHP), 149 Radke (HS/RHP), 179 D. Davis (HS/RHP), 209 M. Rodriguez (COL/RHP). This would then make it 10 pitchers (5 COL, 5 HS) and 6 bats (2 COL, 4 HS) in the first 6 rounds.

  9. BurGi, I still don't think you can look at their drafts from '06-'09 and conclude that they like polished college players early, and that they have been picking high school players recently because those nearly finished college guys aren't available at the bottom of the first round. Last year, Vitek, Wimmers, Brown, and Cox were all drafted after the Rays took Sale, and Kvasnicka, Brentz, and Wojo were taken after O’Connor. There are always polished college players who go later in the first and the supplemental first. Plus, we are working with very small sample sizes, so it is very possible that they simply took BPA and that was a HS hitter the last three years, as it was a college player the two years before (limiting it to the Friedman regime).

    As far as not getting much out of college players drafted after round one (a point which I agree with, and I also think it is still too early to call Dietrich and Bortnick successes, as neither is even in AA yet), I don't think that necessarily means that they will want to go college early because polished guys may not be available later on, which, as noted earlier, I don’t think is true. But especially in this draft, there will be good college prospects (not project guys, either) available in the 1S and 2nd rounds, such as Mark Pope, Alex Dickerson, etc.

    Basically, I think you are making two points about college players, that first round college guys have done well and 2-5 round guys haven’t. Both are true historically, but are unrelated and have little predictive power because of the small sample size, and because the assumption that we can predict what they will do is based on trends, which, while useful, can change dramatically, as evidenced by the strong shift towards hitters in recent years. And if you want to use trends, you have ton include the Dietrich and Thompson picks last year as well. Given the unique depth of this draft, it is very hard to predict if the Rays will continue a trend or change their approach to exploit a market inefficiency.

    I would like to note, though, that I do like Anderson, Wong and Cron in the first round. I'm just saying that we can't claim the Rays are likely to choose these guys based on picks like Evan Longoria and Jake Jefferies.