Teams looking for immediate results
College players arrive in bigs quicker than high schoolers
It would seem that Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft is becoming a bit more like those of the National Football League and the National Basketball Association after all. The need for immediate gratification, at least in terms of what teams are looking for in the first round, has become evident.
While baseball's Draft will likely never produce first-rounders out of high school like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant -- remember David Clyde? -- or college players who can step right in and be stars -- Bob Horner was the exception, not the rule -- it does appear to be moving toward a situation in which acquiring help for the parent club as quickly as possible is the latest trend. There have been 357 first-round selections in this decade, 192 of whom have come from the college ranks.
Of those collegians selected in the first round, 92 had seen action in the big leagues as of May 1, as opposed to 47 of the prep players selected. There hasn't been a high school player chosen in the first round in each of the past two years who has reached the Major Leagues, while seven of the 58 collegians chosen over that time have gained big league experience. Nine former first-round selections from this decade made their Major League debuts this season.
Collegians chosen in the first round in 2000 averaged 2.8 years to reach the Major Leagues. By the the class of 2003 -- 15 of the 20 collegians selected in that first round have played in the Major Leagues -- the average drops to 1.8 years. Of the 29 collegians selected in the first round in 2005, 15 have reached the big leagues and it took them an average of 1.4 years to do it. The seven collegiate pitchers taken in the first round that year averaged 1.1 years in the Minor Leagues, with two of them reaching the big leagues during the same season in which they were drafted. Luke Hochevar was drafted in the first round by the Dodgers that year, but didn't sign and was selected with the top pick in the 2006 Draft by Kansas City.
But even averages are deceiving. The 2.8 years it took collegians to reach the Major Leagues in 2000 was skewed because Phil Dumatrait, whom the Red Sox took with the 22nd pick, didn't reach the big leagues until last year. Throw him out and that average drops to 2.2 years.
And if you're only considering how the top picks have fared, well then high school position players have dominated. Five of the eight top picks this decade were high school position players with four of them -- Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Mauer, Delmon Young and Justin Upton -- enjoying a great deal of success. The other three top picks were collegiate pitchers -- Bryan Bullington, Hochevar and David Price.
Bullington (2002) has six Major League games on his resume and is currently struggling at Triple-A Indianapolis. Hochevar is off to a moderately successful start with Kansas City while Price has yet to throw a professional pitch because of an injury sustained in Spring Training.
"I think statistically, it all comes in waves," said Kurt Kemp, Atlanta's director of player development. "I think we're in an era now where more college kids probably get taken in the first round. I think it's because of the success we've seen with certain college guys who can help more immediately vs. having to wait for four years. While I don't know if the statistics bear that out, I think you'll see more of it.
"College vs. high school, though, I think you take the best player that fits your system's needs. Everyone has a different idea and design. The last two years we selected high school players because they were the best players available, but three years ago we took [collegian] Joey Devine in the first round. It depends on the given year and who's there when your number comes up."
The number that has come up the most often this decade belongs to the college pitcher. There has been an average of 15.2 college pitchers selected in the first round since 2000 as opposed to an average of 9.4 high school pitchers selected. There has been an average of 11.5 high school position players selected in the first round each year while only an average of 9.9 college position players have been selected.
It would certainly seem as if the collegiate pitcher is reaching the Major Leagues quicker. Fourteen of the 21 collegians to reach the big leagues in the past three years after being selected in the first round were pitchers, including the past seven. Four of those 14 saw action just weeks after they were drafted, including Washington's Ross Detwiler last year.
"Obviously, different clubs have different approaches," said Jack Zduriencik, Milwaukee's vice president of player personnel. "It varies with organizational philosophy. You try to take the best player available and some years it might be from the colleges and some years it might be from the high schools.
"It's an age-old argument. If you take a high school guy, he may have a higher ceiling, but some college guys are a little closer and a little safer. I don't think there is a right way or a wrong way."
Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.