Theo Epstein has claimed it is easier to find pitching talent later in the major-league draft. Is it? Here is an entirely non-scientific look into the claim.
The party line from the Cubs front office is that they will select the best available with their top pick in June, attacking pitching in bulk thereafter. The logic is that pitching talent is easier to find later. Is it? While working on another project, I looked at the sixth round of the major-league drafts between 2000 and 2005. There was nothing magical about those three numbers. I figured six successive years would provide a degree of a cross-section, and the sixth round ought to be middling enough to create plenty of misses.
I had no idea which players, Cubs included, this search would discover. I plainly understood this would 'prove' nothing. The premise of 'the draft is different now' is both wholly accurate, and entirely moot. Any industry or organization doing business the way it was done seven to 12 years ago is foolish, as wise competitors are trying to upgrade practices every month.
In case you want to rely on your own research instead of mine, I have linked to the six rounds above. I'm noting players with MLB experience, as well as players with WAR ratings of under two, between two and four, four to ten, and over ten. I will also note the major players.
That should be enough room for those of you wanting to explore without my sullying the information.
2000 draft: Seven major league players. None exceeded 2.0 WAR. The best was Taylor Buchholz (1.9).
2001 draft: Five major league players. The only WAR over 0.0 was Edwin Jackson (11.8).
2004 draft: Seven major league players, five with a WAR below 2.0. Top options were Cla Meredith (2.7) and Ben Zobrist (25.4). (Intriguing note: Zobrist was traded with Mitch Talbot for Aubrey Huff and cash)
You can't draw many serious conclusions from all this, though the two top producers have been a high school hitter (Kemp) and a college hitter (Zobrist). You can guess this round would produce one legitimate MLB contributor per year, if these years are any indicator. It does seem drafting and developing are probably getting better, but I haven't checked other years or rounds, or seriously looked into variance reasons.
Once I came up with this idea, I thought I would make an article of it, so you could see the results. For the cynics out there wondering why there are 40 rounds if the sixth is such a crapshoot, remember that not all picks are expected to make it to the Show. Or Double-A. Or even sign. When putting together a draft, a baseball team wants to bring in players of every position. Some should be from college. Most should be expected to be (mainly) really good teammates, and hard workers -- after all, minor league clubs need full rosters, and some of these players will become known as "organizational guys". From Twitter, I know these guys spend time together, even in the off-season. A team that gets three or four major leaguers from a draft did well in that measure. That said, there are seven levels of rosters in a major league system. A teammate can help a team, even if they don't reach the top levels.
A team never knows when a college pick will turn out to be the next Ben Zobrist. It's best to take each round seriously, regardless if it is a pitcher or a hitter the team selects. The key isn't which position when, so much as having a wise strategy and sticking to it. This applies to drafting, developing, customer service, and any other aspect of this game we love.
Which recent Cubs sixth rounder will have the best MLB career?
2012: Carl Lang (17 votes)
2011: Neftali Rosario (35 votes)
2010: Ivan De Jesus (CF at University of Alabama/Birmingham, not the son of the former Cubs coach) (15 votes)
2009: Brooks Raley (42 votes)
2008: Josh Harrison (15 votes)
124 total votes