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What Might The Diamondbacks Expect From Picks #3 + #7?

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There's been - and will continue to be - a lot of speculation about who the Arizona Diamondbacks might pick with the unprecedented opportunity in the 2011 draft. They have two of the first seven picks, thanks to the compensation spot received for not signing their first-round pick, Barret Loux, last season. We probably won't be sure who the team will pick, until the announcement is made on Monday. But what might we expect, in terms of production, out of those two draft slots? To find out, we hopped in the TARDIS and went back to attend previous drafts, and see what we might have obtained from the #3 and #7 picks.

The #3 pick. Since the draft started in 1965, of the 46 players selected in that spot, a little more than three-quarters - 36, or 78% - have reached the majors, though if you discount the drafts since 2007, that percentage rises to 83%. The average bWAR created by those players has been 12.1 [to put a face to that, Joe Crede and Morgan Ensberg both had 12.2 career bWARs]. The three best #3 picks to date are:
1. Robin Yount, SS, 76.9 bWAR
2. Paul Molitor, SS, 74.8 bWAR
3. Matt Williams, 3B, 43.9 bWAR

The #7 pick. Searching through those 46 players, we find 33 have reached the majors, a slightly-lower rate of 71%. If we drop the 2007-2010 drafts, it's the same percentage, as three of those four have already played in the big show. The average bWAR is significantly lower, at 6.6 per major-leaguer [Greg Colbrunn and Todd Hollandsworth had 6.5 bWAR in their careers], with the most productive #7's being:
1. Frank Thomas, 1B, 75.9 bWAR
2. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, 20.3 bWAR
3. Trot Nixon, OF, 19.6 bWAR

There's a clear difference at the top, with seven of the #3 picks producing 20 or more bWAR, compared to just Thomas and Tulowitzki at #7.However, that gap will likely close somewhat over the coming years, with #7's Prince Fielder (17.4) and Clayton Kershaw (12.1) both likely to displace Nixon and improve the overall standing of the spot. But let's break down the picks into categories by bWAR, and see how the two slots have stacked up against each other, from when the draft began in 1965 until 2006 - we'll drop the ones after that, as too close for us to tell the wood from the trees.

bWAR #3 pick #7 pick
Superstar: > 20 7 2
Star: 10-20 8 8
Everyday: 5-10 3 2
Fringe player: 0-5 7 5
Flame-out: < 0 10 13
Never made it 7 12

What stands out to me, is there is still a very significant chance of failure, even this high in the draft, with the overall average bWAR skewed heavily by the Hall of Fame candidates at the top end. At #3, 40% of the selections either failed to make the majors or were worse than replacement, and at with the seventh selection, that number rises to a disturbing 60%. The nightmare scenario is someone like Cubs' #7 pick in 1974, Scot Thompson. Over the period of his career, 1978-85, only three position players in baseball had a worse total bWAR than his -5.5. That's the kind of thing which will have Kevin Towers waking up in a cold sweat. Now, what about the kind of player?

#3 pick #7 pick
Infielder 21 12
Outfielder 6 10
LH Pitcher 5 8
RH Pitcher 14 16
College 20 20*
High-school 26 26
* - includes one Junior College player

At #3, the most-likely pick is an infielder - in particular, a short-stop, chosen seven times [oddly, no second basemen at all were picked]. At #7, teams tend to take a right-handed pitcher. However, I was somewhat surprised to see that, in both slots, high-school players are in the majority. I'd always thought, with rare, "can't miss" exceptions like Bryce Harper and Justin Upton, teams tend to shy away from high-school players with their highest picks, preferring to select more projectable college graduates. It does seem to have happened more in the early days, but the last four #3 picks have all been taken out of high-school, so fashions may be changing.

Looking back at history, there's a wide range of possible outcomes. The jackpot would be something like the 2006 draft, where Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay) and Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles) went at #3 and #7 respectively. At the other end, in the 2001 version, #3 went to the Rays, and they picked Dewon Brazelton who has -4.0 bWAR, and #7 was the Orioles' Chris Smith, a left-handed pitcher who never made it above A-ball. As with most things, the likely outcome lies somewhere in the middle. However, it is quite possible that what turns out to be the best pick for the DIamondbacks will not be found in the first round.

But we'll talk about that tomorrow.