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What the D-backs can expect from the 2019 top draft picks

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Volume is on the D-backs side this year. But never forget, how much the MLB draft is a crap-shoot.

David Cone

Arizona will have eight of the first 93 picks in the 2019 MLB draft next week, the first time since 2009 they have had more than five of the top hundred. But that 2009 draft is perhaps a cautionary tale. For those eight picks a decade ago, have combined to be worth a total of just 25.2 bWAR, with the vast majority of that coming from one man, A.J. Pollock (19.4). Most infamously, we picked Bobby Borchering who never reached the majors, at #16 overall - that is the same position as our first pick this time. He was chosen nine picks before some guy called Mike Trout went to the Angels. So, having a lot of draft picks does not necessarily guarantee a team a successful draft.

With that said, I thought it might be worth looking at the picks the D-backs will have, and see what has been obtained from them over the years. I’ve drawn the cut-off point for the numbers below as through the 2014 draft, with players taken more recently likely not having had sufficient time to make much impact on the majors. Conveniently, that also gives us 50 previous picks at each position. The slot amount for each selection is also shown, to give you some idea of the typical cost to sign the pick. For each pick we list the BRBES: the number of Busts (never reached the majors), Replacement Level (< 1 bWAR), Bench (1-5 bWAR), Everyday (5-15 bWAR and Stars (> 15 bWAR) from that slot.

#16: $3,745,500

  • Previous D-backs: Bobby Borchering (2009), Touki Toussaint (2014)
  • Best signed pick: Lance Berkman, Astros, 1997 (52.4 bWAR)
  • BRBES: 14/14/7/8/7
  • Average/Median bWAR: 5.8/0.0

If Borchering didn’t make it clear, Even the best pick from the D-backs’ buffet is far from a sure thing, with the majority of them having provided less than one win of value - if they reached the major-leagues at all. However, there are some solid players who have been chosen here. As well as six-time All-Star Berkman, they include Nick Swisher, Shaun Green and Lance Parrish, so there is a good chance of getting someone worthwhile.

#26: $2,653,400

  • Previous D-backs: Daniel Schlereth (2008), Stryker Trahan (2012)
  • Best signed pick: Alan Trammell, Tigers, 1976 (70.7 bWAR)
  • BRBES: 25/16/5/1/3
  • Average/Median bWAR: 2.5/N.A.

The median (middle) value no longer exists for most picks going forward, because half or more of the players never reached the majors. That’s quite a chilling thought, but if you look at the players previously chosen by Arizona here, it’s not encouraging. By himself, Trammell represents 35% of the value of all #26 picks ever. Dave Henderson and Dan Plesac were also worthwhile, but the last player out of this spot since 1991 to be worth even five wins over their entire career was, Jeremy Bonderman back in 2001.

#33: $2,202,200

  • Previous D-backs: None
  • Best signed pick: Mike Gallego, Athletics, 1981 (17.0 bWAR)
  • BRBES: 28/14/3/3/2
  • Average bWAR: 1.2

This will be the first time the D-backs have had this pick, but it has also been a long while since anyone you’ve heard of will have been picked here. Though 2001 did see Jeff Mathis selected at #33. the only player with a significant positive impact since then was Zach Eflin, picked in 2012 by the Padres. Three years before Mathis, Brad Wilkerson had a solid career, and back in 1988 Dave Burba went at this point. But it has been a bit of a wilderness.

#34: $2,148,100

  • Previous D-backs: Brooks Brown (2006)
  • Best signed pick: Mark Gubicza, Cardinals, 1981 (37.4 bWAR)
  • BRBES: 20/17/5/4/4
  • Average/median bWAR: 2.6/-0.6

This position fares a little better than its immediate predecessor: simple random fluctuation is the answer, Not that you’d know it from Arizona’s sole pick, but there have been some decent selections: Todd Frazier, Aaron Sanchez and Arthur Rhodes stand out, with Sean Manaea the best of the recent picks. He has already racked up 7.2 bWAR over his first three seasons, though has yet to pitch this year, because he’s recuperating from shoulder surgery.

#56: $1,276,400

  • Previous D-backs: Jon Zeringue (2004), J.R. Bradley (2010).
  • Best signed pick: Jimmy Key, Blue Jays, 1982 (48.9 bWAR)
  • BRBES: 28/12/3/2/5
  • Average bWAR: 3.1

Some good top-end quality here, led by 5-time All-Star Key, who won World Series with the Blue Jays in 1992 and Braves in 1996. Also going #56 was one of the best players ever born in Arizona, Tucson native J.J. Hardy. Scott Linebrink and knuckleballer Stephen Wright also can be found in this batch. But we’re also back to the point where 70% of these selections either never make it to the majors at all, or are below replacement-level over their careers.

#74: $844,200

  • Previous D-backs: None
  • Best signed pick: Graig Nettles, Twins, 1965 (68.0 bWAR)
  • BRBES: 27/9/6/4/4
  • Average bWAR: 4.3

A surprisingly good average here, headlined by two players who combined for 11 All-Star games and 7 World Series rings. For Nettles is joined at the head of this class by David Cone, the pair putting up over 130 bWAR between them. Some other decent numbers still being accumulated among still active players too, led by former D-back Jon Jay (13.9 bWAR) and Tyler Chatwood (10.7). That all adds up the second-highest average bWAR, trailing only the sixteenth pick.

#75: $831,100

  • Previous D-backs: None
  • Best signed pick: Grady Sizemore, Expos, 2000 (27.3 bWAR)
  • BRBES: 31/11/2/2/4
  • Average bWAR: 2.5 (1.9 for signed players)

“Signed” is the keyword here. For the best was Tino Martinez, who’d go on to pick up 29 bWAR - but only after going 14th overall, to the Mariners in 1988. While lacking the superstars of the pick immediately before, still some reasonable talent, including Yuniel Escobar and Wade Davis. However, at the other end, we see for the first time that more than 60% of picks failed to reach the major leagues, and fewer than one in six turned out to be worth more than one win.

#93: $627,900

  • Previous D-backs: Justin Bianco (2011)
  • Best signed pick: Paul O’Neill, Reds, 1988 (38.8 bWAR)
  • BRBES: 35/11/2/1/1
  • Average bWAR: 1.0 (0.8 for signed players)

O’Neill dominates this spot. with the other 49 picks being worth just 8.7 all together. And it’s less than one win, if you exclude Wayne Garland, who didn’t sign and became the first overall selection in the January 1969 draft (up until 1986, there were two drafts, the January one being mostly for high schoolers and college dropouts). After those two, the quality drops off steeply, with the third-best being worth only 2.4 bWAR, and only eight of the fifty posting any positive bWAR.

Overall

We have 400 players in total as a sample size. Though there is a caveat in that player assessment is clearly not the same now as it was in the sixties. It would probably make some sense to weight recent drafts more heavily than the older ones; but quite how you would assign a specific value is almost arbitrary. So let’s just go with the results as is, and just bear the limitations in mind. The chart below is a good way to visualize the overall record of picks at each position. Good players can be found on the right, bad ones to the left.

To get some sense of what the D-backs might end up with, across all eight of these top hundred picks, we can add up the results, and this is what we get:

  • Busts (never reached the majors): 52%
  • Replacement Level (< 1 bWAR): 26%
  • Bench (1-5 bWAR): 8.25%
  • Everyday (5-15 bWAR: 6.25%
  • Stars (> 15 bWAR): 7.50%

Put another way, from these eight picks, the expected breakdown, based on the results of the draft from 1965-2014, would be to get four who never make the majors, two who are worth less than one win in their career, and two who are worth more than one win. The career bWAR of all signed players would be 23. That’’s quite the wet-blanket, considering how much I imagine many of us were hoping for the draft next week to be a franchise-changing event. Admittedly, that last group of players covers an enormous range, from barely better than replacement, all the way up to Hall of Fame caliber. If we end up with Alan Trammell and David Cone out of this draft, I guess we’d be fine with that.