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Draft : : Story
Where were college 1st rounders drafted out of High School?
Anup Sinha    
Published: Friday, January 08, 2010

How difficult is it to scout high school players? It’s well-documented how many first-round preps fail to make it. But even more ominous is the converse. How many players are virtually ignored out of high school only to become first-round picks after going to college?

Just last year, the first two picks in the draft, Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley, were collegians who went undrafted out of high school. Three years later, they were considered the consensus #1 and #2 picks, combining for bonus money well over $20 million.

Now the skeptical scouts will say it had nothing to do with misevaluation. Their argument is that they knew the player was really good in high school, he didn’t just blossom in college. And had he been signable, somebody would have taken him early as a prep. There may be some truth to that defense in isolated situations, but surely if a scouting department saw Strasburg and Ackley becoming what they are, they would have chosen to spend a little dough in 2006 instead of half their franchise value today.

I cannot vouch so much for Ackley out of high school, but I was an area scout in southern California during the spring of 2006 when Strasburg came out of West Hills High near San Diego. The vast majority of area scouts, including myself, didn’t even turn Strasburg in. While his extraordinary grades and SAT scores were deterrents to buy him out, it should also be noted that Strasburg wasn’t throwing nearly as well in high school. He had the good pitcher’s frame, quick arm,and loads of projection, but his average velocity hovered in the high-80s as a senior with occasional showings in the low-90s. The breaking ball had bite and projected well, but no one was calling it a big league strikeout pitch in 2006.

Nobody considered Strasburg a first-rounder out of high school. When the Major League Scouting Bureau’s Dan Dixon gave him a glowing early-round report in the spring, a number of my area scout colleagues believed Dixon’s report to be way out of line. (I was foolishly influenced by the banter and didn’t go back to see him.)

But it’s not just Strasburg and Ackley and it’s not just the 2009 draft. I’ve looked back at the true first-rounders (excluding sandwich picks) over the last three years. From the 2007-2009 drafts, there were exactly 48 four-year college players chosen in the first round.

All 48 are listed in the table below in decreasing order of where they were drafted in high school:

2007-2009 COLLEGE FIRST-ROUND PICKS

Last Name

First Name

Coll. Draft Yr

Team

HS Draft Yr

HS Round

Team-HS

MATUSZ

BRIAN

2008

BAL

2005

4

LAA

LEAKE

MIKE

2009

CIN

2006

7

OAK

WEEKS

JEMILE

2008

OAK

2005

8

MIL

MITCHELL

JARED

2009

CHW

2006

10

MIN

MINOR

MIKE

2009

ATL

2006

13

TB

GREEN

GRANT

2009

OAK

2006

14

SD

WHITE

ALEX

2009

CLE

2006

14

LAD

ALVAREZ

PEDRO

2008

PIT

2005

14

BOS

LAPORTA

MATT

2007

MIL

2003

14

CHC

SAVERY

JOE

2007

PHI

2004

15

LAD

ALONSO

YONDER

2008

CIN

2005

16

MIN

SMOAK

JUSTIN

2008

TEX

2005

16

OAK

ARENCIBIA

J.P.

2007

SEA

2004

17

SEA

PRICE

DAVID

2007

TB

2004

19

LAD

DAVIS

IKE

2008

NYM

2005

19

TB

CASHNER

ANDREW

2008

CHC

2005

20

ATL

HAVENS

REESE

2008

NYM

2005

29

COL

DYKSTRA

ALLAN

2008

SD

2005

34

BOS

STOREN

DREW

2009

WAS

2007

34

NYY

GIBSON

KYLE

2009

MIN

2006

36

PHI

WALLACE

BRETT

2008

STL

2005

42

TOR

CASTRO

JASON

2008

HOU

2005

43

BOS

MILLS

BEAU

2007

CLE

2004

44

BOS

POSEY

BUSTER

2008

SF

2005

50

LAA

JACKSON

BRETT

2009

CHC

2006

ND

ARNETT

ERIC

2009

MIL

2006

ND

ACKLEY

DUSTIN

2009

SEA

2006

ND

SCHMIDT

NICK

2007

SD

2004

ND

POLLOCK

A.J.

2009

ARI

2006

ND

SIMMONS

JAMES

2007

OAK

2004

ND

SANCHEZ

TONY

2009

PIT

2006

ND

POREDA

AARON

2007

CHW

2004

ND

JENKINS

CHAD

2009

TOR

2006

ND

WHEELER

TIM

2009

COL

2006

ND

WEATHERS

CASEY

2007

COL

2003

ND

WIETERS

MATT

2007

BAL

2004

ND

BECKHAM

GORDON

2008

CHW

2005

ND

CROW

AARON

2008

WAS

2005

ND

STRASBURG

STEPHEN

2009

WAS

2006

ND

MOSKOS

DAN

2007

PIT

2004

ND

BRACKMAN

ANDREW

2007

NYY

2004

ND

COOPER

DAVID

2008

TOR

2005

ND

FIELDS

JOSH

2008

SEA

2004

ND

PERRY

RYAN

2008

DET

2005

ND

FRIEDRICH

CHRISTIAN

2008

COL

2005

ND

SCHLERETH

DAN

2008

ARI

2004

ND

GUTIERREZ

CARLOS

2008

MIN

2005

ND

DETWILER

ROSS

2007

WAS

2004

ND

Amazingly, only four of the 48 college first-rounders were drafted within the first 10 rounds out of high school. Exactly half (24 of 48) were not drafted at all as preps.

Staggering!

I know the Angels offered Brian Matusz second-round money out of high school. I know Grant Green put up a bonus demand over $2 million. Justin Smoak turned down first-round money. But guess what? They all got that and then some three years later. And I can assure you that not every player on this list was offered first round or even tenth-round money out of high school.

Of the players who went undrafted, there are all kinds of rags to riches stories. Chicago native Christian Friedrich struggled just to get to Eastern Kentucky. None of his local schools, including Illinois, would offer him anything substantial. Lefty Dan Moskos was lightly recruited in his home area of southern California and ended up at Clemson on the other side of the country. I personally turned Moskos in as a late draft prospect out of high school and my crosschecker’s son went to high school with him. Casey Weathers was an outfielder. Buster Posey was drafted as a pitcher in the 50th round, still almost two years away from donning the tools of ignorance that would make him the fifth overall pick out of Florida State

Players like Andrew Brackman and Matt Wieters were certainly known quantities in high school. Brackman was not only 6-foot-10 with a power right arm, but a good-looking athlete with a clean delivery who’d signed with North Carolina State to play basketball as well. Wieters was a jumbo-sized power/power catcher with upside as a hitter from both sides of the plate. But again, nobody took a chance on either Brackman or Wieters. Perhaps they were unsignable, but if scouts truly knew they would be that good three years later, they would have at least drafted them late and made a run.

I find it notable that the Boston Red Sox drafted four of these college first-rounders out of high school, the most of any team (the Dodgers are second with three). With David Chadd as scouting director, they drafted slugger Beau Mills in 2004, who would become Cleveland’s first-round pick three years later. Then with Jason McLeod calling the shots in 2005, the Red Sox selected third baseman Pedro Alvarez (14th round), first baseman Allan Dykstra (34th) and catcher Jason Castro (43rd). McLeod had a strong draft for Boston that year, signing outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury among others. Who would have known he had three more first-rounders escape his grasp? Maybe that’s what influenced him the ensuing years when the Red Sox went well above-slot to sign numerous high school players in the later rounds.

I don’t know that there’s a surefire method to identify these players in high school beyond anything scouts are doing now. I imagine there’s a “SABRmetrician” somewhere looking for the cure, but I don’t believe the answer will come through statistics.

In many instances, these players just get a lot better, or simply thrive in the college environment in a manner they would not have if they had entered the pro baseball world at age 18. Who’s to say that Matt Wieters or Stephen Strasburg would have been the same had they signed at 18 and skipped college? They may have, but it’s also possible that physically and mentally, they and players like them needed the college experience to blossom as people and athletes. Pro baseball is a grind and it turns into a job real fast. Some kids just aren’t as ready for that at 18 as others.

Scouting directors shouldn’t beat their heads over missing these players out of high school and they don’t. It’s just the way it is, the old cliché, that scouting is an inexact science. You can learn from mistakes and become a better scout, but you’re never going to hit on every pick because you can’t control every variable. If you can just hit a little more frequently than your opponents, you’re going to beat them in the end.

Just keep enough of an open mind to believe that sometimes the kid you’re ignoring in high school is going to wind up an elite talent three years down the road.