For the sake of expediting this series (which will not be finished before the draft, if it was ever intended to), and because they have an identical positional adjustment, and because the lines are so often blurred between the two, I have opted to mesh together third base and second base in my first round analysis. This is a series that began with catchers and moved onto shortstops. It also behooves me to mention that the foundation of this study is the draft database at Baseball-Reference and the career WAR newly available here at FanGraphs.
From 1988-2002, just eight second baseman were drafted in the first round of the June Amateur Draft. Half would not reach the Majors, and Chris Burke looks to be a 2001 draft bust. However, the position has had success stories with Todd Walker, Chase Utley and Mike Fontenot, to obviously varying degrees. By comparison, over that same 15-year stretch, 29 third baseman were taken in the first round. Only seven players failed to reach the big leagues, however, another nine players produced less than 2 WAR, making them busts by our standards.
Between the two positions, 11 players didn’t reach the Majors: seven were from four-year institutions, and four from high school. The 10 big-league busts (-2.1 to +1.4 WAR) were evenly split between the high school and college demographics. And finally, of the 16 success stories, we have 10 players drafted from universities, and six from high school. Said another way, the college players were 10-for-22 (45.5%) in having big league success, while the high school players were 6-for-15 (40%). Here are those success stories, ranked by career WAR:
Name WAR From Manny Ramirez 71.0 HS Robin Ventura 61.3 U Chase Utley 41.5 U Troy Glaus 36.1 U David Wright 33.9 HS Mark Teixeira 33.4 U Eric Chavez 32.0 HS Pat Burrell 21.2 U Phil Nevin 18.1 U Dmitri Young 16.3 HS Todd Walker 11.6 U Ed Sprague 6.6 U Sean Burroughs 6.2 HS Mike Fontenot 4.8 U Mark Teahen 4.0 U Shane Andrews 3.5 HS
I find this to be a very impressive group. You just don’t find very often in draft analysis any sample of 37 players, that almost a third would hit the double-digit mark in career WAR. This has been a highly successful position, ranging from Ventura and Sprague in the 1988 draft to Teixeira and Wright in the 2001 draft. Our goal in this series has been, and continues to be to search the numbers to see what separated the successes from the busts in the minor leagues.
And today, I don’t want to waste your time. I don’t think we can tell anything from a third baseman’s build entering the draft whether he will become a star or not. I think analyzing players by their statistics in A-ball is dangerous — only 4 of the “success” stories even played in Low-A, and you see a lot of variance in how players performed in High-A. It tells you something, but you still must be careful.
However, after a first round third baseman’s first prolonged stay in Double-A, you can with faith make a pretty good guess as to whether they will become a successful Major League hitter or not. (There are just not enough second baseman for me to include them in this part of the study.) The results are staggering. Of the 29 third baseman drafted in the first round from 1988-2002, twenty-five of them had Double-A experience. Twelve of them would produce at least 3.5 WAR in the Major Leagues. Thirteen of them would be busts by any rational standard. Here are the 25 players first tastes of Double-A, ranked by OPS (success stories in bold):
Name PA AVG OBP SLG OPS Troy Glaus 230 309 430 691 1122 David Wright 272 363 467 619 1086 Pat Burrell 498 333 438 631 1068 Eric Chavez 384 328 402 612 1014 Mark Teixeira 200 316 415 591 1006 Manny Ramirez 396 340 414 581 995 Mark Teahen 229 335 419 543 962 Phil Nevin 413 294 397 561 958 Chris Haas 531 274 382 488 870 Anthony Williams 446 309 383 469 852 Scott Stahoviak 393 272 375 462 837 Shane Andrews 512 260 352 457 809 Sean Burroughs 461 291 383 401 784 Mike Bell 533 267 329 442 771 Robin Ventura 559 278 403 361 764 Matt Whitney 531 268 356 404 760 Jorge Fabregas 444 289 338 411 749 Jason Romano 620 271 343 389 732 Scott Thorman 387 252 326 406 731 Tony Torcato 163 293 344 388 731 Jeff Liefer 524 238 302 422 724 Jake Gautreau 494 242 324 393 717 Dmitri Young 177 247 294 392 685 Mike Groppuso 411 241 314 370 684 Dan Cholowsky 254 217 340 325 665
A third of the players had a .900 OPS in Double-A. All of them produced at the Major League level, and everyone except Teahen has more than 15 WAR to their name. The players bashed at different ages, in different parks, in different leagues. But it didn’t matter. I looked back at even more data. In 30 years, we have had about 11 first round third baseman OPS .900 at Double-A, and all have produced at least 4 WAR at the big league level. The sample is still small, but I still find it significant.
And on the opposite end, only one player (D. Young) posted an OPS under .750 and went on to big league success. In just this 15-year sample, nine (of 13) busts did. If we look at the next few years, that group would be joined by Matt Moses, Brian Snyder and Eric Duncan. If you’re thinking this is bad news for the likes of Josh Vitters, Matt Dominguez, Lonnie Chisenhall and a few others — my thoughts exactly. And, even amidst some early season struggles in Triple-A, I do believe more than ever that Pedro Alvarez‘ bat will play in the Major Leagues.
I do want to stress that this should hardly serve as a steadfast rule — over .900 you’re a star, under .750 you’re a bust — but rather as a history lesson, and maybe a tool in the quickest-and-dirtiest analysis possible. I do think we can use this time to be reminded that we don’t really know a player until he sees Double-A, and his production at that level can be very telling as far as his future is concerned.