MLB Draft: The More You Know

The MLB draft is a couple months away (July 11-13, to be exact), and our own John Dreker will keep you up to date on prospects for the Pirates #1 overall pick, whether it’s Jack Leiter, Jordan Lawlar, Kumar Rocker, Marcelo Mayer or, if you believe Keith Law, Henry Davis. 

This draft article won’t provide any news, analysis or projections. Rather, this is a quick, high-level look at the 55-year history of the MLB draft — with some focus on the Pirates and Pennsylvania — so that you can wow your friends with useless information at social gatherings (on Zoom, of course). 

An Abbreviated History

The First-Year Player Draft — also called the Rule 4 Draft, because of its placement in the MLB rule book — debuted on June 8, 1965, in New York City, as a way to limit bonus payouts to unproven players and reward underperforming teams with top picks.

The Kansas City Athletics used the first overall pick on OF Rick Monday, who went on to play 19 seasons and appear in two All-Star games.

With the 10th overall pick, the Pirates, led by GM Joe Brown and former-manager-turned assistant Danny Murtaugh, selected Doug “Wayne” Dickerson, a high school outfielder from Birmingham, AL, who played five seasons but never made it above A ball. 

It wasn’t until the selection of RHP Bob Moose in the 18th round that the Pirates drafted a player who would appear in the majors. In all, Pittsburgh made 41 selections, signed 28 and saw 6 make it to the majors — the best of which was SS Freddie Patek (24.1 bWAR across 14 seasons) in the 22nd round. 

Pirates: Struggling to Set Sail Since 1965

Since that inauspicious start, the Pirate drafts have been a bit more … auspicious. But only a bit. Of the 2,298 players drafted by Pittsburgh since 1965, 319 have made the majors, according to BaseballSavant. That’s a success rate of 13.9%, which ranks 22nd in baseball. (The average is 14.5%.) Here are the numbers for all current franchises:

TEAM

DRAFT PICKS

REACHED MLB

CONVERSION

Boston Red Sox

1,939

341

17.6%

San Diego Padres

1,956

320

16.4%

Los Angeles Angels

2,142

345

16.1%

Texas Rangers

2,309

364

15.8%

Oakland A’s

2,111

328

15.5%

St. Louis Cardinals

2,312

352

15.2%

Toronto Blue Jays

1,951

296

15.2%

Chicago White Sox

2,125

320

15.1%

San Francisco Giants

2,277

342

15.0%

New York Yankees

2,465

369

15.0%

Minnesota Twins

2,278

340

14.9%

New York Mets

2,395

357

14.9%

Cleveland Indians

2,301

337

14.6%

Tampa Bay Rays

1,220

178

14.6%

Seattle Mariners

1,959

278

14.2%

Detroit Tigers

2,230

315

14.1%

Washington Nationals

2,169

306

14.1%

Atlanta Braves

2,292

323

14.1%

Baltimore Orioles

2,239

314

14.0%

Los Angeles Dodgers

2,477

346

14.0%

Kansas City Royals

2,250

314

14.0%

Pittsburgh Pirates

2,298

319

13.9%

Philadelphia Phillies

2,129

295

13.9%

Arizona Diamondbacks

1,162

158

13.6%

Chicago Cubs

2,237

303

13.5%

Colorado Rockies

1,350

182

13.5%

Houston Astros

2,311

310

13.4%

Cincinnati Reds

2,244

301

13.4%

Milwaukee Brewers

2,064

274

13.3%

Miami Marlins

1,442

159

11.0%

TOTAL

62,634

9,086

14.5%

Worth noting that these numbers and the chart below represent players drafted who made the majors, no matter if they were signed by the original drafting team or which team called them up to the majors. For example, the Pirates drafted RHP Walker Buehler in 2012 but didn’t sign him. He was later drafted, signed, developed and promoted by the Dodgers. Both the Pirates and Dodgers get credit for Buehler above. 

Not coincidentally, in the last 54 years of the draft before the pandemic-shortened season, the Pirates have averaged the 15th most wins in baseball — not too far off from their draft conversion ranking. The Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox are at the top, while the Marlins are last in average wins per season, which supports (but doesn’t confirm) the idea that small market teams really need to draft and develop successfully. 

Light Tailwinds Since 2010

The Pirates have fared a bit better over the last decade, ranking 10th among all franchises with 12.7% of its draftees making the majors (so far). The average is 11.7%, with Ben Cherington and Assistant GM Steve Sanders’ former team, the Blue Jays, sitting on top with 14.4%. (That last sentence is the most interesting nugget of information in this entire article.) 

TEAM

DRAFT PICKS

REACHED MLB

CONVERSION

Toronto Blue Jays

439

63

14.4%

Boston Red Sox

430

60

14.0%

New York Yankees

424

57

13.4%

Kansas City Royals

429

56

13.1%

New York Mets

425

55

12.9%

Cleveland Indians

429

55

12.8%

Los Angeles Dodgers

430

55

12.8%

Texas Rangers

431

55

12.8%

Houston Astros

431

55

12.8%

Pittsburgh Pirates

432

55

12.7%

Colorado Rockies

432

54

12.5%

Tampa Bay Rays

442

55

12.4%

Seattle Mariners

422

52

12.3%

Milwaukee Brewers

425

52

12.2%

Minnesota Twins

428

52

12.1%

San Diego Padres

438

52

11.9%

Cincinnati Reds

429

49

11.4%

St. Louis Cardinals

437

49

11.2%

Washington Nationals

421

46

10.9%

Philadelphia Phillies

415

45

10.8%

San Francisco Giants

425

46

10.8%

Chicago Cubs

426

46

10.8%

Detroit Tigers

418

45

10.8%

Atlanta Braves

427

44

10.3%

Arizona Diamondbacks

434

44

10.1%

Oakland A’s

431

43

10.0%

Chicago White Sox

422

42

10.0%

Los Angeles Angels

422

41

9.7%

Baltimore Orioles

426

41

9.6%

Florida Marlins

430

41

9.5%

TOTAL

12,850

1,505

11.7%

A more thorough data analysis would look at WAR (as opposed to MLB conversion) for franchise draftees, but putting that together is a bigger project than I’m ready to tackle right now. 

Draftees by Position

Since 1965, 51% of all players drafted were pitchers. (Though some, like Pirates 2001 first rounder John Van Benschoten, probably shouldn’t have been drafted as pitchers.) Nearly 19% were outfielders, and at the bottom of the list were second basemen, at just over 4%.

But perhaps scouting directors have had it wrong. As you can see below, drafted second basemen make it to the majors 17.5% of the time, tops among all positions. Conversely, shortstops get the call only 8.2% of the time (just about every mildly athletic alpha is a shortstop on their high school varsity squad), according to BaseballSavant. 

POSITION

DRAFT PICKS

REACHED MLB

CONVERSION

P

32,029

4,955

15.5%

C

5,941

708

11.9%

1B

3,290

504

15.3%

2B

2,643

463

17.5%

SS

4,015

331

8.2%

3B

2,852

461

16.2%

OF

11,864

1,420

12.0%

Draftees by State

Unsurprisingly, players from three states dominate the draft: California, Texas and Florida. The Golden State is the runaway producer of amateur baseball talent, in part because of its size and weather, but also because of some strong college programs (USC, for example, has won the most college baseball titles in NCAA history).

Pennsylvania fares pretty well, especially for a cold-weather state. With 446 draft picks, it has produced the 10th most selections, more than several states that you might expect to be higher, such as North Carolina. 

The Pirates have followed the trend, selecting 174 players from California, 104 from Texas and 85 from Florida. Which state is fourth? Pennsylvania. The Pirates have stayed in-state with 48 draft picks. 

STATE

DRAFT PICKS

% OF PICKS

California

2,858

18.6%

Texas

1,612

10.5%

Florida

1,328

8.6%

Illinois

617

4.0%

Georgia

541

3.5%

New York

531

3.5%

Ohio

471

3.1%

Pennsylvania

446

2.9%

North Carolina

392

2.5%

New Jersey

374

2.4%

Washington

356

2.3%

Tennessee

329

2.1%

Arizona

328

2.1%

Virginia

326

2.1%

Louisiana

314

2.0%

Alabama

297

1.9%

Missouri

294

1.9%

Oklahoma

293

1.9%

Michigan

285

1.9%

Indiana

274

1.8%

Massachusetts

254

1.7%

Colorado

221

1.4%

South Carolina

215

1.4%

Mississippi

199

1.3%

Kentucky

182

1.2%

Minnesota

172

1.1%

Kansas

170

1.1%

Maryland

156

1.0%

Oregon

154

1.0%

Wisconsin

149

1.0%

Iowa

147

1.0%

Connecticut

140

0.9%

Nevada

133

0.9%

Arkansas

117

0.8%

Utah

105

0.7%

Nebraska

89

0.6%

New Mexico

77

0.5%

Hawaii

71

0.5%

Idaho

53

0.3%

West Virginia

48

0.3%

New Hampshire

36

0.2%

Rhode Island

35

0.2%

South Dakota

35

0.2%

Delaware

34

0.2%

Montana

31

0.2%

North Dakota

23

0.1%

Alaska

21

0.1%

Maine

20

0.1%

Wyoming

13

0.1%

Vermont

10

0.1%

The Pirates’ First Rounders

The Pirates have had 69 first-round picks in 55 years, due to a number of compensation picks. The full list of players is below, but here are some notes:

  • Of the 69 picks, 43 were from high school and 26 were from college — including one junior college draftee, C Jon Farrell in 1991. The Pirates selected high school players with their first 16 first-round picks. They have been more balanced of late, with 5 high school and 5 college players in the last 10 years. 
  • The Pirates have picked 26 pitchers, 6 catchers, 3 first basemen, 0 second basemen (though that’s where Nick Gonzales will likely end up), 14 shortstops, 3 third basemen and 17 outfielders. 
  • 3 picks didn’t sign with Pittsburgh: 1) RHP Mark Appel in 2012 (which turned into OF Austin Meadows the next year); 2) LHP Nick Lodolo (now a top prospect with the Reds) in 2016, and 3) RHP Gunnar Hoglund (who should be a first-rounder this year) in 2018.
  • 39 of 69 have made it to the majors, a 57% conversion rate. 
  • By bWAR (the chart below comes from Baseball-Reference), Barry Bonds is by far their best first-round draft pick, at 162.7, followed by Andrew McCutchen (44.3), Jason Kendall (41.7) and Richie Hebner (33). Gerrit Cole is at 27.7 bWAR and is still going strong. And despite having the lowest bWAR of any Pirates’ first rounder, some old school scouts swear Chad Hermansen (-3.6) will eventually figure things out and climb this list. #nevergiveup
YEAR

PICK

PLAYER

POS

bWAR

SCHOOL
2020

7

Nick Gonzales SS New Mexico State University 
2020

31

Carmen Mlodzinski P University of South Carolina
2019

18

Quinn Priester P Cary-Grove HS
2019

37

Sammy Siani CF William Penn Charter School 
2018

10

Travis Swaggerty OF University of South Alabama
2018

36

Gunnar Hoglund RHP Fivay HS
2017

12

Shane Baz RHP Concordia Lutheran HS
2016

22

Will Craig 3B

-0.1

Wake Forest University
2016

41

Nick Lodolo LHP Damien HS 
2015

19

Kevin Newman SS

1.4

University of Arizona 
2015

32

Ke’Bryan Hayes 3B

2

Concordia Lutheran HS
2014

24

Cole Tucker SS

-0.8

Mountain Pointe HS 
2014

39

Connor Joe OF

-0.1

University of San Diego 
2013

9

Austin Meadows CF

4.1

Grayson HS
2013

14

Reese McGuire C

0.8

Kentwood HS 
2012

8

Mark Appel RHP Stanford University 
2012

45

Barrett Barnes OF Texas Tech University 
2011

1

Gerrit Cole RHP

27.7

University of California, Los Angeles 
2010

2

Jameson Taillon RHP

8.2

The Woodlands HS 
2009

4

Tony Sanchez C

0.1

Boston College 
2009

49

Vic Black RHP

0.5

Dallas Baptist University 
2008

2

Pedro Alvarez 3B

5

Vanderbilt University 
2007

4

Daniel Moskos LHP

0.2

Clemson University 
2006

4

Brad Lincoln RHP

0.4

University of Houston 
2005

11

Andrew McCutchen OF

44.3

Fort Meade HS 
2004

11

Neil Walker C

19.6

Pine-Richland HS 
2003

8

Paul Maholm LHP

11.9

Mississippi State University 
2002

1

Bryan Bullington RHP

-0.2

Ball State University 
2001

8

John Van Benschoten RHP

-3.5

Kent State University 
2000

19

Sean Burnett LHP

5.9

Wellington Community HS 
1999

8

Bobby Bradley RHP Wellington Community HS 
1998

15

Clint Johnston LHP Vanderbilt University 
1997

8

J.J. Davis 1B

-1.3

Baldwin Park HS 
1996

1

Kris Benson RHP

12.8

Clemson University 
1995

10

Chad Hermansen SS

-3.6

Green Valley HS 
1994

11

Mark Farris SS Angleton HS 
1993

22

Charles Peterson OF Laurens District 55 HS 
1993

34

Jermaine Allensworth OF

-0.1

Purdue University 
1993

42

Charles Rice 1B Parker HS
1992

23

Jason Kendall C

41.7

Torrance HS
1992

33

Shon Walker OF Harrison County HS 
1991

24

Jon Farrell C Florida State College at Jacksonville 
1990

5

Kurt Miller RHP

-2.6

West HS 
1990

27

Mike Zimmerman RHP University of South Alabama 
1989

18

Willie Greene SS

3.1

Jones County HS 
1988

13

Austin Manahan SS Horizon HS
1987

2

Mark Merchant OF Oviedo HS 
1986

1

Jeff King SS

16.9

University of Arkansas 
1985

6

Barry Bonds OF

162.7

Arizona State University 
1984

15

Kevin Andersh LHP University of New Mexico 
1983

12

Ron DeLucchi OF Campolindo HS
1982

7

Sam Khalifa SS

0.9

Sahuaro HS 
1981

14

Jim Winn RHP

-1.3

John Brown University 
1980

20

Rick Renteria SS

-0.5

South Gate HS 
1978

19

Brad Garnett 1B DeSoto HS 
1978

21

Jerry Aubin OF Dougherty HS 
1977

18

Anthony Nicely OF Meadowdale HS 
1976

21

Jim Parke RHP Henry Ford II HS 
1975

20

Dale Berra SS

5.5

Montclair HS 
1974

11

Rod Scurry LHP

5.6

Hug HS 
1973

24

Steve Nicosia C

1.1

North Miami Beach HS
1972

23

Dwayne Peltier SS Servite HS
1971

22

Craig Reynolds SS

13.1

Regan HS 
1970

13

John Bedard RHP Springfield Tech HS 
1969

10

John Morlan RHP

0

Merritt Island HS
1968

9

Dick Sharon OF

0.6

Sequoia HS
1967

16

Joe Grigas OF Coyle HS 
1966

15

Richie Hebner SS

33

Norwood HS 
1965

10

Wayne Dickerson OF Ensley HS 
Additional Reading

I was going to include a chart showing MLB conversion of both high school and college players since 1965, but that data doesn’t readily exist without a mind-numbing compilation of data from The Baseball Cube. (If you see it out on the interwebs, let me know.) But in researching what’s out there, I came across a few MLB draft stories that were worth sharing, if you want to have even more useless knowledge in your bat bag:

2021 Draft, Pirates Prospects

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