The baseball draft is this week and the blogs are lighted up with discussion of who the hometown team will choose. Before people get too excited there are several things to keep in mind about the baseball draft:
1) If a draft produces one above average major league regular, it was a success. Even if taken in the first round, the majority of players taken in the draft will likely never appear in the major leagues, not even for a brief stint. On the other hand, the first round is going to produce most of the real stars. After about the first 100 players drafted, the odds are very low a player will ever make it to the major leagues. But the odds they will be an everyday player are even lower. The likelihood they will be a star are minimal. Take a look at the Twins lineup and you have Span, Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer who were all taken in the top 100. As were Perkins, Baker and Slowey. Its obviously not impossible to find a top player later in the draft, Joe Nathan being an example. The Twins did that with Brad Radke and it looks like they may have done it again with Jason Kubel and maybe even Nick Blackburn. But those are rarities, if you find one of those it is a huge bonus.
There will be close to 1500 players drafted. About 200 players will make their major league debut each year and some of those 200 didn't go through the draft. Many of them only get a brief September callup as a reward for minor league service.
2) We don't really know how much impact the quality of a teams minor league development determines their success compared to the quality of their pre-draft scouting. Its perfectly possible that if two teams both chose the same player, one would end up with an all-star and the other with a failure. So you can point to the success of a player like Brad Radke who was chosen later in the draft but its not clear how much his success depended on having the right coaching in the Twins minor leagues.
3) It will be five years before the players drafted this week are likely to provide significant major league value. And it will be 10 years before we will have a clear idea about how successful a draft was in terms of the major league careers that resulted. Michael Cuddyer is a good case in point. In 2007, 9 years after he was drafted, he finally established himself as a major league regular. Its now 11 years later, and people are still pondering how good a major league player he will ultimately become. You could say the same thing for Jason Kubel, next year will be ten years from his draft.
Five years is usually just the starting point for contributions. From the 2004 draft Glen Perkins and Matt Tolbert had made the major leagues at the start of the season. Anthony Swarzak can be added to that list now. But there are a lot of players taken in 2004, like Trevor Plouffe and Rene Tosoni, in the minor leagues who are still seen as future major leaguers. The 2005 draft has already produced Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey. But aside from Brian Duensing's brief stint this year, those are the only players the Twins have taken since 2004 who have produced at the major league level.
4) While we tend to focus on the expectation that a draft will produce stars, or at least a major league regular, many players are taken because they have one plus major league tool that may allow them to develop into a role player. And many players don't have even that. They are taken as "organizational" players to fill out minor league rosters. Occasionally one of those guys matures into a major league player. but usually they hit a plateau end up being sent home at some point when younger players, who still have a chance to get better, come along.
In short, every draft is going to have a lot of failures and only a very few successes. That is true, despite the fact that 30 teams have invested in heavily vetting every young player drafted. Its fun to look at Baseball America or John Sickels predictions, but its important to remember they are basically amateurs with one opinion who are rewarded by fans being interesting. The draft itself is the collective wisdom of 30 teams of experienced baseball people who are evaluated based on their success.