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High School First Basemen

I really wasn’t planning on doing another “let’s put so and so position in a recent historical draft context” post after hitting the catcher spot on Monday, but when I looked at my high school first board and only saw nineteen (!) names, I had to do a little homework on how prep first basemen have fared over the years. Then I figured that since I was doing the research anyway, why not share it with the world? The fact that it will hopefully be a relatively easy piece in what has turned into an unexpectedly busy real job work week is just a bonus. This is a bit disjointed since it’s as stream of consciousness as I get, so bear with me. Hopefully my fancy underlining will make it a little easier to follow…

Number of HS First Basemen Selected (Number Selected Within Top Ten Rounds)

2014: 12 (3)
2013: 14 (3)
2012: 13 (4)
2011: 15 (5)
2010: 18 (1)
2009: 21 (2)

Average: 15.5 (3)

I say it a lot, but one more time before I stop repeating myself: I use 2009 as a cut-off date because that’s the first year I covered the draft here on this site. Since then, just over 15 high school 1B have been selected in the draft each season. This is an imperfect figure because I’m trying to do this quickly and using the Baseball Reference criteria for who was a first baseman or not at the time of their selection. They went with first base as the position for a pair of Marlins star outfielders, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. I’m not sure if that’s how they were announced on the conference call or whatever, but I’ll agree to split the difference and pretend that Yelich thought of as a first baseman at the time. Considering that I had Yelich — one of my all-time biggest whiffs and a mistake that has made me reconsider a lot about what I look for in HS hitters — as a primary first baseman through at least October of 2009 (he was drafted in June 2010), I think that’s fair. Anyway, the point is that 15 high school first basemen isn’t a lot. And an average of three being selected within the draft’s top ten rounds is even crazier. We know why this is — as a position of last resort for a big bat that can’t handle any other defensive home, first basemen are made in college or the pros and not born — but it’s still important to keep in mind as we head into June. I know I have a tendency to overvalue the depth of just about every position in every draft, but the reality is that there are only a few top names worth knowing and that’s it. Knowing who to know, of course, is easier said than done. Good thing I enjoy the process of trying to identify those guys as much as I do.

Pick Number of First HS First Baseman Selected

2014: 3.97
2013: 1.11
2012: 1s.47
2011: 2.68
2010: 1.23*
2009: 5.169

Average: 2.69

The mean draft position of the first HS first baseman off the board since 2009 is equivalent to a late second round pick. The 2009 draft skews the data some; tossing it out moves the mean down twenty spots to around the 49th overall pick. Of course chucking out data points is a dangerous game, especially considering the asterisk you might have noticed on the 1.23 in 2010. That was the year Christian Yelich was picked. If we consider him an outfield prospect instead, then we have to go all the way to pick 11.341 to find the first real high school first baseman selected. That’s wild. Let’s swap out these numbers with some names to provide a little more context.

Names of First HS First Baseman Selected

2014: TBD
2013: Dominic Smith
2012: Matt Olson
2011: Dan Vogelbach
2010: Christian Yelich
2009: Jonathan Singleton (Jeff Malm)

Interesting to me that in almost every draft since I started the initial first baseman off the board has turned out to be the best, and in many cases only, actual prospect of the class. The only exception (assuming we’re waiting to make such a call for 2014) appears to be my first year doing this back in 2009. Jeff Malm was first, but Jonathan Singleton turned out to be the best. Smith was the consensus top guy in his class, but I could hear arguments for others (Cody Bellinger, Rowdy Tellez, even Jake Bauers) overtaking him at this point. Olson, Vogelbach, and Singleton stand alone as the only viable future big league regular to potentially come out of their respective groups. Yelich saves his class from having nobody at all. It’s an ugly recent history, but the reality is clear: finding one worthwhile first base prospect (who signs) out of a high school class in any given draft year is plenty. Also notable: said worthwhile first base prospect is almost always the first taken.

Number of HS First Basemen Selected (Number Selected Within Top Ten Rounds)

2014: 12 (3)
2013: 14 (3)
2012: 13 (4)
2011: 15 (5)
2010: 18 (1)
2009: 21 (2)
2008: 22 (4)
2007: 25 (6*)
2006: 20 (5)
2005: 27 (1)
2004: 23 (2)
2003: 21 (2)
2002: 29 (8)
2001: 25 (6)
2000: 20 (5)

Average: 20.3 (3.8)

We did this already using just the 2009-2014 data, but I expanded it here to give us more info to work with. The asterisk in 2007 is for Stanton. I didn’t count him because I opted to count Yelich instead, but one extra first baseman clearly wouldn’t have impacted the overall picture here. There have been just about 20 HS first basemen selected in each draft (on average) since 2000. Just under four of those first basemen have been picked in the top ten rounds of the draft. What stands out to me is the change we’ve seen just in the last decade or so. It could be nothing, but look at the three-year splits…

2000-2002: 24.6
2003-2005: 23.6
2006-2008: 22.3
2009-2011: 18.0
2012-2014: 13.0

The number of HS first basemen selected in the draft has steadily gone down since at least 2000. That’s noteworthy. We’ve talked a lot about quantity so far, so let’s circle back to quality…

Positive bWAR High School First Basemen Selected And Signed Since 2000

2008: Eric Hosmer
2007: Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo
2006:
2005: Logan Morrison
2004: Mike Carp
2003:
2002: Prince Fielder, James Loney, and Travis Ishikawa
2001: Casey Kotchman
2000: Adrian Gonzalez

Some really good names on that list, clearly. When you hit on a HS first baseman, you can really hit big. That comes out to just about one per draft, which fits nicely with our “one viable prospect is picked in each draft” point made above. The above first basemen sorted by bWAR…

Adrian Gonzalez (39.4)
Prince Fielder (23.6)
Freddie Freeman (12.7)
James Loney (12.6)
Anthony Rizzo (11.0)
Casey Kotchman (7.5)
Eric Hosmer (6.6)
Travis Ishikawa (1.6)
Mike Cartp (1.5)
Logan Morrison (1.2)

Drafted way back in 2008, Eric Hosmer is the last positive value HS 1B to make an impact on the big leagues. That means that the last six draft classes have yielded nothing to date. That’s hardly unexpected given traditional developmental curves — Jon Singleton, young for his class anyway, is still five months shy of his 25th birthday — but worth considering when you hear about potentially quick-moving potential high school bat-first prospects.

Conclusions

1) The first high school first base prospect should expect to be off the board somewhere between pick 50 and 70.
2) Said first high school first base prospect selected is historically the most likely of his class to contribute in a meaningful way professionally (obvious statement, but still); recent history suggest he will be the only future potential regular of the class.
3) Between fifteen and twenty high school first base prospects will be picked (around five in the top ten rounds); few will sign, fewer will do much in pro ball.

These are all very broad conclusions meant to impart some meaning on the macro-level. They shouldn’t be applied to any specific decision made by a team drafting this June. You don’t pass on Anthony Rizzo in 2007 because Freddie Freeman was already picked and that means the one good first baseman is already gone. Every class is different, every prospect is different. Just had to get out in front of that because I don’t want anybody thinking I view THE DRAFT as some kind of monolithic entity rather than the living, breathing, rapidly evolving organism that it is. Not literally, though. That would be terrifying.

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