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College First Base Prospects – A Brief(ish) MLB Draft Study

Seven years ago I made an attempt to look at some historical draft trends including this piece on college first basemen and the MLB Draft. The plan this year was to reference it quickly and move on, but the pull of looking at past drafts was too strong. Despite all of my claims of wanting — no, needing — to prioritize generalized 2017 MLB Draft content above all else, I instead sunk far more time than I’d like to admit on updating a post written almost a decade ago. I need help.

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Time Period

2002 – 2011

Data Set

MLB Draft first base (1B) prospects selected out of college (four-year or junior college) designated as such by Baseball Reference

Initial Findings

MLB starters (hitter): 18
MLB starters (pitcher): 2
Total MLBers: 54

(“Starters” is a bit of a misnomer as you’ll see in the list below, but I think it gets the point across so long as you aren’t aggressively literal with it.)

MLB Starters

Ryan Shealy, Nick Swisher, Conor Jackson, Adam Lind, Mike Dunn, Steve Pearce, Tyler Flowers, Chris Davis, Lucas Duda, Mitch Moreland, Sean Doolittle, Stephen Vogt, Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Ike Davis, Brandon Belt, Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Bour, CJ Cron, Alex Dickerson

(The overall math doesn’t change much if you want to toss a few of these names out, but I tried to be generous with the “starter” label when possible. Some degree of personal bias — most notably a longstanding belief that Shealy deserved better — also may or may not have crept into this section.)

Basic Math (MLB Impact)

2.0 starters/year
1.8 starting position players/year
5.4 big league players/year

(Averages don’t really work this way, but I’d still argue a reasonable expectation for any given draft class is two long-term starters and three additional big league players out of said class’s college first base prospect pool.) 

Basic Math (MLB Draft)

49.1 players from data set drafted each year
10.2 players from data set drafted in top ten rounds each year

Colleges with Multiple MLB Players Drafted and Signed from 2002 – 2011

California – 2
Tulane – 2
Loyola Marymount – 2
South Carolina – 2
Arizona State – 3
Mississippi State – 2
UNLV – 2

(Not sure this tells us anything at all, but seeing schools pop up multiple times while doing this felt noteworthy enough to me to jot down. Once it’s jotted down, it either gets deleted or posted…so why not post it? Schools out west seem disproportionately successful here. Nothing to it probably, but there you go.) 

Yearly Breakdowns

2002 (46 college 1B total; 13 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Ryan Shealy (11-321, Florida)

Starter (non-1B): Nick Swisher (1-16, Ohio State)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Brad Eldred (6-163, Florida International), Paul McAnulty (12-355, Long Beach State)

Notes: Pretty good year for HS 1B as Prince Fielder (1-7), James Loney (1-19), James McDonald (11-331), and Travis Ishikawa (21-637) all provided some value in some way

2003 (42 college 1B total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Conor Jackson (1-19, California)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Michael Aubrey (1-11, Tulane), Josh Whitesell (6-177, Loyola Marymount), Carlos Corporan (12-339, Florida Gateway JC)

Note: Not a single HS 1B in this class ever sniffed the big leagues; Corporan made it, but as a catcher

2004 (56 college 1B total; 15 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Adam Lind (3-83, South Alabama)

Starter (non-1B): Mike Dunn (33-999, Southern Nevada CC)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Joe Koshansky (6-170, Virginia), Rhyne Hughes (8-225, Pearl River CC), Tommy Everidge (10-307, Sonoma State), Chris Carter (17-506, Stanford)

Notes: Dunn is a little like a less talked about version of Sean Doolittle (see below); two pretty solid finds at the HS ranks in Mike Carp (9-254) and Kyle Blanks (42-1241)

2005 (48 college 1B total; 7 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Steve Pearce (8-241, South Carolina)

Starter (non-1B): Tyler Flowers (33, 1007, Chipola JC)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Jordan Brown (4-124, Arizona), Jeff Larish (5-150, Arizona State)

Notes: The one and only HS player to make it here was Logan Morrison (22-666)

2006 (44 college 1B total; 11 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Chris Davis (5-148, Navarro JC)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Mark Hamilton (2-76, Tulane), Aaron Bates (3-83, North Carolina State), Brett Pill (7-206, Cal State Fullerton)

Notes: only HS player here to make the highest level was Lars Anderson (18-553); I distinctly remember really liking Whit Robbins back in the day…

2007 (42 college 1B total; 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Lucas Duda (7-243, USC), Mitch Moreland (17-530, Mississippi State)

Starter (non-1B) Sean Doolittle (1-41, Virginia), Stephen Vogt (12-365, Azusa Pacific)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Matt LaPorta (1-7, Florida), Joe Mahoney (6-189, Richmond), Steven Hill (13-412, Stephen F. Austin), Clint Robinson (25-756, Troy), Efren Navarro (50-1450, UNLV)

Notes: Doolittle is a reliever and not a starter but you get what I was going for there; tremendous year for HS 1B with Freddie Freeman (2-78) and Anthony Rizzo (6-204) emerging as stars at the position, Giancarlo Stanton (2-76) doing the same in the outfield, and even Andrew Lambo (4.146) eventually getting the call

2008 (51 college 1B total; 11 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Yonder Alonso (1-7, Miami), Justin Smoak (1-11, South Carolina), Ike Davis (1-18, Arizona State)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Brett Wallace (1-13, Arizona State), David Cooper (1-17, California), Allan Dykstra (1-23, Wake Forest), Matt Clark (12-375, LSU), Tyler Moore (16-481, Mississippi State), Xavier Scruggs (19-575, UNLV)

Notes: Eric Hosmer (1-3) was the big star in the class; seven first basemen — six out of college alone — taken in the first 23 picks will blow my mind until the day I die

2009 (57 college 1B total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: Brandon Belt (5-147, Texas), Paul Goldschmidt (8-246, Texas State), Justin Bour (25-770, George Mason)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Ben Paulsen (3-90, Clemson), Ryan Wheeler (5-156, Loyola Marymount), Nate Freiman (8-234, Duke), Sean Halton (13-406, Lewis-Clark), Chris McGuiness (13-408, The Citadel), Darin Ruf (20-617, Creighton), Cody Decker (22-654, UCLA)

Notes: Jon Singleton (8-257) is the only HS player so far to reach the big leagues; Rich Poythress (2-51, Georgia) and Tyler Townsend (3-85, Florida International) were top one hundred pick busts

2010 (53 college 1B total; 9 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Reached Majors, Little Value: Andy Wilkins (5-158, Arkansas), Jason Rogers (32-969, Columbus State)

Notes: Christian Yelich (1-23) is the only positive value player in this entire class; top ten college prospects included Hunter Morris, Mickey Wiswall, Blake Dean, Kyle Roller, AJ Kirby-Jones, Tony Plagman, David Rohm, and Aaron Senne

2011 (52 college 1B total; 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Starter at 1B: CJ Cron (1-17, Utah)

Starter (non-1B): Alex Dickerson (3-91, Indiana)

Notes: a whopping five HS 1B were drafted in the top ten rounds highlighted by Dan Vogelbach (2-68)

So why stop at 2011? Well, stopping here leaves us with a nice and easy line of demarcation, mainly being the 2012 MLB Draft was the first to go forty rounds rather than fifty. It also gives us a clean ten years of data to look at. Round numbers sure are pretty. Finally, it makes for five years worth of “new” data to look at going forward. It also doesn’t hurt that making judgments on players selected just a few years ago can lead to some embarrassing guesses about their futures…check the link at the top if you don’t believe me. Here’s the data for the past five drafts…

2012 (34 college 1B total; 9 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2013 (42 college 1B Total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2014 (46 college 1B Total, 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2015 (42 college 1B Total, 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)
2016 (38 college 1B Total, 5 college 1B in top ten rounds)

That comes out to an average of 40.4 college 1B selected in each draft with 8.4 of them going off the board in the first ten rounds. That’s down from the 49.1 and 10.2 results from the ten-year period detailed above. The former result makes sense considering the deletion of ten rounds at the end of the draft, but the dip in top ten college first base prospects off the board is interesting. How does any of this apply (if at all) to this year’s college first base class? Stay tuned…

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College First Basemen: A Brief History

Broad Conclusions

  • If recent draft trends hold, there will only be 1 or 2 major league quality bats capable of holding down a big league starting job out the entire pool of 2010 college first basemen.
  • An additional 2 or 3 major league quality bench contributors are likely to emerge from the pool of 2010 college first basemen.
  • College first basemen of America, take note: It really helps to be versatile defensively. A quick perusal of the list reveals the vast majority of MLB starting players listed below now play a big league position other than first base.
  • With 6 college first basemen taken in the first 23 overall picks, the 2008 MLB Draft was as much as an abberration as it seemed at the time. That said, the end results (only 1 or 2 major league quality bats capable of holding down a big league starting job) may yet fall in line with recent draft history. I’d personally bet the over, but with far less confidence than I had back in June 2008.
  • Between 40-60 college first basemen will be drafted in 2010.
  • Between 5-15 of those college first basemen will be drafted in the first ten rounds in 2010.

Notes

  • Players are listed according to the position announced at the time of the draft according to the invaluable resource Baseball-Reference.
  • Individual players were not listed from the three most recent MLB Drafts (2007-2009). We’ll let their more recent professional careers breathe a little bit before deciding who will make it as big league ballplayers or not.
  • Designations between “Starters” and “Bench Contributors” (or in some cases, “Potential Bench Contributors”) are subjective in nature; players were given the benefit of the doubt in many cases, with bonus points awarded to guys who have either been a) valued enough by big league teams to receive get big league trials as starters or b) actively pursued via trade or the waiver wire. The most subjective classifications on the list are affixed to players drafted most recently; to remedy this to some degree, please feel free to disregard the mention of Strieby, Robbins, and Cooper as “Future Bench Contributors” if you disagree with those particular assessments.
  • Re-drafted players count twice because each draft year is looked at as one singular entity. This method is less helpful when solely looking back at past drafts, but comes in handy when forecasting future draft outcomes, which is the real goal of the activity.

Breakdown

2002 (46 college 1B total; 13 college 1B in top ten rounds)

  • Starter: Nick Swisher (1-16; Ohio State)
  • Bench Contributor: Brad Eldred (6-163; Florida International)
  • Bench Contributor: Ryan Shealy (11-321; Florida)

Notes: Swisher was highest drafted college 1B; Prince Fielder was highest drafted 1B overall; so-called “Moneyball” draft

2003 (42 college 1B total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)

  • Starter: Conor Jackson (1-19; California)

Notes: Michael Aubrey was highest drafted college 1B (1-11; Tulane); Andy D’alessio (who went on to Clemson) was highest drafted high school 1B

2004 (56 college 1B total; 15 college 1B in top ten rounds)

  • Starter: Adam Lind (3-83; University of South Alabama)
  • Bench Contributor: Steven Pearce (10-305; South Carolina)
  • Bench Contributor: Tommy Everidge (10-307; Sonoma State)

Notes: Michael Ferris was highest drafted college 1B (2-60; Miami Ohio); Daryl Jones was highest drafted high school 1B

2005 (48 college 1B total; 7 college 1B in top ten rounds)

  • Future Starter: 33-1007 Tyler Flowers (Chipola JC)
  • Potential Bench Contributor: 5-150 Jeff Larish (Arizona State)
  • Bench Contributor: 8-241 Steven Pearce (South Carolina)
  • Potential Bench Contributor: 8-246 Aaron Bates (North Carolina State)

Notes: Stephen Head was highest drafted college 1B (2-62; Mississippi); Henry Sanchez was highest drafted high school 1B

2006 (44 college 1B total; 11 college 1B in top ten rounds)

  • Starter: Chris Davis (5-148; Navarro College)
  • Starter: Matt LaPorta (14-433; Florida)
  • Potential Bench Contributor: Aaron Bates (3-83; North Carolina State)
  • Potential Bench Contributor: Ryan Strieby (4-112; Kentucky)
  • Potential Bench Contributor: Whit Robbins (4-119; Georgia Tech)
  • Potential Bench Contributor: Craig Cooper (7-213; Notre Dame)

Notes: Mark Hamilton was highest drafted college 1B (2-76; Tulane); Kyle Orr was highest drafted high school 1B

2007 (42 college 1B total; 8 college 1B in top ten rounds)

2008 (51 college 1B total; 11 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Notes: Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace, David Cooper, Ike Davis, Allan Dykstra were all college 1B picked in the top 23 overall selections; the next three four-year college 1B after the sextet of first rounders included luminaries such as Mike Sheridan, Jeremy Hamilton, and Steven Caseres

2009 (54 college 1B total; 10 college 1B in top ten rounds)

Data

  • 46 + 42 + 56 + 48 + 44 + 42 + 51 + 54 = 383
  • There were 383 total college first basemen drafted from 2002-2009 (8 drafts)
  • 383/8 = 47.875
  • Roughly 48 college first basemen were drafted on average in that span
  • 13 +10 + 15 + 7 + 11 + 8 + 11 + 10 = 85
  • There were 85 total college first basemen drafted from 2002-2009 (8 drafts) taken in the first ten rounds
  • 85/8 = 10.625
  • Roughly 10.5 college first basemen were drafted in the first ten rounds on average in that span