Future stars late in the draft


The 2015 Major League Baseball amateur draft is less than two months away and the Seattle Mariners will have to wait until the second round to make their first selection with the 60th pick. That’s the latest that the team has drafted since they drafted Matt Tuiasosopo in at the 93rd overall spot in the third round in 2004. The Mariners are getting a late start in the draft because they’ve surrendered their first-round pick as a result from signing a free agent – slugger Nelson Cruz – who had a qualifying offer placed on him by his former team after the 2014 season.

Since Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik took the reigns of the team in late 2008, Seattle has produced three major league players from their first-round draft selections – Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, and Mike Zunino. Franklin has since moved on to Tampa Bay as part of the three-team deal that brought outfielder Austin Jackson to Seattle. Zunino quickly established himself as a superb defender after reaching the majors in less than a year, although the former Florida Gator is still developing as a hitter after being selected third overall in 2012. The jury is still out on Ackley, although he’s off to a quick start in 2015. Prospect Insider founder and co-host of The Steve Sandmeyer Show, Jason A. Churchill, recently provided his latest analysis of Ackley’s potential.

While having a first-round draft choice is certainly preferred, there’s no reason for fans to fret if their team doesn’t pick until the second round because plenty of talented players selected in the later rounds every year. Recently, the Mariners have successfully developed several projected 2015 contributors who were drafted later than the 60th pick – James Paxton (132), Chris Taylor (161), Tyler Olson (207), Carson Smith (243), and Dominic Leone (491).

Whether teams use their prospects as the foundation of their big league roster or they flip them to acquire major league-ready players, using the entire draft is vital to a team’s success. To demonstrate the depth of talent available throughout the draft, I’ve constructed a 25-man roster consisting of active players who were drafted 2000 in the sixth round or later.

I decided to use wins above replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.com (fWAR) as the basis of my selection process because fWAR represents the value of a player’s total contribution to their teams’ success. The eligible players with highest 2015 fWAR at each position were my first choice for each section of my roster – starting lineup, bench players, starting rotation, and bullpen. Let’s look at the starting lineup first.  This is a very strong lineup from top-to-bottom. The lone player drafted in 2000, is Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Joey Bats” bounced between four teams before coming to Toronto in 2008 and registering a breakout season when he slugged 54 home runs in 2010. Bautista’s story is of perseverance, although there are many players who took less time to establish themselves as good major league players.

The later rounds of the 2009 draft produced several outstanding 2014 performers. Most notably, Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, Yan Gomes, and J.D. Martinez who were all selected after Ackley and Franklin 2009.  The one position that was actually a bit thin was shortstop, which is why I selected Oakland’s Ben Zobrist, who played second base, all outfield positions, plus 31 games at shortstop in 2014. Otherwise, I would have used him as a utility player off of the bench.      Three of the four bench players are actually starters for their respective teams. But, the depth of talent at nearly every position gave me the luxury of picking high-value players, including a 2014 Silver Slugger winner – Gomes. If shortstop was deeper, Since Zobrist was unavailable to be my utility player, I chose Miami’s Ed Lucas. The right-handed hitter doesn’t have the lofty offensive numbers of other players on the roster. But, he played all infield positions – with the exception of catcher – plus the corner outfield positions in 2014.

    My rotation may not be the best in baseball. But, it’s pretty decent considering that the group includes 2014 National League Rookie of the Year winner Jacob deGrom and two pitchers who’ve received Cy Young award votes at least once during their career- James Shields and Mat Latos. The bullpen is quite impressive too.      I did make one slight tweak to the relief corps by making David Robertson the closer over reliever Dellin Betances – who had the highest fWAR value – since Robertson closed games for the New York Yankees in 2014, while Betances was his set-up man. I even have two southpaws in the bullpen – Tony Watson and Zach Duke.

Understandably, post-draft evaluations by fans and the media will focus on the early round selections. But, somewhere in the later rounds, future major league stars will be selected with no fanfare and end-up outperforming some first-round selections just as Carpenter, Goldschmidt, Gomes, and J.D. Martinez did in 2009.

 

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