Prospects have never been trendier amongst baseball fans than they are right now. The MLB Draft is now televised, most baseball blogs and online publications now publish at least a Top 10 Prospects list for each organization, and struggling fan bases such as that of the Kansas City Royals have begun to see their attendance rise as their prized minor leaguers begin to reach the majors.
The same can be said for their popularity within major league organizations, too.
Teams have begun pouring so much money into the draft that the new CBA contains specific limitations to curb the spending spree. Teams now often value control years more than overall talent and have become extremely cautious in parting with top prospects to acquire proven talent. This generalization goes for both big-market and small-market franchises, too, which is something that was not often said in previous years.
Which teams have benefited most from homegrown talent in recent years? Which teams have drafted amateur players and developed them into major league talent the best?
For a lack of a better endpoint, I chose to look at the draft history of the past decade. I ranked teams in total wins above replacement added by these homegrown players since the 2002 Draft, but also included the average WAR per homegrown player for that club. This helps determine if a team simply hit big on a player or two, or if they had a more holistic success in developing quality big league talent through the draft.
Below are the top five franchises in terms of WAR accumulated by homegrown talent:
#5) Tampa Bay Rays — 80.2 WAR (4.46 WAR/player)
Their inclusion should surprise few, as Tampa Bay has been the poster child for small market organizations building through the draft, but the Rays’ draft history over the past decade has been a mixed bag of success. The organization has only drafted and developed 18 big leaguers in the past decade. Only two teams (Houston and Philadelphia) have developed less homegrown talent. When the Rays have found success in the draft over the past decade, though, they hit the jackpot. Two superstars — Evan Longoria and David Price — along with 2002 first-round pick B.J. Upton combine for 71.2% of the total WAR accumulated by homegrown players in that time frame. And with Desmond Jennings and Matt Moore poised for breakout campaigns in 2012, it seems the Rays are poised to cash in on the draft yet again.
#4) Milwaukee Brewers — 86 WAR (3.91 WAR/player)
After a decade of occupying the cellar in both the AL Central and NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers transformed their big league squad through the draft. Since 2002, they anchored their lineup with the homegrown trio of Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Ryan Braun. They also drafted a fringe-ace in right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who has pitched atop their rotation for the past handful of seasons. General manager Doug Melvin then acquired complementary pieces via trade and free agency, which resulted in the first two postseason appearances for Milwaukee since the 1982 season.
#3) Los Angeles Dodgers — 95.5 WAR (3.98 WAR/player)
The recent legal troubles for the organization have sullied what was a solid run from 2006-2009. The latter portion of that stretch was driven by homegrown talent in every portion of the roster. Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw headlined the rotation; Matt Kemp — and to a lesser extent Russell Martin and James Loney — provided value in the batting order; and Jonathan Broxton locked down the closer’s role. The Dodgers reached two consecutive Game 5’s in the NLCS in 2008 and 2009. The organization hopes that more recent draftees Dee Gordon, Zach Lee, and Nate Eovaldi can complement Kemp and Kershaw over the next three or four years and help the organization to a postseason berth yet again.
#2) San Francisco Giants — 97.9 WAR (2.88 WAR/player)
San Francisco has been a perennial contender in the NL West for over a decade and earned a World Series championship in 2010, yet many fans overlook just how well the organization has performed in the draft over the past decade. Not only have the Giants acquired superstar talent — like Tim Lincecum — through the draft, but they also have accumulated a myriad of useful big league players. In fact, only the Miami Marlins and Detroit Tigers have seen more homegrown talent drafted since 2002 make major league debuts. Players such as Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, and Buster Posey have all played significant roles in the organization’s success in the past decade. The average WAR per player is not overly impressive for the Giants since the 2002 Draft, but the overall accumulation of talent is perhaps the best in baseball.
#1) Boston Red Sox — 100.3 WAR (4.36 WAR/player)
With Theo Epstein at the helm, the Red Sox became one of the most-effectively run organizations in Major League Baseball, and that extended to the draft. Since the 2002 season, the organization drafted one MVP (Dustin Pedroia) and one who perhaps should have been MVP (Jacoby Ellsbury). They drafted one of the best closers in baseball (Jonathan Papelbon), one of the best left-handed starters in baseball (Jon Lester), and one of the best set-up men in baseball (Daniel Bard). Boston doesn’t quite boast the overall depth of quality homegrown talent that San Francisco does, but the upper echelon is clearly the cream of the crop.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).