First Round History: Third (And Second) Base

For the sake of expediting this series (which will not be finished before the draft, if it was ever intended to), and because they have an identical positional adjustment, and because the lines are so often blurred between the two, I have opted to mesh together third base and second base in my first round analysis. This is a series that began with catchers and moved onto shortstops. It also behooves me to mention that the foundation of this study is the draft database at Baseball-Reference and the career WAR newly available here at FanGraphs.

From 1988-2002, just eight second baseman were drafted in the first round of the June Amateur Draft. Half would not reach the Majors, and Chris Burke looks to be a 2001 draft bust. However, the position has had success stories with Todd Walker, Chase Utley and Mike Fontenot, to obviously varying degrees. By comparison, over that same 15-year stretch, 29 third baseman were taken in the first round. Only seven players failed to reach the big leagues, however, another nine players produced less than 2 WAR, making them busts by our standards.

Between the two positions, 11 players didn’t reach the Majors: seven were from four-year institutions, and four from high school. The 10 big-league busts (-2.1 to +1.4 WAR) were evenly split between the high school and college demographics. And finally, of the 16 success stories, we have 10 players drafted from universities, and six from high school. Said another way, the college players were 10-for-22 (45.5%) in having big league success, while the high school players were 6-for-15 (40%). Here are those success stories, ranked by career WAR:

Name                 WAR     From
Manny Ramirez        71.0     HS
Robin Ventura        61.3      U
Chase Utley          41.5      U
Troy Glaus           36.1      U
David Wright         33.9     HS
Mark Teixeira        33.4      U
Eric Chavez          32.0     HS
Pat Burrell          21.2      U
Phil Nevin           18.1      U
Dmitri Young         16.3     HS
Todd Walker          11.6      U
Ed Sprague            6.6      U
Sean Burroughs        6.2     HS
Mike Fontenot         4.8      U
Mark Teahen           4.0      U
Shane Andrews         3.5     HS

I find this to be a very impressive group. You just don’t find very often in draft analysis any sample of 37 players, that almost a third would hit the double-digit mark in career WAR. This has been a highly successful position, ranging from Ventura and Sprague in the 1988 draft to Teixeira and Wright in the 2001 draft. Our goal in this series has been, and continues to be to search the numbers to see what separated the successes from the busts in the minor leagues.

And today, I don’t want to waste your time. I don’t think we can tell anything from a third baseman’s build entering the draft whether he will become a star or not. I think analyzing players by their statistics in A-ball is dangerous — only 4 of the “success” stories even played in Low-A, and you see a lot of variance in how players performed in High-A. It tells you something, but you still must be careful.

However, after a first round third baseman’s first prolonged stay in Double-A, you can with faith make a pretty good guess as to whether they will become a successful Major League hitter or not. (There are just not enough second baseman for me to include them in this part of the study.) The results are staggering. Of the 29 third baseman drafted in the first round from 1988-2002, twenty-five of them had Double-A experience. Twelve of them would produce at least 3.5 WAR in the Major Leagues. Thirteen of them would be busts by any rational standard. Here are the 25 players first tastes of Double-A, ranked by OPS (success stories in bold):

Name                PA     AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS
Troy Glaus         230     309     430     691    1122
David Wright       272     363     467     619    1086
Pat Burrell        498     333     438     631    1068
Eric Chavez        384     328     402     612    1014
Mark Teixeira      200     316     415     591    1006
Manny Ramirez      396     340     414     581     995
Mark Teahen        229     335     419     543     962
Phil Nevin         413     294     397     561     958
Chris Haas         531     274     382     488     870
Anthony Williams   446     309     383     469     852
Scott Stahoviak    393     272     375     462     837
Shane Andrews      512     260     352     457     809
Sean Burroughs     461     291     383     401     784
Mike Bell          533     267     329     442     771
Robin Ventura      559     278     403     361     764
Matt Whitney       531     268     356     404     760
Jorge Fabregas     444     289     338     411     749
Jason Romano       620     271     343     389     732
Scott Thorman      387     252     326     406     731
Tony Torcato       163     293     344     388     731
Jeff Liefer        524     238     302     422     724
Jake Gautreau      494     242     324     393     717
Dmitri Young       177     247     294     392     685
Mike Groppuso      411     241     314     370     684
Dan Cholowsky      254     217     340     325     665

A third of the players had a .900 OPS in Double-A. All of them produced at the Major League level, and everyone except Teahen has more than 15 WAR to their name. The players bashed at different ages, in different parks, in different leagues. But it didn’t matter. I looked back at even more data. In 30 years, we have had about 11 first round third baseman OPS .900 at Double-A, and all have produced at least 4 WAR at the big league level. The sample is still small, but I still find it significant.

And on the opposite end, only one player (D. Young) posted an OPS under .750 and went on to big league success. In just this 15-year sample, nine (of 13) busts did. If we look at the next few years, that group would be joined by Matt Moses, Brian Snyder and Eric Duncan. If you’re thinking this is bad news for the likes of Josh Vitters, Matt Dominguez, Lonnie Chisenhall and a few others — my thoughts exactly. And, even amidst some early season struggles in Triple-A, I do believe more than ever that Pedro Alvarez‘ bat will play in the Major Leagues.

I do want to stress that this should hardly serve as a steadfast rule — over .900 you’re a star, under .750 you’re a bust — but rather as a history lesson, and maybe a tool in the quickest-and-dirtiest analysis possible. I do think we can use this time to be reminded that we don’t really know a player until he sees Double-A, and his production at that level can be very telling as far as his future is concerned.

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Mike in MN
12 years ago

So I shouldn’t give up on Danny Valencia just yet (even if he’s a tad old….and hasn’t hit one HR this year)?