Take the best available player.
That refrain continues to be the draft philosophy espoused by all thirty major league organizations throughout each summer. It does not matter if the player is 18-years-old and in high school or if the player is 21-years-old and in college. Simply evaluate the talent on the field and draft accordingly. As Mariners’ scouting director Tom McNamara stated last June in preparation for the 2011 Draft:
“If we think the high school player is the best player at No. 2, we’ll take the high school guy. If we think it’s a college guy, we’ll take the college guy.” (source)
Seattle eventually selected collegiate left-hander Danny Hultzen with the second pick in the draft. In 2010, Seattle selected prep right-hander Taijuan Walker in the supplemental first round, which happened to be their first and only first-round pick of the draft. The year before, they had three first-round picks and selected one collegiate player and two high school players.
Echoing the best player available approach, the Mariners have not shown preference toward high school or college. In fact, the organization has drafted seven prep players and six collegiate players since the 2000 Draft. Essentially an even split.
All organizations are not like this, though. I gathered all of the first-round draft picks (including the first supplemental round) since the turn of the century, and noticed a few trends that have developed.
Teams That Favor High School Players
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES — 83.3%
The Phillies have only drafted two collegiate players — Chase Utley and Joe Savery — in the past twelve seasons. Contrast that with the ten prep players drafted in that same time frame, including their past four first-round picks, and the overarching philosophy of the organization becomes clear. Youth and projectability matter. The most high-profile prep draftees out of the Phillies’ system have been left-hander Cole Hamels, right-hander Gavin Floyd, and right-hander Kyle Drabek. The Phillies are also the organization that drafted and signed the legendary, tool-laden Greg Golson.
ATLANTA BRAVES — 77.3%
With 22 first-round draft picks since the 2000 Draft, the Braves have only selected five collegiate players. They’re most known for their ability to acquire and develop amateur pitching, but their biggest successes out of the draft have been high school position players (unless one considers Adam Wainwright, who Atlanta traded to St. Louis for J.D. Drew, a product of the Braves’ system), namely Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur, and Jason Heyward.
Honorable Mention: Florida Marlins (75%); Los Angeles Angels (71.4%)
Teams That Favor Collegiate Players
OAKLAND ATHLETICS — 96.2%
Billy Beane and scouting director Erik Kubota have been credited with being instrumental to mainstreaming sabermetrics and advanced statistical analysis in baseball. Perhaps the need for data explains why the organization has overwhelmingly shied away from high school players in the first round. After all, more reliable statistics exist for collegiate players. Since the 2000 Draft, the Athletics have only selected one high school player, right-hander Jeremy Bonderman. Even in Round 2-10 in that same time frame, the Athletics have drafted 88 collegiate players and only 21 high schoolers. If you want to make easy money next summer, bet a friend that Oakland will draft a collegiate player in the first round of the 2012 Draft. Your odds of winning will be quite high.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX — 81.3%
It’s not surprising to find Chicago on the collegiate side of the continuum, as the organization has always been extremely budget-conscious in the draft. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf was supposedly one of the key supporters of the MLB Draft spending limitations in the new CBA. Out of the 16 first-round picks over the past twelve drafts, the White Sox have only selected two high school players, right-hander Kris Honel and left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Somewhat ironically, Gonzalez has been the best first-round player that Chicago has drafted since 2000. Too bad that has all happened in an Athletics (and now Nationals) uniform.
Honorable Mention: Arizona Diamondbacks (69.6%); Pittsburgh Pirates (69.2%)
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).