I have always been fascinated with origins. When I meet people, I like to ask about where they grew up. Whenever I’m watching an NFL game, I regularly find myself Googling players to see where they went to college. I always need to know where bands or musicians are from and when I see a movie I like, I look up the writer and director on IMDB to see what else they’ve done.
Needless to say, covering the draft for Baseball America was right up my alley.
To help relieve some of the downtime this winter, I decided to take a look at where Major Leaguers come from, focusing my study on the draft—a baseball census, if you will. The sample for this study is comprised of any player who got at least 130 big league at-bats, or pitched 50 innings or more at any point over the past five years (2009-2013). It’s a group that includes 1,247 different players spanning from established and retired players like Jamie Moyer, John Smoltz, Garret Anderson and Jim Thome to recent first-rounders like Michael Wacha, Mike Zunino, Gerrit Cole and Jose Fernandez.
First, let’s look at a state-by-state breakdown of where these 1,247 players were drafted from . . .
|Texas||117||9.38%||Puerto Rico||18||1.44%||West Virginia||5||0.40%|
|North Carolina||44||3.53%||New York||16||1.28%||New Hampshire||3||0.24%|
Though there is some overlap, those numbers line up pretty well with a similar study I did, looking at every player to reach the big leagues (in any capacity) since the draft switched to a single event in 1987. That study was easy thanks to The Baseball Cube’s nifty Draft Research Tool. It gave me a total of 3,346 players. Here is how they split up, though it should be noted that The Baseball Cube’s draft tool doesn’t allow you to search for players from Canada or Puerto Rico for some reason . . .
|Louisiana||121||3.62%||New Jersey||46||1.37%||New Mexico||13||0.39%|
|North Carolina||108||3.23%||Michigan||37||1.11%||Rhode Island||7||0.21%|
|South Carolina||87||2.60%||Nebraska||36||1.08%||New Hampshire||4||0.12%|
Typically, California, Florida and Texas get lumped together as the three main states responsible for producing baseball talent. With their large populations and year-round warm climates, it makes sense that a lot of players come from those states. But lumping them together like that isn’t fair to California. Look at those numbers! Of the 1,247 recent big leaguers who were procured through the draft, 1 out of every 5 were drafted out of California. The Golden State produced nearly as many players in this study as Florida and Texas COMBINED.
But looking where players were drafted from only paints a part of the picture. Where are those 1,247 players actually from?
There’s certainly value in signing players out of high school and letting them develop in a professional environment instead of on campus. What if the Brewers had signed lefthander Carlos Rodon in 2011 instead of letting him go to North Carolina State, where he’s the favorite to be drafted first overall this June? What if the Dodgers signed David Price out of high school in 2004 . . . or Paul Goldschmidt in 2006 . . . or Chase Utley in 1997?
On the flipside, if Mike Trout had honored his commitment to East Carolina instead of signing out of high school, he would have been a junior in college in 2012 instead of putting up historic rookie numbers in the big leagues. Can you imagine the kind of numbers he would have put up in Conference USA?
Here is a chart that illustrates where each of those 1,247 players attended high school.
|Texas||123||9.86%||New Jersey||19||1.52%||New Mexico||6||0.48%|
|North Carolina||31||2.48%||Michigan||14||1.12%||West Virginia||5||0.40%|
|New York||27||2.16%||Maryland/DC||10||0.80%||North Dakota||3||0.24%|
To me, the surprise here is Illinois. The Land of Lincoln ranks 14th if you’re looking at where players are drafted from, but if you asked someone to guess the state that has produced the fifth-most recent big leaguers out of high school, it might take a half dozen tries before they came up with Illinois. The difference lies in the fact that many players (Ben Zobrist, Tom Gorzelanny, Jody Gerut, Tony Cingrani and Christian Friedrich, among others) have left the state to attend college elsewhere, which isn’t as surprising.
On the other side of the spectrum, South Carolina is the biggest importer of talent. In fact, of the 17 players on this list to be drafted in the top 5 rounds out of South Carolina, just five of them (Justin Smoak, Tyler Colvin, Jordan Lyles, Brett Gardner & Dewayne Wise) are actually from the state. Daniel Moskos is from California, Khalil Greene and Brad Miller are from Florida, Adam Everett and Tyler Thornburg are from Georgia, Brian Roberts is from North Carolina, etc.
The category “Other” is for players who came to the United States for college, but who grew up in other countries. The five players in that category are Jose Bautista, Julio Borbon and Placido Polanco (Dominican Republic), Andrelton Simmons (Curacao), and Josh Spence (Australia). It should also be noted that for simplicity’s sake, the handful of players drafted out of the independent ranks (Tanner Scheppers, Luke Hochevar, etc.) were treated like college players for this purpose.
The idea for this research came when I was thinking about scouts’ assigned coverage areas. Specifically, I was thinking about the poor scouts who have to cover the Northwest AND Northern California, as it’s both talent-rich and geographically massive.
I looked at the 273 players who attended high school in California and split them up into either being from Northern California (Monterey, Kings, Tulare & Inyo counties and north) or Southern California (everything else south of that). The split is 71 players from NorCal and 202 from SoCal. So, if you split NorCal and SoCal up into separate states, SoCal would still rank first, and NorCal would easily rank fourth, edging Georgia in both players and size.
That’s why it’s so surprising that some teams still combine the Northwest and Northern California into an area for one scout to cover. As recently as 2009, there were still seven teams combining Northern California and the Northwest into one beast of a territory. Some of those teams have come to their senses, but still . . . that’s crazy. Based on the number of players (117 players from this study went to high school in either NorCal, Washington, Oregon or Idaho) and the size (those areas combine for a total of 351,176 square miles), it would be easier for one scout to cover Texas by himself than it would be to have NorCal and the Northwest together.
I can’t find the exact quote, but something Paul DePodesta said has always stuck with me. He said something to the effect of, “If we were to start from scratch, would we do things the way we do them now?”
From my understanding, there are several factors that make an area difficult to work. Scouts in the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic have a lot of Division I colleges to keep tabs on. In the Northwest and Northeast, weather is a concern and scouts always need to have a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D in order every day because of the uncertain climates. But, the main two complicating factors are prospect density (the number of viable players to see) and physical area (how many miles you have to drive).
With that in mind, here is a chart looking at each state’s main factors for scouts. “Total Pop.” is the state’s total population from the 2010 U.S. Census. The “Colleges” column is the number of different colleges that have produced a Top 10 round pick over the last 10 years (2004-2013) and the “Avg Draft” column is the average number of players (rounded up) taken from that state over the last two years, since those are the only two drafts so far limited to 40 rounds.
|STATE||SQ. MILES||TOTAL POP.||COLLEGES||AVG DRAFT|
You can give a guy an area with a lot of players, or you can give a guy an area with a lot of land to cover, but you can’t give him both. If you start with the assumption that you need three scouts in California, two in Texas and two in Florida, the rest of the country gets tricky. Even if an organization splits up Northern Nevada, Oklahoma, Hawaii and Puerto Rico into those areas, the average team is still left with 44 states to divide between the 10 remaining scouts.
When you’re splitting up about 1200 players drafted each year between an average of 17 different scouts, each scout should (theoretically) be responsible for about 70 apiece. That doesn’t mean that each scout should turn in 70 players, just that he should expect about 70 players from his area to be drafted. The Northwest has averaged about 50 players drafted the past two years (excluding British Columbia). Looking at those numbers, it’s easy to the see the temptation of adding Northern California onto the coverage area for the Northwest. But when you factor in size and how strong Northern California is, I don’t think it’s smart for an organization to combine those areas.
Another thing interesting about all this data is that it becomes easy to see why more and more teams are adding an extra crosschecker for the Southeast. Obviously it depends on how you define the region, as there’s no standard definition for the Southeast, but the states that are generally considered (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee) account for more than a third of the total players drafted each year.
Finally, here is some extra data I collected from the study. First, let’s look at which team originally drafted the most players . . .
|Diamondbacks||52||Blue Jays||43||Red Sox||37|
No surprise that the Cardinals come out on top here. They seem to be the model organization in baseball these days, with a young, loaded big league team and a seemingly endless pipeline of talent coming up through the ranks. Last year, on Opening Day, I looked at which scouting directors were most responsible for the 572 players on Opening Day rosters who came through the draft. Jeff Luhnow led all directors by drafting 21 of those players. Of course it’s not all Luhnow, but the Cardinals list is packed with stars of Cardinals past (Albert Pujols, J.D. Drew, Placido Polanco, Dan Haren and Colby Rasmus) to stars of Cardinals present (Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Lance Lynn and Matt Carpenter) to stars of Cardinals future (Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Wacha).
Luckily for the Rays, their list of players drafted is loaded with stars, as well. Of course it helps that they nailed a lot of high draft picks like David Price, Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton. Eventually Josh Hamilton became the player everyone though he’d be, too. But they also nailed some later picks like James Shields (16th round), Desmond Jennings (10th) and Matt Moore (8th). The future doesn’t look as bright, however, as it is interesting to note that the only player to break through the 130 AB / 50 IP threshold that was originally drafted by the Rays since 2007 was Derek Dietrich (who, of course, did it with the Marlins).
Next, here is a look at which level players were drafted from . . .
As you can see in the chart, 701 of the 1,247 players (57 percent) came through the college ranks. High schoolers account for 405 of the players (32 percent) and 141 players came from junior college (11 percent).
Finally, let’s look at which round these players came from. Supplemental rounds are included in their base round (so supplemental first rounders count as first rounders), and there was one 57th rounder (Gabe Kapler) who I just lumped in with the 50th rounder, so consider that last part of the graph rounds 50+. While it’s interesting to see visually how important the first round is for future big leaguers, my takeaway from this is that there are big leaguers in nearly every round of the draft. The key, of course, is finding them, but it’s a lesson to never write a player off because of the round he was drafted!