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Collette Calls: Rolling the Dice

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

Baseball is a game of inexact numbers. Failing on stolen-base attempts 25 percent of the time is considered to be an excellent rate. Failing to reach base 65 percent of the time is perfectly acceptable for a leadoff hitter. High fail rates are the accepted norms for stolen-base proficiency and on-base percentage, but what about the Rule 4 amateur draft? Is there a bigger crapshoot in the sport?

The 48th Rule 4 draft takes place next Monday through Wednesday and 72 hours before the first pick, we still have no idea who the Astros are going to take. Will they go the high school route and take Byron Buxton or go the collegiate route and take Mark Appel from the powerhouse baseball factory in Stanford?

There have been 47 drafts in the past and not one single draft slot in the first round has had a perfect rate of those players making it to the major leagues, even if you exclude the most recent picks. In the first overall draft spot, everyone knows about Tim Beckham's story as well as Matt Bush's, but Brien Taylor and Steve Chilcott are also former first overall picks that never reached the major leagues. The second overall pick has seen Mark Merchant (from my backyard), Augie Schmidt, Garry Harris, and Mike Lentz never make the majors. The worst draft slot in the first round belongs to the 31st pick. Sure, Greg Maddux was taken 31st by the Cubs in 1984 but only he and Jarrod Washburn have earned as much as five wins above replacement for their entire career. When someone like J.P. Howell has the fourth highest career WAR, you know it is a problem.

The chart below shows the average WAR values for each draft slot in the first round. Some spots are skewed by one player carrying the weight for the group, but the early spots in the draft are definitely the big performers. WAR is an all-encompassing statistic, but a 3-WAR guy would be considered a good everyday player. Some draft spots below show an overall average player value below that threshold.

To that point, the sortable table below is fun for you. Go ahead and click on the column headers. The snosberries taste like snosberries! Look at how many players in each group reach the majors, the total WAR value for the draft slot, and the player with the most value in that particular draft spot.

Pick Reached Majors Total WAR Avg WAR Best Player
1 42 789 18.6 110.4 Alex Rodriguez
2 41 503 12.3 68.4 Reggie Jackson
3 36 429 11.9 72.5 Paul Molitor
4 36 491 13.6 67.1 Barry Larkin
5 29 296 10.2 50.1 Dwight Gooden
6 33 450 13.6 158.1 Barry Bonds
7 33 217 6.6 69.7 Frank Thomas
8 29 202 6.9 58.6 Todd Helton
9 29 221 7.6 51.5 Kevin Appier
10 39 385 9.9 58.7 Mark McGwire
11 30 94 3.1 23.6 Greg Luzinski
12 30 249 8.3 42 Nomar Garciaparra
13 25 251 10.1 64.8 Manny Ramirez
14 32 211 6.6 31.5 Derrek Lee
15 22 227 10.3 50.4 Chase Utley
16 32 239 7.5 49 Lance Berkman
17 32 221 6.9 62.2 Roy Halladay
18 26 102 3.9 43.5 Willie Wilson
19 33 308 9.3 133.9 Roger Clemens
20 25 317 12.7 78.2 Mike Mussina
21 30 124 4 31.2 Rick Sutcliffe
22 30 324 10.8 66.1 Rafael Palmeiro
23 23 118 5.1 38.3 Jason Kendall
24 26 94 3.6 26.5 Alex Fernandez
25 27 110 4.1 42 Chuck Knoblauch
26 21 109 5.2 67.1 Alan Trammell
27 26 91 3.5 41.6 Vida Blue
28 27 95 3.5 27.6 Lee Smith
29 24 206 8.6 84 George Brett
30 27 318 11.8 103 Mike Schmidt
31 15 127 8.5 101.6 Greg Maddux
32 23 88 3.8 19.2 Dave Magadan

I bring up these numbers to make a point: the known prospect is better than the unknown prospect. Outside of the top five to seven players, I never get too excited about any draftee for fantasy purposes until we actually see what these guys start doing in the minor league full season ball. If I am looking at a full-season prospect over a recent draftee, I am going to give preferential treatment to the guy already in the minors rather than the one that is still negotiating a contract.

Prospecting is tough enough, but the draft is arguably the largest crapshoot in baseball. If you can trade midseason draft spots or FAAB dollars for proven minor league prospects, that would be a safer play for your roster. If you feel obliged to take players from this year's draft in your league’s midseason draft and do not have a high draft slot, look for the draftees with clearer paths to the major leagues that could gain better name value this time next season for potential trade the following season.