- Dan Szymborski, ESPN Insider
Major League Baseball's amateur draft kicks off June 6, marking the start of the largest draft in professional sports in sheer number of picks. How big is it? Last year's final pick in the draft, Eric Hanhold, was the 1,238th player taken. That many picks would safely surpass the entirety of the NFL, NBA and NHL drafts, with several hundred to spare.
With so many players taken and baseball's large developmental system of minor leagues, the vast majority of players drafted will never play Major League Baseball. High draft picks aren't a sure thing in any sport, but with baseball possessing the longest path from amateur to the big leagues, the washout rate of even the most highly regarded drafted players is disturbingly high.
So how do we evaluate draft results? The first step is establishing a baseline of what each draft position is typically worth. The easiest way to do that would be to look at the average WAR of players drafted in each draft slot, but that doesn't quite work for a vigorous examination.
A drafted player who hits big has tremendous value for the drafting team, but you can't really assign the entire career value given that you can only really expect to get the early portion of a player's career. After they get enough service time to seek free agency, you'll have another, more expensive decision in which little is based on the draft pick. For example, the Tigers have Justin Verlander's service through at least 2019 because they're paying him $180 million, not because he was drafted with the No. 2 pick in 2004.
So for each player drafted in history up through 2010, I added up their WAR for their first nine seasons in the majors using FanGraphs' version of WAR. It's six full seasons for free agency, but when you consider cups of coffee and the opportunity to get a below-market contract -- see Evan Longoria's deals in Tampa -- it seemed fair to give the drafting teams a little more credit. For players with fewer than nine seasons, I used their ZiPS projected WARs through their expected ninth seasons.
Dan Szymborski examines five in-house upgrades for contending MLB teams, including the Washington Nationals calling up Anthony Rendon.