MLB Draft Review: AL Central


David Seifert
Director of College Scouting

Rather than taking a subjective approach to ranking organizational draft classes, we will look back through an analytical lens using WAR. The "official" definition of WAR can be found here -- WAR Defined --, but loosely defined, it is an equalizing statistic that places an overall value on a player. It is derived from all areas of the game (offense, defense, base running, pitching) for both position players and pitchers. It is also adjusted by position, ballparks and over the periods of juiced and dead ball eras.

While each Major League organization utilizes its own proprietary calculation for WAR, there are two public outfits that each produce their own valuations -- Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com. For purposes of this exercise, we utilized the calculations provided by Baseball-Reference.com.

NOTES: A negative WAR for any individual is not used to calculate a team's total WAR. For any individual who has a WAR of less than zero, 0.0 is used.

Return on Investment (ROI) measures how efficiently an organization has spent its bonus dollars. Anyone can just spend money on draft picks, but the best clubs scout efficiently and develop their prospects in a manner that allows them to fully leverage every last dollar spent to maximize return (production by the players at the Major League level).

Continuing with the AL Central where the Guardians continue to crush the competition and the Twins, thanks to the Giants, Tigers and Orioles, made major improvements to their ROI. Here's an analytical look at how the 2015-2018 draft classes are shaping up.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX (Scouting Director Nick Hostetler 2015-18)
2015: 1st Round, 8th Overall Carson Fulmer. Career WAR: -1.1
Individual WAR Leader: Danny Mendick, 22nd Round. WAR: 0.8
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.8
MLers to Date: 3 (Fulmer, Seby Zavala, Mendick)
Signing Bonuses: $5.98M

2016: 1st Round, 7th Overall Zack Collins. Career WAR: -1.0
                                      26th Overall Zack Burdi. Career WAR: -0.6
Individual WAR Leader: Matt Foster. 20th Round. WAR 0.2
2016 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.2
MLers to Date: 6 (Collins, Burdi, Jimmy LambertBernando Flores, Ian Hamilton, Foster)
Signing Bonuses: $10.06M

2017: 1st Round, 11th Overall Jake Burger. Career WAR: 0.4
Individual WAR Leader: Burger
2017 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.7
MLers to Date: 3 (Burger, Gavin SheetsLuis Gonzalez)
Signing Bonuses: $8.78M

2018: 1st Round, 4th Overall Nick Madrigal. Career WAR: 1.7
Individual WAR Leader: Madrigal
2018 Draft Totals: WAR: 3.0
MLers to Date: 4 (Madrigal, Jonathan StieverJonathan HeuerRomy Gonzalez)
Signing Bonuses: $12.28M

2015-18 TOTALS:  WAR: 4.7   MLers: 16   BONUSES: $37.1M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $7.89M per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARY: Barring a major turnaround by RHP Carson Fulmer who is 130+ innings into his ML career and performing below replacement level (-1.1 career WAR), the 2015 class looks like a near total loss on a $6M investment with 22nd rounder Danny Mendick as the lone productive Big Leaguer. The Sox selection of a pair of Zacks with their top picks in 2016 has also resulted in little return to date as Catcher Zack Collins has produced a -1.0 career WAR and RHP Zack Burdi a -0.6. On the semi-bright side, another late round pick, 20th rounder Matt Foster, has posted the only positive career WAR (0.2) from the 2016 draft class. The outlook for the 2017 draft is looking a bit better than it did a year ago as the top three picks have all seen time in the Major Leagues. Burger has recovered from tearing his left Achilles tendon twice during his pro career and made his ML debut in 2021, posting an .807 OPS and a 0.4 WAR. Second rounder Gavin Sheets dropped 11 bombs in 160 at-bats (0.2 WAR) for the South Siders, while 3rd rounder Luis Gonzalez also saw some more action for the Big Club after making his MLB debut in 2020. And the 2018 draft looks even brighter for the Sox as the 4th overall pick Nick Madrigal debuted in 2020, posting a 0.5 WAR in 29 games, then broke through in 2021 with a .317 batting average and a 1.2 WAR, giving him a total of 1.7 WAR during his short ML career to date.


CLEVELAND GUARDIANS
 (Scouting Director Brad Grant 2015-17. Scott Barnsby 2018)
2015: 1st Round, 17th Overall Brady Aiken Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Triston McKenzie. 1st Round Supp. WAR: 1.7
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 1.9
MLers to Date: 5 (McKenize, Mark Mathias, Ka'ai TomJustin GarzaSam Haggerty)
Signing Bonuses: $8.46M

2016: 1st Round, 14th Overall Will Benson. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Shane Bieber, 4th Round. WAR: 11.5
2016 Draft Totals: WAR: 20.6
MLers to Date: 3 (Aaron Civale, Bieber, Zach Plesac)
Signing Bonuses: $8.93M

2017: 1st Round  NO PICK
Individual WAR Leader: James Karinchak, 9th Round. WAR: 1.7
2017 Draft Totals: WAR: 2.0
MLers to Date: 4 (Ernie ClementEli Morgan, Karinchak, Kyle Nelson)
Signing Bonuses: $5.8M

2018: 1st Round, 29th Overall Bo Naylor. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Nick Sandlin. 4th Round. Career WAR: 0.2
2018 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.4
MLers to Date: 1 (Sandlin)
Signing Bonuses: $11.22M

2015-18 TOTALS:  WAR: 24.9   MLers: 13   BONUSES: $34.42M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $1.38M per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARYBrady Aiken was a well-known risk well before Cleveland selected him with their first pick in 2015, and after five-plus years in their system, he was released this past October. The supplemental 1st round pick in 2015, RHP Triston McKenzie, made a solid MLB debut in 2020, accumulating a 0.6 WAR in six starts. He then added 24 more starts and a 1.1 WAR in 2021. Despite the hitting struggles of 1st rounder Benson (.210 pro career batting average) and analytics driven 2nd round pick Logan Ice (.206 pro career batting average before his spring training retirement in 2020), an elite level draft class is building from Cleveland's efforts in 2016. The then-Indians struck gold with right-handed pitchers Shane BieberAaron Civale and Zach Plesac. And it all starts with Bieber, who has already accumulated 11.5 WAR in his MLB career. Cleveland also hit it big with 3rd rounder Civale and 12th rounder Plesac. This trio accounts for 20.6 of the organization's total 24.9 WAR (83%). Their 2017 draft is starting to check a lot of WAR boxes as well with 3rd rounder Tyler Freeman, who batted .323 in 41 games in Double-A this past summer and 9th round RHP James Karinchak. The reliever made 60 appearances out of the pen, gaining seven wins and 11 saves while accumulating a 1.0 WAR. It's a little too early to judge Cleveland's three 2018 first round selections, especially since all were prep selections, but 2nd round RHP Nick Sandlin has already debuted in the Show with 34 games and a 2.94 ERA out of the pen in 2021.

An obvious strength of Cleveland's scouting and player development departments is the ability to produce quality Major League pitchers. Since 2016 six of the eight Big Leaguers produced are right-handed pitchers and 100% of the organization's 24.9 WAR total from 2015-2018 has been by righties. Sure it's a small sample size, but it's certainly one worth noting.


DETROIT TIGERS
 (Scouting Director David Chadd 2015-16, Scott Pleis 2017-18)
2015: 1st Round, 22nd Overall Beau Burrows. Career WAR: -0.7
Individual WAR Leader: Tyler Alexander, 2nd Round. Career WAR: 3.3
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 4.4
MLers to Date: 6 (Burrows, Christin Stewart, Alexander, Drew SmithMatt HallKyle Dowdy)
Signing Bonuses: $7.61M

2016: 1st Round, 9th Overall Matt Manning. Career WAR: -0.4
Individual WAR Leader: Kyle Funkhouser. 4th Round. Career WAR: 0.7
2016 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.7
MLers to Date: 6 (Manning, Kyle FunkhouserBryan GarciaJacob RobsonJohn SchreiberBrandyn Sittinger)
Signing Bonuses: $6.71M

2017: 1st Round, 18th Overall Alex Faedo. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Drew Carlton. 32nd Round. Career WAR: 0.0
2017 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.0
MLers to Date: 2 (Will Vest, Carlton)
Signing Bonuses: $8.30M

2018: 1st Round, 1st Overall Casey Mize. Career WAR: 2.7
Individual WAR Leader: Mize
2018 Draft Totals: WAR: 4.3
MLers to Date: 2 (Mize, Tarik Skubal)
Signing Bonuses: $14.78M

2015-18 TOTALS:  WAR: 9.4   MLers: 16   BONUSES: $37.4M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $3.98M per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARY: The 2015 draft class looks solid, but not spectacular, as six picks have reached the Major Leagues with 2nd round LHP Tyler Alexander as the most successful to date with a career 3.3 WAR. Without a 2nd or 3rd round pick in 2016, the Tigers led off in the 1st round (9th overall) with high ceiling prep pitcher RHP Matt Manning who debuted in 2021, posting 18 starts for the Tigers. The 2016 draft has produced six Major Leaguers, but five of those have a negative career WAR with 4th round RHP Kyle Funkhouser as the only positive contributor (0.7 career WAR) to date. The 2017 draft class looks in peril as 1st round RHP Alex Faedo missed all of the 2021 season after Tommy John surgery in December of 2020. Also, 2nd round pick OF Reynaldo Rivera has been a total bust. He was suspended 80 games for PEDs in 2019-2020, then struggled as a 24 year-old in High-A this past summer, batting .207 in 323 at-bats. On the brighter side, 2017 produced two later round Major Leaguers in 12th round RHP Will Vest and 32nd round RHP Drew Carlton. The 2018 draft offers promise with a slew of college picks, including the No. 1 overall pick, RHP Casey Mize who debuted in 2020, then posted a 3.3 WAR during the 2021 season. Ninth round steal LHP Tarik Skubal also saw time at Comerica Park in 2020 before posting a 1.7 WAR in the Tigers' rotation this past summer.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS 
(Scouting Director Lonnie Goldberg 2015-18)
2015: 1st Round, 21st Overall Ashe Russell. Career WAR: 0.0
                                       33rd Overall Nolan Watson. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Josh Staumont. 2nd Round. WAR: 2.3
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 2.7
MLers to Date: 3 (Staumont, Nick DiniEmmanuel Rivera)
Signing Bonuses: $7.99M

2016: 1st Round NO PICK
Individual WAR Leader: Nicky Lopez, 5th Round. WAR: 4.4
2016 Draft Totals: WAR: 5.7
MLers to Date: 6 (Khalil Lee, Lopez, Richard Lovelady, David McKay, Nick HeathAnthony Bender)
Signing Bonuses: $5.05M

2017: 1st Round, 14th Overall Nick Pratto. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Tyler Zuber. 6th Round. WAR: -0.1
2017 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.0*
MLers to Date: 1 (Zuber)
Signing Bonuses: $10.38M

2018: 1st Round, 18th Overall Brady Singer. Career WAR: 1.2
Individual WAR Leader: Singer
2018 Draft Totals: WAR: 3.6
MLers to Date: 6 (Singer, Jackson KowarDaniel Lynch, Kris BubicKyle IsbelJohn Heasley)
Signing Bonuses: $14.77M

2015-18 TOTALS:  WAR: 12.0   MLers: 16   BONUSES: $38.19M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $3.18M per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARY: A change of philosophy from selecting prep talents with their 1st round picks in 2015 through 2017 to collegians with their top 11 picks in 2018 has immediately benefited the Royals. First round RHP Brady Singer is already a rotation mainstay, accumulating a 1.1 WAR during a covid-shortened 2020 season and 40th overall selection, Kris Bubic is right behind him. The lefty posted a 1.2 WAR over 130 IP in 2021. And that's just the start as five of the Royals top six picks from 2018 have already seen time in the Major Leagues. Previous to 2015 the Royals had typically leaned college with their top pick (2010-Colon, 2012-Zimmer, 2013-Dozier, 2014-Finnegan) which made their two 2015 1st round picks of Indiana high school right-handers, Ashe Russell and Nolan Watson, a big surprise. They followed those picks with another prep arm in the 4th round, creating huge risk in their draft portfolio. Russell’s makeup and command concerns at the time played out to the worst case in pro ball, while Watson and Davila saw very limited success in Double-A last summer. Outside of 2nd round RHP Josh Staumont who has posted a 2.3 career WAR out of the Royals pen, 2015 looks to be a largely fruitless draft. Painfully, the Royals 2016 draft class could be similar with one exception in 5th rounder Nicky Lopez who batted .300 as the everyday shortstop for the Royals in 2021. Lopez has also posted an organizational best 4.4 WAR of the all players selected/signed by the Royals from the 2015-2018 amateur drafts.


MINNESOTA TWINS
 (Scouting Director Deron Johnson 2015-16, Sean Johnson 2017-18)
2015: 1st Round, 6th Overall Tyler Jay. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: LaMonte Wade, Jr. 9th Round. WAR: 1.1
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 1.3
MLers to Date: 6 (Travis BlankenhornJovani Moran, Wade Jr., Cody StashakJaylin DavisAndrew Vasquez)
Signing Bonuses Total: $7.15M

2016: 1st Round,15th Overall Alex Kiriloff. Career WAR: 0.6
Individual WAR Leader: Akil Badoo. 2nd Round. Career War: 2.1
2016 Draft Totals: WAR: 3.6
MLers to Date: 6 (Kiriloff, Ben Rortvedt, Badoo, Griffin JaxTyler Wells, Sean Poppen)
Signing Bonuses: $8.53M

2017: 1st Round, 1st Overall Royce Lewis. Career WAR: 0.0
                                  32nd Overall Brent Rooker. Career WAR: -0.6
Individual WAR Leader: Bailey Ober. 12th Round. Career WAR: 1.1
2017 Draft Totals: WAR: 1.1
Total MLers to Date: 3 (Rooker, Charlie Barnes, Ober)
Signing Bonuses: $15.02M

2018: 1st Round, 20th Overall. Trevor Larnach. Career WAR: 0.6
Individual WAR Leader: Ryan Jeffers. 2nd Round. WAR: 1.0
2018 Draft Totals: WAR: 1.6
Total MLers to Date: 2 (Larnach, Jeffers)
Signing Bonuses: $6.88M

2015-18 TOTALS:  WAR: 7.6   MLers: 17   BONUSES: $37.59M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $4.95M per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARY: The Twins have made a huge improvement to their ROI compared to this time last season, taking a $28.91M ROI down to the current $4.95M. They also added an AL Central best eight Major Leaguers who debuted in 2021, boosting their total to 17 from the 2015-2018 draft classes. However, both of those numbers are deceiving since other organization's scouting and player development systems were greatly responsible for adding to the Twins' totals.

The 2015 draft was a down year for talent and the Twins did no better than the industry, missing on 1st round LHP Tyler Jay and not signing 2nd round RHP Kyle Cody. Third round prep Travis Blankenhorn has reached the Major Leagues, but has hit just .192 over limited at-bats over parts of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The top Major League producer from this draft class has been 9th rounder LaMonte Wade, Jr. However, Wade was traded to and developed by the San Francisco Giants, posting a 1.2 WAR for the 2021 NL West champions. Overall, this class offers very little from a $7M+ investment. With four of the first 74 picks in the 2016 draft the Twins went high risk by selecting preps with all four. And to date three of those have reached the Big Leagues. First round OF Alex Kiriloff looks to be a future Big League masher who posted a 0.6 WAR in his 59 game debut season this past summer and 2nd round catcher Ben Rortvedt also debuted, playing 39 games. But, the bigger stories are 2nd round (74th overall pick) OF Akil Badoo who was Rule V drafted by the Tigers in December of 2020 and 15th round RHP Tyler Wells who was also Rule V drafted that same winter by the Orioles. Badoo produced a 2.1 WAR for the Tigers in 2021, while Wells collected a 0.9 WAR out of Baltimore's bullpen. The external success by the trio of Wade, Badoo and Wells deserves criticism for either a lack of development on the part of the Twins or a lack of accurate scouting on the players they already had in their system. Regardless, it's not a recipe for success, especially for a small market club like the Bomba Squad. Looking at 2017, the Twins 1st overall pick, Royce Lewis, got off to a strong start in his pro career before missing all of 2021 with a knee injury. Brent Rooker (1st round supplemental) debuted in 2020, but has struggled to a .212 career batting average in parts of two Major League seasons. Twelfth rounder Bailey Ober is the best the 2017 draft has to offer to date for the Twins as the right-hander produced a 1.1 WAR over 20 starts in 2021. Minnesota's 2018 2nd round pick catcher Ryan Jeffers made his MLB debut in 2020 after only 600 career minor league at-bats, before splitting time between the Majors and Triple-A this past summer. 2018 1st round (20th overall selection) OF Trevor Larnach made a successful debut in 2021, posting a 0.6 WAR in 79 games.

 

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