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What are the odds of making it to the major leagues?

How many major league players can a club expect to make it to the major leagues from each year's draft? We break down the numbers, and the expectations here.

Justin Verlander is the Tigers' most productive draft selection in recent years
Justin Verlander is the Tigers' most productive draft selection in recent years
Leon Halip

This is the time of year, before the regular baseball season begins, when several publications reveal their "organizational rankings." These rankings are meant to give us an idea of how strong a particular baseball club's minor league system is.

This season, John Sickels of Minor League Ball rated the Tiger organization 30th, replacing the White Sox organization as dead last among major league clubs. Keith Law at ESPN, and also have the Tigers near the bottom of the organizational rankings. Baseball Prospectus should announce rankings soon. Is the Tiger farm system really that poor? Maybe not, but only time will tell what the current system will yield.

The real measure of the success of a farm system is how well it meets the needs of the major league club. When a

The real measure of the success of a farm system is how well it meets the needs of the major league club.

club needs a starting pitcher, is there a player that can be called up to do a reasonable job? How about a shortstop, or a catcher? If not, is there a prospect who can be traded for a major league caliber player to fill the need? After all, if a system has loads of prospects, who are loaded with talent, but they never make it to the majors, or never really make it in the majors, then what's the point?

I would suggest that it's not enough to count the number of "top 100" players in an organization, or top 300 players, or blue chipppers. Prospect lists are loaded with players who have recently been drafted, and the lists are typically populated by kids in the 19- 22 age range, who are a few seasons away from the major leagues. A significant percentage of them never have any real impact in the major leagues. The real question is; when the team needs a player, does the system have the resources necessary to meet those needs?

The main question

So what is a reasonable expectation when it comes to using the draft to grow enough talent to feed the major league club? Let's use the benefit of hindsight to get an idea of what we have a right to expect from a farm system, or a given draft in terms of players making it and contributing at the big league level. What are the odds of a given player making it to the major leagues if he's drafted in Round X? How many players have produced at star level, or even at above replacement level from each draft. This is what I'll attempt to break down here.

More than 90 percent of players who are going to "make it" to the major leagues will do so within five seasons of being drafted. By that time, they will have been eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and they'll either be on a club's 40-man roster, or have been passed over by all other major league clubs. There are always a few stragglers, but not many after that point.

To set the barometer, there are 750 roster positions in the major leagues among the 30 teams before rosters expand in September. 108 position players and another 87 pitchers, a total of 195 players, produced above 1.0 WAR for the 2012 season. If they don't produce 1.0 WAR over multiple seasons, there's not much there to talk about.

The method

First, I'm going to analyze the results of two different drafts where the players should have arrived in the major leagues by now if they'e going to make it at all. Then, I'll dig up five years worth of data and see if the trends are consistent, and whether the percentage of players who make it, and who make it big remain steady from year to year.

If we look at the 2007 amateur draft, we should be able to get a pretty good idea of which players are at least on their way to a major league career.

Let's look at how many have "made it" at all, and how many have had some level of success. How much success they will have remains an open question, but if they're not on a roster by now, they're in trouble. For example, there aren't any Tiger prospects on Brian's current top 50 list from the 2007 draft who haven't yet made their major league debut.

For purposes of this study, where we are counting both pitchers and position players, and adding up value over multiple seasons, we want to get an idea of how many players have put up some sort of positive numbers. WAR is a cumulative number that will gradually increase as a player contributes almost anything positive. Another way to look at it might be games played, but that doesn't give an indication of production, so we'll stick with WAR.

The following chart shows the number of players from the first seven rounds, plus the supplemental first round of the June 2007 first-year player draft, who have made their major league debut, and how well they have fared in still limited action according to baseball-reference wins above replacement (rWAR).

2007 Draft

ROUND Made it to MLB 10+ WAR 3+ WAR 1+ WAR Neg WAR
1 21 of 30 (70%) 3 7 12 4
1s 14 of 34 (41.1%) 0 1 6 6
2 9 of 30 (30.0% 1 4 4 3
3 8 of 30 (26.6%) 0 1 2 3
9 of 30 (30%)
1 1 1 7
5 12 of 30 (40%) 0 0 4 5
6 3 of 30 (10%) 0 0 1 2
7 4 of 30 (13.3% 0 0 0 3
Total 80 of 244 (32.7%) 5 14 30 33

Note: Players with 10+ WAR are included among those with 3+ WAR and 1+ WAR as well

What does the 2007 data tell us?

What we see from this chart is that, from the 2007 draft thus far, the first seven rounds (eight including the supplemental first round) produced 80 players who have "made it" to the major leagues. Of those players, 30 have produced at least 1 win above replacement level, 14 have a WAR of 3+ wins, and five players have produced 10+ WAR. 33 of the 80 players who "made it" have a negative WAR thus far.

While it's still too soon to draw conclusions about players' career WAR from the 2007 draft, we can safely say that over 90 percent of those that will make it to the major leagues from this draft class have at least had a taste of major league action by now. However, many of those with negative WAR or under 1.0 WAR played in MLB last season, so those totals are still a work in progress.

What stands out is the sharp drop off after the first round in the number of players who make it, or make it big. A first round selection had a 70 percent chance of making it to the major leagues within five seasons.

Although the odds of making it drop off sharply after the first round, chances of making it to the majors decline much more gradually in subsequent rounds. The chances of a player making an impact are also very top heavy, with 60 percent of those being first round selections, and only an occasional star being drafted in later rounds. There will be a few more stragglers to make it eventually from the 2007 draft class, but not many.

Now let's go back to 2006. These players have had another season to add production, so the numbers at given production levels should increase. I'll substitute 5+ WAR for 3+ WAR in 2006 and previous drafts.

2006 Draft

Made it to MLB
10+ WAR
5+ WAR
1+ WAR
Negative WAR
1 23 of 30 (76.6%) 5 8 12 8
1s 7 of 14 (50%) 0 2 2 5
2 16 of 32 (50%) 0 4 6 9
3 12 of 30 (40%) 0 1 3 4
4 5 of 30 (16.6%) 0 0 1 2
5 12 of 30 (40%) 0 0 1 3
6 7 of 30 (23.3%) 0 1 2 4
7 8 of 30 (26.6%) 0 1 3 3
Total 90 of 226 (39.8%) 5 (5.5/ 2.2%) 17 (18.8/ 7.5) 30 (33/ 13.2) 38 (42.2%)

As we can see from this chart, the pattern is the same with first round picks having a much better shot of making it to the majors, and of making it big. The odds drop off sharply, to just 50 percent in Round 2, and less than even after that.

Ninety players from the first seven rounds of the 2006 draft have made it to the major leagues, 10 more than in 2007. A large number of players who have made to the bigs haven’t necessarily produced. 42.2 percent of those 90 players have posted a negative WAR, and one third have a WAR above 1.0 for their careers so far.

Spreading this production across 30 clubs, that averages out to three players per club to make it to the majors, and one player per club with a career WAR at or above 1.0 from the first seven rounds of the 2006 draft.

Now, let’s see how consistent these results are going back a few more seasons, from 2002 through the 2006 drafts. We'll look at the first ten rounds of each draft.

2002 through 2006 MLB Drafts

Rounds 1 through10

Year Made it to MLB 10+ WAR 5+ WAR 1+ WAR Neg WAR
2002 108 of 311 16 25 48 37
2003 98 of 307 14 28 41 38
2004 111 of 311
9 17 46 44
2005 112 of 319
10 18 47 40
2006 106 of 316
5 17 37 43
Total 535 of 1564 (41.7%)
54 105 219 202
Avg 107 10.8
43.8 40.4

Based on five seasons of data, we see the following averages.

- An average of 107 players make it to the major leagues from the first 10 rounds of each draft.
- More than 40 percent of those that make it have produced below replacement level, with 60 percent at 0+ WAR thus far
- 44 players from each draft produced at least 1 WAR within five seasons or more.
- 10.8 players per draft have produced 10+WAR and 20 players per draft produced 5+ WAR thus far.

The number of players who have made it to MLB, as well as those with negative WAR, and those with at least 1.0 WAR have leveled off from year to year by now, while the numbers in the 5+ and 10+ WAR columns are still rising a little as players continue to accumulate WAR.

Of the players who have a career WAR of 0.0 to 0.9, three from the 2002 draft saw playing time in 2012, but none started or saw more than 200 at bats. So we're not going to see much increase in the percentage above 1.0 WAR from that group. There are a few more in the 2006 class who played in MLB last summer, but for the most part, the number of players who made it to MLB and those with a WAR of 1.0+ have been identified.

The next chart is a round-by-round breakdown for five years of drafts. Except for the supplemental first round, there are generally 30 selections per round, or 150 selections per round for the five years.

Round by Round, 2002 through 2006 MLB Drafts

Round Made it to MLB Pct Made it 1.0+ WAR Pct 1+ WAR 0.0- 0.9 WAR Neg WAR 10+ WAR 5+ WAR
1 121 of 150
80.6% 77 51.3 12 32 31 51
1s 31 of 60 52 11 18.3 6 14 2 6
2 78 52 34 22.7 12 32 11 21
3 63 42 20 13.3 16 27 3 7
4 53 35.3 19 12.6 11 23 3 6
5 41 27.3 7 4.6 17 17 0 0
6 46 30.6 15 10.0 15 16 2 7
7 32 21.5 12 8.0 7 13 1 5
8 26 17.3 8 6.0 5 13 0 0
9 19 12.6 3 2.0 9 7 0 0
10 25 16.6 13 8.7 4 8 1 2
Total 535 34.2 219 14.0 114 202/ 37.7% 54 105
Rd 1s-4 225 44.1 84 16.5 45 96/ 42.6% 19 40
Rd 5- 10 189 21.0 58 6.4 55 74/ 39.1% 4 14

What about the later rounds?

I knew you were going to ask me that! So I went and added up all the players that made it over this five year period from the 11th through the 20th rounds. Here's what I found in the next 10 rounds, consisting of another 1,500 players.

Rounds Made it 1.0+ WAR 5.0+ WAR 10.0+ WAR Negative WAR 0- 0.9 WAR
11- 20 Total 217 65 19 3 103 49
Average 43.4 13 3.8 0.6 20.6 9.8

What we see here is that there is still a steady stream of players who make it to the majors drafted through the 20th round. At least one player from each round, through round 20, made it to MLB in each of the five drafts. Forty to 47 players per year made it. Ten to 17 players accumulated a WAR of at least 1.0, just 13 per year over ten more rounds. Fewer than four players per draft have accumulated 5.0+ WAR, and fewer than one per draft with 10+ WAR. The percentage of players who made it from these rounds is 14.4 percent. 4.3 percent have accumulated 1+ WAR, 1.3 percent have 5+ WAR and 0.2 percent at 10+ WAR.


In a nutshell, what we can expect from an average MLB draft:

- 34.2% of 1,560 players chosen in the first ten rounds make it to the major leagues

- Over 80% of players selected in the first round make it to the major leagues

- 44% of players chosen from the supplemental first round through the fourth round make it to the majors

- 21% of 900 players chosen from the 5th through 10th rounds makes it to the majors

- 41% of all players and 64% of first rounders who have made it have a WAR of 1.0+

- Over half of all first round selections have a WAR of 1.0 or better

- 16.5% of 1s to 4th rounders and 6.4% of 5th- 10th rounders have a WAR of 1.0+

- 107 players, or 3.5 per club, selected in the first ten rounds make it to the majors from each draft

- 43.8 players, or just 1.5 per club, selected in the first ten rounds has a WAR of 1.0 or more

- 10 players per draft have produced 10+WAR and 20 players per draft produced 5+ WAR thus far

- 50 of the 54 players (57 counting 11-20) with 10+ WAR were selected in the first four rounds

- Over 40% of players chosen after the first round have a negative WAR


Of the 1,565 players drafted in a five year period from the the first 10 rounds of the 2002 through 2006 drafts, 54 players have a career WAR of 10.0 or more. That's just 3.4 percent of all players drafted in 10 rounds. Thirty-one of those (57.4 percent) were first-round selections. 105 players have a WAR of 5.0 or better. That's 6.7 percent of players drafted. 51 of those 105 were first round selections.

The average production from five drafts per club is

18 players who made it to MLB

7 players who made it with a 1.0+ WAR

3.4 players who made it with a 5+ WAR, and 1.8 players with a 10+ WAR


Obviously, when working with career WAR for players who are mostly still playing in the major leagues, there will be some fluctuation before they retire, but not a whole lot. There will be a few players from each draft who currently have a career WAR under 5 or under 10, who will reach those marks. But the overwhelming majority of those under 1.0 WAR aren't going to make it. The vast majority of those with a negative WAR, and many who were barely positive, are no longer in the major leagues.

They're not usually given a chance to add to their negativity year after year. There have been a few second round supplemental picks, and a few players who show up twice because they were drafted, didn't sign, and drafted again.

You can't really add together all the draft selections from several years and use the same career WAR as a measure across the board to compare the draftees in one year vs another. WAR is cumulative. But this data shows what you can expect from several seasons' drafts combined, as well as providing a look at each year. Most of the percentages are fairly consistent from one year to the next in terms of the percentages. For the most part, what you see here is what you get.

Next: We'll look at the Detroit Tigers' drafts from this period and see how they fared vs. the MLB average