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How do Tigers' drafts measure up by MLB standards?

We broke down the drafts from 2002 through 2006 and determined what an MLB club can expect from each draft. Now, we look at how the Tigers stack up.

Tigers need a few good men like Nick Castellanos to step forward
Tigers need a few good men like Nick Castellanos to step forward

Scouts rank the Tigers’ farm system dead last, or close to it, among all 30 major league teams. So what, I say, if the team can produce just one or two productive players per season, and fill the needs that arise on the major league club.

I don’t fault scouts who publish organizational rankings. I enjoy them. Fans want to know how well their favorite team’s farm system is producing the next generation of stars for the major league club. Prospects have to be graded on their progress and on their "upside", based on the skills that they have. So, they rank the organizations based on the potential of the prospects in their farm systems. But ultimately, only those that actually make it, and are productive in the major leagues, will matter.

In the last segment, "What are the odds of making it to the majors?", (read this if you have not done so yet), we analyzed six years of draft data, round by round, and calculated the number of players that "make it" to the major leagues from each draft, the number player taken in each round having a career WAR of at least 1.0, and the average number of players each club gets from the draft.

We can't judge the strength of the current Tiger organization for another five years, when the players currently in the minor league system have had an opportunity to matriculate up to the major leagues. If results from 2002- 2006 are any indication, we can expect many players will make it to the major leagues, but relatively few draft selections will have a significant impact. That’s just the draft, which is the portion of the organization that we’re analyzing here.

The results are summarized as follows:

- 107 players from the first ten rounds of each draft make it to the major leagues, or 150 in 20 rounds.
- 43.8 players in each draft have a WAR of 1.0 or better
- Among those, 10 players per draft have 10.0+ career WAR and 20 have 5.0+ WAR thus far.
- 37.7% of those who made it have a negative WAR, and 21.3% have a war under 1.0. 59% of those who "made it" were either below or barely above replacement level.
- Over 80% of first round selections made it to MLB. 57% of 10+ WAR, and 49% of 5+ WAR players were first rounders.

We focused on players who have produced at least 1.0 WAR. Their numbers will not increase much from the 2002- 2006 drafts, and the players who make it but produce near replacement level for their careers (most did not play in MLB in 2012) are, well, replaceable. Sure, a club needs those guys to fill out a roster, but every club has them.

An average major league club gets from 20 rounds of each draft:
5 players who make it to the majors
1.9 players who produce a WAR of 1.0 or better
0.8 players who have a career WAR of 5.0 or more
0.36 players who have a career WAR of 10.0 or more

Over the five drafts from 2002- 2006, the average MLB club has produced

18 players who made it to MLB
9.5 players who made it with a 1.0+ WAR
4.1 players with a 5+ WAR
1.9 players with a 10+ WAR

How the Tigers have drafted, year by year:

2002: Seven players drafted made it to the majors with an average WAR of 5.2. Seven players made it to the major leagues, but three of those had a negative WAR. They struck gold with Curtis Granderson in round 3 (31.6 WAR). Joel Zumaya (4.0), was taken in the 11th round. First round selection Scott Moore eventually made it but had a career WAR of - 1.0. By major league standards, they are ahead of the curve in 2002, with one star player, and made their quota with two players above 1.0 WAR. I won't count 15th rounder Jesse Carlson, who was released and re-surfaced in 2008 with Toronto.

: Seven players drafted made it to the majors, but the average WAR was -0.3. The 2003 season was a complete and utter disaster for the Tigers, and the draft was no exception. They drafted Kyle Sleeth in the first round, and he never made it to the majors. Seven players made it from this draft, but five had a negative career WAR. The best performances were from Dustin Richardson with 0.3 WAR and Dusty Ryan at 0.0. Total bust.

2004: Two words: Justin. Verlander. The only good thing to come from the 2003 debacle was the first round draft pick the next summer. Verlander has a career WAR of 33.6 thus far, but there are no other players from this draft with a positive career WAR. Of the six players who made it to MLB, three have a negative WAR and Verlander is the only one to play more than 31 games. The other notable is Luke French, with a -0.1 WAR. Six players made it to the majors, with an average WAR of 5.4.

2005: Enter David Chadd as scouting director. Everything up to this point was B.C. Eleven players from the Tigers’ June, 2005 draft have made it to the major leagues. Five have a career WAR above 1.0, and the average WAR is 2.5, while Matt Joyce and Cameron Maybin are at 7.5 or better. Casper Wells (4.1), Burke Badenhop (2.1), and Clete Thomas (1.1), cleared the 1.0 mark. Alex Avila was drafted that year, but didn't sign, so he doesn't count. The Tigers drafted him three years later. Overall, a very solid draft.

2006: Five players made it with an average war of -0.2. Brennan Boesch leads the pack with a WAR of 1.5, but he went negative last year. Casey Fien, Scott Sizemore, and Duane Below are above water but under 1.0, and Andrew Miller is bringing up the rear at -3.6. He appears to have found a role in Boston’s bullpen. This draft will ultimately be measured by how those players progress in the majors.

Super Stars: No pitcher drafted during these five drafts has a higher WAR than Verlander, and just one position player drafted in that time frame, Ryan Braun, has a higher WAR than Granderson. In fact, fangraphs WAR rates Granderson higher than Braun. Obviously, a player drafted in an earlier year has a head start on career WAR.

Only five players selected in these five drafts have a career WAR above 30. The Tigers have two of them. Only 18 have a career WAR above 20. When you put it like that, you could hardly call the Tiger drafts during those years anything but a success. It just takes a couple of stars to make your whole system. Come on Castellanos!

2002- 2006 Drafts, Rounds 1- 20

. Made it to MLB 1.0+ WAR 5.0+ WAR 10.0+ WAR 20.0+ WAR 30.0+ WAR
MLB Average 37 9.5 4.13 1.9 0.6 0.17
Tigers 25 9 4 2 2 2

Some things that stand out when looking at the Tigers' drafts. Only one player selected in the first round has really produced- Verlander. For all the talk about drafting starting pitchers, they have Verlander and Porcello to show for their efforts with Smyly just arriving, and Turner in Miami.

On the flip side, the system has produced Granderson, Avila, Joyce, and Maybin, all solid major leaguers with 7.5+ WAR. Three of those have been traded in deals that brought Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, and Phil Coke.

Early signs from later drafts:

2007: Rick Porcello ranks seventh among the first rounders chosen in the 2007 draft with a WAR of 3.6 thus far. He puts the Tigers over their team quota of players above 1.0 and 3.0 WAR for that draft. I would bet the over on 5.0 WAR for his career, but that’s just me. Luke Putkonen is just getting started with a WAR of 0.2, while Casey Crosby and Danny Worth are still looking up at replacement level, but may yet have productive careers. Ths is why I did not include 2007 in the five year study. It’s too soon to draw conclusions about performance levels with these players

2008: What I like to call "the great relief draft of 2008" was a total bust in terms of producing relief pitchers. First rounder Ryan Perry, second round selection Cody Satterwhite, then Scott Green, Jacobson, and Robbie Weinhart all fizzled out. But Alex Avila and Andy Dirks, selected in the fifth and twelfth rounds respectively, could easily put the Tigers above quota for those drafts.

The minor league's top prospects include Avisail Garcia and Bruce Rondon, who were not drafted by the Tigers. They were signed as minor league "international" free agents. Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago were acquired the same way, then traded away and reacquired. However you want to chalk that one up, they weren't drafted, but still have to be measured as part of the strength of the organization. What we have analyzed here is the draft, rather than the output of the average farm system. That's another project.

I am unimpressed by the fact that the Tigers were able to trade Geovanny Soto, a non descript 21st round pitcher, for Jhonny Peralta, or that they dealt Brett Jacobson for Aubrey Huff, or Lester Oliveros for Delmon Young. Those trades only indicate that the Tigers were willing to take on salaries that other non contenders wanted to dump. Any team could have had them.

That the Tigers had six prospects that the Marlins were willing to exchange in the Cabrera trade speaks to the reputation, rather than the production of those prospects at the time. That they never produced in the majors is the key factor in evaluating how well Detroit drafted. Money was also a motivating factor in the Marlins unloading Cabrera, but there was no shortage of suitors and the Tigers won the bidding with talent- but it was not proven talent.

I am a bit more concerned that the Tigers have had a need for infielders for the past several years prior to this spring, and they’ve had nothing resembling a major leaguer to call up. Infante and Peralta will be free agents after this season, and there’s still nobody on the horizon to fill in.

The Tigers current roster has two starting pitchers, one starting position player (unless you count Infante), and three or four relief pitchers who are home grown. I can’t say that I am concerned about where the talent will come from. Mr. Ilitch has always been generous enough to us to get what we need.

The 14 starting players on the 2013 Tigers includes three players who were drafted by Detroit, six acquired by trade (seven if you include Sanchez), and four free agents.

The fact that over half of premium talent comes from the first round of the draft, and the Tigers gave up their first round draft picks the past three years to sign Jose Valverde, Victor Martinez, and Prince Fielder, has left the system with very little blue chip talent. It only takes a couple of decent players each season to keep up with the competition. Whether the Tigers can keep pace remains to be seen.