Path to the Majors

Which Path to the Majors has the Most Success?

Major League Baseball is unique compared to the NBA and NFL. Neither allows players to go straight from high school to their respective drafts. The NBA requires at least one year removed from high school and the NFL at least three years. But with baseball, you can go straight from high school to the draft. But is this the best way for a player to make it to the majors? With college being an option for most, many have to decide what path to take to the majors. We will crunch some numbers and see which path has the best track record.

From College to the Draft

Path to the Majors

Chris Sale elevated his draft stock during his time at Florida Gulf Coast University (Credit: Jon Durr/USA TODAY Sports).

Players that choose to go to college out of high school and enter the MLB draft later on are on the rise in recent years. The low point of college players being drafted in recent years came in 2012. A mere 44 percent of players drafted in the first four rounds of the 2012 MLB Draft were from four year universities. But that has been steadily changing. The percentage of college players drafted in the first four rounds hit 58 percent from four year universities in the 2016 MLB Draft. With this rise, does it prove that college is the best route to the majors?

According to the numbers, the answer might be yes. Only 15 percent of the players drafted in the first round since 2013 have played in the majors. But that 15 percent is solely comprised of college players. College players are more developed than their high school counterparts, and can make it to the big leagues faster. Even those high school players who are determined to have first round talent still have a few years before they make it to the majors.

Granted, the benefits of going the college route to the majors may get you there faster. It also provides more opportunities for those players who may not be top prospects to prove their worth in college. But for some, the opportunity to become professionally employed to play baseball is just too good to wait on.

Path to the Majors

Many Machado made a seamless transition from high school to the majors (Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images).

From High School to the Draft

When these players are in high school, they are approached by MLB scouts. These scouts will try to dissuade them from college with signing bonuses. These bonuses are provided to a player when they sign with a respective team’s agent. These signing bonuses are where players earn their money. The first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Mickey Moniak, had a $6.1 million signing bonus. But that is certainly not the case for all drafted players.

The salary of an average minor league player can be less than what is considered poverty level in the United States ($11,490 a year for a single person). That is staggering to see, given that minor league players have to provide their own lodging, food and necessary daily items. But even so, if you can earn a good signing bonus, it definitely makes up for it.

To make it to the majors, much more is required than just talent. While that is the basis of a player, it may be necessary to supplement that talent with specialized instruction and equipment. Baseball is one of the most expensive sports to play. With the costs of equipment and training, some players give up the game due to lack of funds. That can make the jump from high school to the MLB Draft even more enticing. After spending countless hours and dollars on their game, some players are ready to get paid. And that may be the best option, given some of my findings.

Which Transition Provides the Most Success?

Using our same sample size from earlier (2009-2016) and using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to determine success, there is a surprising discovery. High school players have an advantage in career success over their college counterparts. From 2009-2012, only the 2010 draft has produced a college player with a higher WAR than a high school player. Chris Sale entered the draft from college and has a 31.1 WAR, while Manny Machado came straight from high school and has a 24.4 WAR. That is the lone year in our sample size where a high school player has been bested by a college player in terms of WAR.

In terms of short term success, the route from college to the draft is the best choice. Players who gain those few years in college are able to mature physically and have a shorter path to the majors. The 2009 MLB Draft is an excellent example. Even supported by high school phenom Mike Trout’s incredible 48.5 WAR, first found high schoolers have only amassed 72.5 WAR. That does not compared to the 90 WAR put up by college players in that year’s first round draft.

Every year, players across the country are faced with a difficult decision. Whether to play in college or go straight to the MLB Draft. There is a solid argument to be made for both choices, but one of the biggest determining factors is the player himself. Each player is unique. With different circumstances, skills and abilities, there is no definitive answer.

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