Dodgers have set MLB standard for procuring original talent
A record for Major League Baseball players used has been set every year since 2013, up to 1,410 in 2019. Where did they all come from? The Post put all 1,410 back on their original teams and here in Part 3 of our three-part series, we examine who has done best, worst and just how much it matters.
Begin with the obvious, an organization is well served if it can bring a lot of varied talent into its pipeline, such as the Dodgers.
If you could only excel at one or the other, do a great job amassing hitters over pitchers like the Cubs, Astros and Red Sox — the World Series champions from 2016-18, by the way.
But it is not a baseball death sentence to fall short in amateur procurement as long as your front office is crafty in acquiring talent in other modes as the A’s and Brewers have exemplified.
There is no one way to build a contender and if a team is leaning too much on one element — just the draft or just international or just big trades or small trades or the waiver wire — it will become as risky as not diversifying a financial portfolio. A well-functioning organization such as the Dodgers is procuring difference-makers from every source.
Let’s understand where players come from. There were 1,410 major leaguers in 2019. From that total, 1,045 were drafted, 345 were international signs and 20 were undrafted American free agents such as Mike Ford of the Yankees. Of the 1,379 players used in 2018, 295 did not play in 2019 covering players who missed the whole year with injury, such as Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Fulmer (who were once traded for each other), players who retired, such as Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer, and those who simply never got jobs, such as Evan Gattis and Denard Span.
There were 65 players who didn’t play at all in 2018 who returned last year, even if it was ever so briefly such as Troy Tulowitzki. And 261 players made their debuts such as Pete Alonso.
Add it all up and even with the growing international influence on the game, nearly three out of every four major leaguers in 2019 were drafted. If you examine the drafts that deposited players in the majors last season, the dispersal by year would form something akin to a bell curve. There was one player left from the 1998 draft (CC Sabathia), one from 1999 (Albert Pujols) and one from 2018 (Nico Hoerner). More than half of the drafted players (572) were taken in the five selection processes from 2011-15.
It is in recent drafts, 2015-16, though, in which the Dodgers have separated themselves. Eleven of the 163 draftees from 2015-16 who played in the majors last year were picked by the Dodgers — and there is impact in those choices. They include Los Angeles’ ace, Walker Buehler, two soon-to-be rotation members in Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May, two positional starters in catcher Will Smith and second baseman Gavin Lux, a versatile bench piece in Matt Beaty and a key to acquiring Yu Darvish from the Rangers in Willie Calhoun.
Other teams have derived quality from those drafts, such as the Mets with Pete Alonso and the Astros with Alex Bregman, but no organization is close to the quantity/quality of the Dodgers. As an example, the Yankees, also a big-market team that does not pick until late in rounds, had just four players from the 2015-16 drafts reach the majors in 2019 (Chance Adams, Phillip Diehl Josh Rogers and Nick Solak). However, they did use 2015 and ’16 first-round picks James Kaprielian and Blake Rutherford as the keys to obtain Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle in 2017, plus 2015 picks Rogers and Cody Carroll helped land Zack Britton in 2018.
What else can be learned from studying where players come from:
* You can improve in this area. From 2013-2016, the Astros had either the fewest or second fewest original signs in the majors. Jeff Luhnow was hired as general manager in December 2011, coming from the Cardinals, who annually are one of the best incubators of talent in the majors. By 2017, his feeder system had begun to blossom, and in 2019 Houston had 61 original signs play in the majors, behind only the Cardinals and Yankees, who had 62.
Of course, the Luhnow administration benefitted from high picks after tanking and even then, for example, took Mark Appel instead of Kris Bryant with the first-overall selection in 2013. And the cupboard was not empty when Luhnow arrived (Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer). And now his legacy is clouded after being suspended then fired over the sign-stealing scandal. But Luhnow’s administration showed that a feeder system can be greatly upgraded.
* Maybe this is cyclical, but for now draft hitters. Consider that among position players, 19 out of the top 30 in Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs version) were with their original teams last year. It was just nine of 30 among pitchers, and that includes Marcus Stroman traded in midseason from the Blue Jays to the Mets. Pitchers tend to take longer to develop and often change teams before something clicks.
Last year there were two teams that had no original-sign pitchers reach even 2.0 WAR (about major league average): the Astros and Cubs. Those were the teams, though, who produced the most position players with at least 2.0 WAR with eight. The Red Sox were next with seven original-sign position players with at least 2.0 WAR. Boston had four homegrown pitchers reach that level, but two were among the oldest starters in the majors and long gone from Boston (Jon Lester and Anibal Sanchez) and only one was still a Red Sox, reliever Brandon Workman.
These teams won recent titles behind the homegrown lineups and largely spent big in dollars and/or prospects to construct a pitching staff. The shelf life is showing as the hitters have grown expensive and moved toward free agency and the farm systems are less fertile because, say, the Cubs traded Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman, Jorge Soler for Wade Davis and Eloy Jimenez for Jose Quintana.
* Volume does not equate to success. For example, the Rangers (58), Padres (55), Pirates (54) and Mariners (54) were among the top seven in original signs in the majors last year. Quality is more vital than quantity. But lack of quantity leaves fewer avenues, for example, for internal depth and trades.
The Orioles are an example of a team whose fallow feeder system — namely their neglect of Latin America — has cast them into what projects as a sustained rebuild.
Yet, the A’s and Brewers also have little to show from Latin America and have had two of the three lowest totals of original signs in the majors each of the last two seasons, and made the playoffs both years. The A’s had a major league-low 29 original signs in 2019. The Brewers had 35 and were the only team that had just one homegrown catcher (Jonathan Lucroy) appear in the majors.
Oakland and Milwaukee have overcome by having a few key homegrown pieces (Matt Chapman and Matt Olson with Oakland, for example) and astute trades (none bigger than Milwaukee landing Christian Yelich from Miami). Is this sustainable? The Brewers by consensus are viewed as having the majors’ worst farm system, in part from trading so much to be a contender.
Plus, due to the coronavirus pandemic, if there is a 2020 season in some form, it is likely to include larger rosters to deal with more games (including frequent doubleheaders) in a tighter time frame perhaps with no trade deadline. Thus, having players from your system ready to help now will arguably be more instrumental than ever.
If all 1,410 players from last season were put back to their original teams, who would have the best lineups and rotations:
Best lineups (due to the volume and transience of players, the Cubs were given a DH):
1. George Springer, CF. 2. Jose Altuve, 2B. 3. J.D. Martinez, DH. 4. Alex Bregman, 3B. 5. Carlos Correa, SS. 6. Yuli Gurriel, 1B. 7, J.D. Davis, LF. 8. Jason Castro, C. 9. Ramon Laureano, RF.
Tough to exclude: Enrique Hernandez, Hunter Pence
1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B. 2. Kris Bryant, RF. 3. Josh Donaldson, 3B. 4. Javy Baez, SS. 5. Gleyber Torres, 2B. 6. Kyle Schwarber, LF. 7. Jorge Soler, DH. 8. Willson Contreras, C. 9. Albert Almora, CF.
Tough to exclude: Marwin Gonzalez, Eloy Jimenez
3. Red Sox
1. Mookie Betts, RF. 2. Anthony Rizzo, 1B. 3. Xander Bogaerts, SS. 4. Rafael Devers, 3B. 5. Yoan Moncada, 2B. 6. Andrew Benintendi, LF. 7. Manuel Margot, CF. 8. Josh Reddick, DH. 9. Christian Vazquez, C.
Tough to exclude: Jackie Bradley Jr., Jose Iglesias
Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-jin Ryu, Ross Stripling
Tough to exclude: Nathan Eovaldi, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May
Brett Anderson, Trevor Bauer, Brad Keller, Wade Miley, Max Scherzer
Tough to exclude: Chase Anderson, Alex Young
Mike Minor, Charlie Morton, Mike Soroka, Julio Teheran, Adam Wainwright
Tough to exclude: Alex Wood, Kyle Wright
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