Patience Probable with Prep Picks
Another question I have heard frequently over the last two years is when we will see Aaron Hicks and if he is behind schedule, whatever who whoever’s schedule that is.
Is there a lot of risk drafting high school hitters early in the draft? How have the Twins done when they have drafted high school bats?
My hope in this article is not to necessarily answer those questions because, again, we don’t know what the end story will be for any individual. By the end of this article, hopefully you will be able to see a bit of information to help you project when we might expect to see Buxton, Hicks or other high school draftees.
Ben Revere was drafted by the Twins in 2007 out of Lexington Catholic High School in Kentucky. He debuted with the Twins in September of 2010, three-and-a-half years after being drafted. My assumption as I prepared this data was that Revere was on a very fast track. That is where I started the search. I looked at all high school hitters drafted by the Twins in the first 100 picks of their respective drafts. Although anyone drafted or signing with an affiliate technically have a chance to make the big leagues, many believe that the Top 100 picks is where most of the future big leaguers are selected.
Between 1993 and 2007 (15 drafts), the Twins selected 22 high school hitters in the Top 100 picks of the drafts. Fifteen of the twenty-two have reached the big leagues. Obviously there is a wide range of big league success, but that is an impressive 68.1% Six to eight of those 22 players have had a significant level of big league success.
With that, I put together a chart showing when the players was drafted (including overall pick #), when they made their big league debut, when they became a regular big leaguer, how many Major League plate appearances they have accumulated, and finally, what level did a player who didn’t make the big leagues get?
NEVER MADE IT
Along with the 68% of these 22 players making it to be the big leaguers comes the 32% chance that a Top 100 draft choice never sees the major leagues. This could be for many reasons. For example, Paul Kelly and Drew Thompson just could not stay on the field. They were hurt. Both had big league talent. Mucker and Garbe were good athletes that just plateaued. Sanchez had huge power but couldn’t make contact. He also couldn’t stay out of trouble. Moses was talented, but many believed he just didn’t care about baseball all that much. There are many reasons that players don’t get to the big leagues, and this small group of seven illustrates that well. (Note – Danny Rams is still playing with the Ft. Myers Miracle, hitting .136 on the season.)
ON THE FAST TRACK
Three players on this list were on what I would consider the fast track. Joe Mauer was starting on Opening Day in 2004, two-and-a-half years after he was the #1 overall pick in 2001. He signed and played in Elizabethton in 2001. He spent all of 2002 in Quad Cities (Low A). He started 2003 in Ft. Myers and played the second half in New Britain.
Ben Revere was drafted in 2007 and played in the GCL that year. He spent all of 2008 in Beloit, where he hit .379. He spent all of 2009 in Ft. Myers and hit .311. In 2010, he hit. 305 in New Britain before his September call-up. Revere spent three-and-a-half seasons in the minors before his debut. He didn’t spend much time in the minors in 2011 before being a starter for the Twins. He also got a little bit of time in Rochester in 2012.
Justin Morneau was the Twins 3rd round pick in 1999, and he debuted with the Twins almost exactly four years after signing with the Twins, on June 10, 2003. He was regular by the All Star break in 2004, shortly before the Twins traded Doug Mientkiewicz at the deadline. More impressive, he played in the Gulf Coast League in 1999 and 2000. In 2001, he spent time in Quad Cities and Ft. Myers before ending the season with ten games in New Britain. He spent all of 2002 in New Britain which is where he started the 2003 season. He moved up to Rochester, and by July, he was up with the Twins. He spent 72 more games in 2004 in Rochester before being called up for good.
(Side Note - Jason Kubel was a 12th round pick in 2000. He debuted with the Twins in August of 2004, just over four years after signing, despite spending 2000 and 2001 in the GCL.)
Of the 15 (in our sample of 22) that made it to the big leagues ten of them debuted between four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half years. The common denominator in this group is that the players went back to the minor leagues after their debut. Rob Bowen and Javier Valentin came up within four-and-a-half years, and it wasn’t long before they were backup catchers in the big leagues. Torii Hunter came up from AA just four-and-a-half years after he was drafted, but he played in just one game (as a pinch runner) before going back to the minors. In fact, he played in just six games for the Twins the following year. And, two years after that, he was infamously returned to the minor leagues when he figured things out. He came up for good after that. Michael Cuddyer came up after four-and-a-half years too, and it took him three years to become a regular.
Cleatus Davidson came up five years after he was drafted. He spent a little time as a utility infielder for the Twins and never played with the big league club again. AJ Pierzynski didn’t hit his first chance for five-and-a-half years, and he spent plenty more time over the next two seasons in the minor leagues before staying up for good. Michael Restovich took five-and-a-half years too, and he only got minimal time with the Twins over the next three seasons. He was a part-time big leaguers for several more years but never became a regular. Denard Span rarely put up numbers during his five-and-a-half years in the minor leagues before his debut. That’s why the Twins wanted to get a centerfielder in the Johan Santana trade. But Span got his chance just days after the start of the 2008 season. He was sent back down, but it wasn’t long before he came up as a regular and he’s outperformed his minor league numbers ever since. Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson were each in the minor leagues for five-and-a-half years before their September call-ups last year. I don’t think that either would be called a big league regular at this time, but both still have the youth and potential to become just that.
Jose Morales was in the minor leagues for six-and-a-half years before he was called up to the Twins in 2007. He had three hits in his big league debut, and was injured on a slide and missed the rest of that season and plenty of time the following year. He showed some glimpses that he could be a decent backup.
Trevor Plouffe did not make his Major League debut for six years after he was drafted in 2004. His is an interesting case. After the draft, he spent the season in Elizabethton. He spent all of 2005 in Beloit where he hit just .223 but was promoted to Ft. Myers for the 2006 season. There, he hit just .246. In 2007, he found himself in New Britain as a 21 year old. He hit .274 with 48 extra base hits, and yet in 2008, he was back with the Rock Cats. He split 2008 before New Britain and Rochester. He spent all of 2009 in Rochester. In 2010, he was back in Rochester, and hit .244. However, in June, the Twins had a need and Plouffe made his big league debut. He put up major power numbers for Rochester in 2011 and played in 81 games for the Twins. We know of his early-season struggles with the Twins in 2012. Based on his hot streak the last month, can we now call him a regular, about eight years after he was drafted?
So, when people ask me when I would guess we will see Byron Buxton playing for the Minnesota Twins, I think I’ll guess the average of the above, five years. That would mean he would debut with the Twins around June of 2017, but it will likely be September of either 2016 or 2017.
Is Aaron Hicks behind schedule? He was the #1 pick in June of 2008. Five years would be about June of 2013. He is at AA right now, and he needs to be added to the 40 man roster after this season, so it’s possible he gets called up in September this year. So now, he is not behind schedule. He’s on a pretty normal schedule.
Finally, I so often hear some fans make judgements quickly on a player who comes up for his debut, struggles and is sent down. I never understand that because, in reality, very few come up, make their debut and stay in the big leagues forever. It's normal to have some struggles, get sent back down, work on some things, come back up, and rinse and repeat. Obviously the better a player is able to make adjustments, the more likely he is to eventually become a quality regular.
You can do the same math with 2010 second-round pick Niko Goodrum and 2011 supplemental first round pick Travis Harrison. Yet no one knows. Will Harrison be on the Ben Revere path, or the Michael Cuddyer path, or the Trevor Plouffe path, or the BJ Garbe path? We don’t know. There are no givens in minor league baseball, and that’s part of makes it so fun to follow.