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MLB Draft Review: NL Central


David Seifert
Director of College Scouting


Rather than taking a subjective approach to ranking organizational draft classes, we will look back through an analytical lens using WAR. The "official" definition of WAR can be found here -- WAR Defined --, but loosely defined, it is an equalizing statistic that places an overall value on a player. It is derived from all areas of the game (offense, defense, base running, pitching) for both position players and pitchers. It is also adjusted by position, ballparks and over the periods of juiced and dead ball eras.

While each Major League organization utilizes its own proprietary calculation for WAR, there are two public outfits that each produce their own valuations -- Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com. For purposes of this exercise, we utilized the calculations provided by Baseball-Reference.com.

NOTES: A negative WAR for any individual is not used to calculate a team's total WAR. For any individual who has a WAR of less than zero, 0.0 is used.

Return on Investment (ROI) measures how efficiently an organization has spent its bonus dollars. Anyone can just spend money on draft picks, but the best clubs scout efficiently and develop their prospects in a manner that allows them to fully leverage every last dollar spent to maximize return (production by the players at the Major League level).


Leading off with the NL Central, here's a look at how the 2015-2018 draft classes are shaping up. Overall, the division boasts one of the top teams in MLB with the St Louis Cardinals in regards to drafting and developing Major League talent from the 2015-2018 drafts. The NL Central also has two of the least impressive in MLB from those drafts in the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.

CHICAGO
 CUBS (Scouting Director Matt Dorey 2015-18)
2015 (list): 1st Round, 9th Overall Ian Happ. Career WAR: 6.5
Individual WAR Leader: Happ
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 6.7
MLers to Date: 6 (Happ, Vimael MachinPJ HigginsScott EffrossTyler PaineTaylor Jones)
Signing Bonuses: $8.34M

2016 (list): 1st Round. NO PICK
Individual WAR Leader: Tom Hatch, 3rd Round. Career WAR 0.5
2016 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.6
MLers to Date: 6 (Hatch, Tyson MillerStephen Ridings, Michael RuckerZack ShortTrent Giambrone)
Signing Bonuses: $2.96M

2017 (list): 1st Round, 27th Overall Brendan Little. Career WAR: 0.0
                                        30th Overall Alex Lange. Career WAR: 0.3
Individual WAR Leader: Keegan Thompson, 3rd Round. Career WAR 0.9
2017 Draft Totals: WAR: 1.2
MLers to Date: 3 (Lange, Thompson, Cory Abbott)
Signing Bonuses: $8.71M 

2018 (list): 1st Round, 24th Overall Nico Hoerner. Career WAR: 2.1
Individual WAR Leader: Hoerner
2018 Draft Totals: WAR: 2.1
MLers to Date: 1 (Hoerner)
Signing Bonuses: $9.22M

2015-18 TOTALS   WAR: 10.6    MLers: 16    BONUSES: $29.23M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $2.76M per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARY: 2015 1st rounder Ian Happ continues to carry the load for the Cubbies with 6.5 of their 10.6 total WAR (61.3%). To date the top selections from their 2017 draft have not impressed: LHP Brendan Little has struggled to find the strike zone consistently (4.1 BB/9 in 2021 out of the AA/AAA bullpen) and RHP Alex Lange was traded to Detroit and immediately moved to the bullpen where he posted a 0.3 WAR in 2021 for the Tigers. On the bright side, 2017 3rd rounder, RHP Keegan Thompson debuted in 2021 and put together a 1.3 WAR mostly out of the pen. The North Siders also added nine MLers to its 2015-2018 draft tallies during the 2021 season, including four each from the 2015 and 2016 drafts. The 2018 draft class offers hope with top pick SS Nico Hoerner producing a 0.7 WAR in 2020 then adding another 1.4 in 2021 and 2nd round OF Brennen Davis progressing steadily up the minor league ladder, finishing at AAA with a .268/.397/.536 slash in 68 plate appearances as a 21 year-old.


CINCINNATI
 REDS (Scouting Director Chris Buckley 2015-18)
2015 (list): 1st Round, 11th Overall Tyler Stephenson. Career WAR: 2.2
Individual WAR Leader: Stephenson
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 3.9
MLers to Date: 6 (Stephenson, Tony Santillan, Rainey, Blake Trahan, Jimmy Herget, Alejo Lopez)
Signing Bonuses: $9.02M

2016 (list): 1st Round, 2nd Overall. Nick Senzel. Career WAR -0.6
Individual WAR Leader: Joel Kuhnel, 11th Round. Career WAR 0.0
2016 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.0
MLers to Date: 4 (Senzel, Taylor TrammellRyan Hendrix, Kuhnel)
Signing Bonuses: $14.68M

2017 (list): 1st Round, 2nd Overall. Hunter Green. Career WAR: 0.0
                                        32nd Overall. Jeter Downs. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Stuart Fairchild, 2nd Round. Career WAR: 0.0
2017 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.0
MLers to Date: 3 (Fairchild, Mac ScerolerPacky Naughton
Signing Bonuses: $14.78M

2018 (list): 1st Round, 5th Overall. Jonathan India. Career WAR: 3.9
Individual WAR Leader: India
2018 Draft Totals: WAR: 3.9
MLers to Date: 2 (India, Josiah Gray)
Signing Bonuses: $12.95M

2015-18 TOTALS   WAR: 7.8    MLers: 15    BONUSES: $51.43M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $6.59M per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARY: No matter how you slice it, outside of 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India and a sprinkle of Tyler Stephenson, the Reds 2015-18 drafts have produced very little to this point. This is especially apparent when one considers the amount of bonus money they have spent (No. 1 overall in MLB) and where they have picked in the draft (near the top of every round for every year of the four-year period). Half of their total 7.8 WAR has been accumulated by India alone, and 78% of the total has been produced by just two players (India and Stephenson)...not the recipe for a quality farm system or sustained success at the ML level. To make matters worse, 1st rounders INF Nick Senzel (1st overall pick in 2016) and RHP Hunter Greene (2nd overall in 2017) have not developed as expected, every selection from their 2016 draft (when they had four of the top 79 overall picks) has produced a zero or negative WAR to date, and two of their top four picks from 2018 (RHP Lyon Richardson, OF Brennan Spillane) may have already reached bust status as neither has played above High-A.

The good news for the Redlegs: Their total WAR increased from a total of 1.8 at the end of the 2020 season to its current 7.8. Additionally, their total number of Major Leaguers increased by nine, from six to 15.


MILWAUKEE
 BREWERS (Scouting Director Ray Montgomery 2015-16, Tod Johnson 2017-18)

2015 (list): 1st Round, 15th Overall. Trent Grisham. Career WAR 6.4
Individual WAR Leader: Grisham
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 6.4
MLers to Date: 3 (Grisham, Cody PonceEric Hanhold)
Signing Bonuses: $8.35M

2016 (list): 1st Round, 5th Overall Corey Ray. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Corbin Burnes, 4th Round. Career WAR: 6.3
2016 Draft Totals: WAR: 6.3
MLers to Date: 4 (Ray, Mario Feliciano, Burnes, Payton Henry)
Signing Bonuses: $11.14M

2017 (list): 1st Round, 9th Overall Keston Huira. Career WAR: 0.6
Individual WAR Leader: Huira
2017 Draft Totals
: WAR: 0.6
MLers to Date: 2 (Huira, Alec Bettinger)
Signing Bonuses: $12.22M

2018 (list): 1st Round, 21st Overall Brice Turang. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Drew Rasmussen, 6th Round. Career WAR 1.5
2018 Draft Totals
: WAR: 1.5
MLers to Date: 2 (Aaron Ashby, Rasmussen)
Signing Bonuses: $7.75M

2015-18 TOTALS   WAR: 14.8    MLers: 11    BONUSES: $39.46M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $2.67M per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARY: The pinnacle of the Brew Crew's farm system in the early 2000s has passed since they selected JJ Hardy (28.1 career WAR) in 2001, Prince Fielder (23.8) in 2002, Yovani Gallardo (22.1) and Lorenzo Cain (38.7) in 2004 and Ryan Braun (47.1) and Michael Brantley (32.9) in 2005. Fast forward to the present where 2015 1st round OF Trent Grisham continues to to shine, raising his career WAR from 3.1 to 6.4 in 2021, albeit with the Padres (traded with Zach Davies for Eric Lauer and Luis Urias) and not the Brew Crew. After busting in 2016 on the 5th overall pick, OF Corey Ray, Milwaukee found a Brewmaster in 2021 Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes. Ninth overall pick Keston Huira initially looked like the steal of the 2017 draft, producing a 2.1 WAR in 2019. However, he has struggled to build upon that strong rookie campaign, posting negative WAR in each of the past two seasons (-0.4 WAR in 2020 and -1.0 in 2021).

More good news, the Brewers total WAR jumped from 5.6 to 14.8 and its number of total Major Leaguers increased from six to 11. Also, top 2018 pick, SS Brice Turang, put together a strong 2021 season, reaching AAA during his age 21 season.

 

PITTSBURGH PIRATES (Scouting Director Joe DelliCarri 2015-18)
2015 (list): 1st Round, 19th Overall Kevin Newman. Career WAR: 2.0
                                         32nd Overall Ke'Bryan Hayes. Career WAR: 4.2
Individual WAR Leader: Hayes
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 6.5
MLers to Date: 9 (Newman, Hayes, Kevin KramerBrandon WaddellJT BrubakerTanner AndersonJohn BormannJames MarvelDaniel Zamora)
Signing Bonuses: $8.49M

2016 (list): 1st Round, 22nd Overall Will Craig. Career WAR: -0.7
Individual WAR Leader: Blake Cederlind, 5th Round. Career WAR 0.0
2016 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.0*
MLers to Date: 5 (Craig, Cederlind, Max Kranick, Hunter Owen, Geoff Hartlieb)
Signing Bonuses: $6.47M

2017 (list): 1st Round, 12th Overall Shane Baz. Career WAR: 0.4
Individual WAR Leader: Baz
2017 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.4
MLers to Date: 2 (Baz, Jared Oliva)
Signing Bonuses: $11.89M

2018 (list): 1st Round, 10th Overall Travis Swaggerty. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: N/A
2018 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.0
MLers to Date: 0
Signing Bonuses: $10.4M

2015-18 TOTALS    WAR: 6.9      MLers: 16     BONUSES: $37.25M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $5.40M per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARY: In the down draft year of 2015 1st round SS Kevin Newman was a safe, conservative pick and initially looked to be a strong one as well. However, as time goes by the number of greater WAR producers selected behind him continues to stockpile; Walker Buehler, Mike Soroka, Austin Riley and Pirate teammate Ke'Bryan Hayes were all selected within 22 picks of Newman who was selected 19th overall. With a 4.2 career WAR, Hayes has solidified himself as the top Bucco from the 2015-2018 draft classes to this point. 2016 top pick 1B Will Craig hasn't produced as expected and the remainder of the Bucs '16 draft looks empty as all five Major Leaguers from that class have produced a negative or zero WAR. With five of the top 88 picks in the 2017 draft, 1st rounder RHP Shane Baz (12th overall) was dealt to Tampa Bay in 2018 where he made his debut in 2021, including a post-season start in the ALDS against Boston. RHP Steven Jennings (selected 42nd overall), OF Connor Uselton (77th overall) and 1B Dylan Busby (88th overall) have all done little thus far in their pro careers, as Uselton and his $900,000 bonus have already been released. However, OF Calvin Mitchell (selected 50th overall) found success at AA during his age 22 season, earning a promotion to "Trips" at the end of 2021. The 2018 draft class took a blow when 1st round supplemental pick RHP Gunnar Hogland did not sign and 2nd rounder RHP Braxton Ashcraft has struggled in each of his three professional seasons. Top pick OF Travis Swaggerty debuted in AAA to begin the minor league season, but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in early June. When healthy he has five-tool potential in center field.


ST LOUIS
 CARDINALS (Scouting Director Chris Correa 2015, Randy Flores 2016-18)
2015 (list): 1st Round, 23rd Overall Nick Plummer. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Paul DeJong, 4th Round. Career WAR: 12.9
2015 Draft Totals: WAR: 24.4
MLers to Date: 5 (Jake Woodford, Harrison BaderJordan Hicks, DeJong, Ryan Helsley)
Signing Bonuses: $8.25M

2016 (list): 1st Round, 23rd Overall Delvin Perez. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Tommy Edman, 6th Round. Career WAR: 8.8
2016 Draft Totals:  WAR: 23.3
MLers to Date: 7 (Dylan CarsonDakota HudsonZac Gallen, Edman, Andrew KniznerDaniel Castano, Andy Young)
Signing Bonuses: $10.49M

2017 (list): 1st Round, NO PICK
Individual WAR Leader: Kodi Whitley, 27th Round. Career WAR: 0.5
2017 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.5
MLers to Date: 2 (Scott Hurst, Whitley)
Signing Bonuses: $3.34M

2018 (list): 1st Round, 19th Overall Nolan Gorman. Career WAR: 0.0
Individual WAR Leader: Lars Nootbar, 8th Round. Career WAR: 0.7
2018 Draft Totals: WAR: 0.7
MLers to Date: 1 (Nootbar)
Signing Bonuses: $9.53M

2015-18 TOTALS   WAR: 49.0     MLers: 15     BONUSES: $31.62M

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: $645,300 per 1.0 WAR

SUMMARY: Not much is new with the Redbirds. Their 2015-16 drafts continue to set the pace for the industry with a total of 47.7 WAR produced to date. This is despite whiffing on 1st rounders OF Nick Plummer (2015) and SS Delvin Perez (2016) who were both selected 23rd overall in their respective drafts. In 2015 the Cards more than made up for Plummer and another empty pick in 2nd rounder OF Bryce Denton with 3rd rounder OF Harrison Bader (10.6 career WAR) and 4th rounder INF Paul DeJong (12.9 WAR). St. Louis should have plenty more WAR coming in the future with 2016 3rd rounder RHP Zac Gallen (7.3 WAR) continuing to shine for the D'Backs and 6th rounder INF Tommy Edman already at 8.8 career WAR for the Cards. If that's not enough, OF Dylan Carlson hit the ground running in 2021 during his first full season with the big club, producing a 3.3 WAR. Overall, the Cardinals remain the best in drafting and developing highly productive MLB players. Its already elite ROI continues to sharpen, now sitting at just over $645K per 1.0 WAR. As a point of reference, it generally takes $8-9M on the free agent market to buy 1.0 worth of WAR.

 

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