Round Two

For most fans, the interest of the amateur draft decreases hugely after the first round. After all, once the big names are off the board, and the pricey Boras clients have been snapped up by the high rollers at the end of the first round, it takes a fair bit of research just to figure out what your team just picked up.

I find myself interested in the second round not just because we’re only a couple weeks past the draft, but because of Yovani Gallardo‘s major league debut on Monday night. Gallardo was Milwaukee’s second round pick in 2004, a round after the Brewers took fellow high school pitcher Mark Rogers. The Rogers selection still rankles some amongst the Brewers faithful: When Milwaukee made their first pick, Homer Bailey was still on the board. It’s far too early to claim that the decision was the wrong one, but in the meantime, Gallardo makes for a nice consolation prize.

While Gallardo was the first high school pick among 2004 second rounders to hit the big time, he was preceded by several college picks, including Hunter Pence and Dustin Pedroia. Another 2007 debut, Kevin Slowey, was the first to make the jump out of the 2005 second round. Unsurprisingly, we haven’t yet seen any representatives of last year’s second round class.

Second fiddle

In general, second round picks make it to the show at a somewhat lower rate than first rounders do. A still-respectable number go all the way; in many drafts, about half of second rounders at least make an appearance in the major leagues. What surprised me is the number of high-impact players that have come out of these later picks.

When I say high-impact, I’m not exaggerating. The amateur draft has only been taking place since 1965, so there are only so many draftees eligible for the Hall of Fame, but four—Cal Ripken, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Johnny Bench—have made it. Their ranks will likely double, or more, within the next decade, as second rounders such as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Randy Johnson wind down their careers.

The most striking second round was in 1971, when Schmidt and Brett were selected. The two legends were taken back-to-back, at overall picks #29 and #30. Not only did they fare much better than the players their respective teams chose first—Roy Branch and Roy Thomas—but they outperformed the guys every club picked in the first round. Only three 1971 first rounders turned into more than mediocre regulars: Jim Rice, Frank Tanana, and Rick Rhoden.

Second verse, better than the first

1971 would not be the last time the second round would turn out better than the one before it. The 1982 first round was a solid one, including Shawon Dunston, Dwight Gooden, Spike Owen, Franklin Stubbs, Todd Worrell, and Dale Sveum. In contrast to the second round, there are not only no future Hall of Famers in the group, but everyone is already done with their playing career. The second round of that draft included such luminaries as Barry Larkin and David Wells. Bo Jackson was selected (as a shortstop!) by the Yankees right before the Reds took Larkin, but Jackson opted for college instead. Another high school draftee who chose not to sign: Barry Bonds.

The difference between the first and second rounds has gotten greater in the quarter-century since Bonds for a variety of reasons I’ll get to in a moment. But 1992′s second round gave its first a run for its money. The highlights of the second round are nothing to sneeze at: Jason Giambi and Todd Helton, who didn’t sign. Neither of those players is likely to match the career that first rounder Derek Jeter will end up with, but the rest of the first round—highlighted by Preston Wilson, Shannon Stewart, Jason Kendall, and Charles Johnson—is among the weaker entries in its class.

In more recent years, plenty of luminaries have come from the second round, including Scott Rolen (’93), Carlos Beltran (’95), Jimmy Rollins (’96), Chase Utley (’97), Adam Dunn (’98), Carl Crawford (’99), JJ Hardy and Dan Haren (’01), and Brian McCann (’02). No recent class is likely to outperform their corresponding first round, but it should be enough for ESPN to consider paying a little closer attention to the second round next year.

Minor seconds

As I suggested a moment ago, it has become less likely that teams will collectively take a mulligan on the first round, as they did in 1971 and 1982. A big part of that is the continuing advance in scouting coverage, not just by way of more guys taking more video of more prospects, but also through better statistical analysis of young players.

Much more pedestrian, the second round is likely to pale in comparision because the first round keeps getting longer. Back in 1971, there was no free-agent compensation, so the 25th player chosen in the draft opened the second round. (Remember, Schmidt and Brett were among the first 30.) By 1992, the length of the first round had stretched to 38. In 1999, 50th pick Brian Roberts was still part of the first round, and in 2007 the opening round stretched through 64 picks.

At the same time, improvements in player development, including better injury-prevention techniques, make each year’s eligible class much deeper. We may never again see two Hall of Famers selected back-to-back after each team has made a pick or two, but exciting second rounders in the vein of Gallardo and Pence are likely to remain a staple in the major league landscape.

References & Resources
Sean Forman continues to amaze. His new draft reports at Baseball-Reference are yet another gift to the research community.

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