I know that pro teams use statistical analysis in their preparation for the Amateur Draft. But I've never run across any legitimate, publicly available attempts of using numbers to evaluate draft prospects. So I devised my own.
For starters, having followed high school draft talents, I'm well aware that high school numbers really aren't worth looking into -- too many variables. But we can look at park factors for NCAA players, take level of competition into account, and squeeze out decent samples of data. That's what I did.
For this exercise, I've chosen to use PG Cross Checker's Top 50 Draft Prospects along with Baseball America's most recent Draft Tracker to help establish my scope. The 12 draft-eligible NCAA hitters who ranked inside the top 30 on either list are my core subjects -- the ones shown in the chart below -- but I looked at a total of 30 NCAA hitters. The other hitters were used to broaden my population for comparison purposes. They're all guys who I think could be selected in the top three rounds.
I ran each hitter through a statistical evaluation system similar to the ones I rely on in our prospect rankings. My scores are based on the hitter's wOBA, IsoP, speed, strikeout rate, and walk rate. I also made adjustments for age and home park. I used Boyd's World's 2004-2007 park factors for my home-park adjustments.
My system grades Georgia's Gordon Beckham's (SS) junior season as well ahead of nearly every one of his peers. He's one of two players who scored two standard deviations above the average in my study. The other?
Pepperdine center fielder Eric Thames. A lefty with speed and power, Thames showed up at 49th in PG Cross Checker's rankings. While I believe Thames is a first-round talent and I think his statistics back that (9.83 score in my system), many draft journalists seem hesitant to give him that much credit -- and I've yet to hear a good reason why. He may last into the supplemental first round but I don't think he'll last out of it.
Cal's David Cooper (1B) didn't make BA's most recent Top 30 and ranked 24th for PG Cross Checker. He's 16th on my board right now. Cooper grades out as a sloth in my speed score (-9.9). I'm sure tools-minded evaluators might be held up on pushing him as a potential Top 20 overall pick. But if you're looking for an excellent hitter who may fall too far due to his lack of tools, Arizona State's Brett Wallace (1B/3B) isn't your guy. Cooper is.
Wallace surprised me in this study. I thought he'd grade out much higher. But the fact of the matter is Wallace's teammate Ike Davis (1B/OF) has outhit him this season. Given his hitter-friendly home park, Wallace's 38.0% XBH isn't that impressive. Davis' 57.1%, on the other hand, is. Wallace is 18th in my current rankings. He's almost a half year older than most college juniors and I don't think he's the absolute masher that I lot of people believe he is. I'd take Cooper and Davis (15th) ahead of Wallace right now -- I don't think Davis' pulled rib muscle is a long-term concern.
Wake Forest's Allan Dykstra (1B) is another hitter who I think could sneak into the supplemental round due to his bat. Though be warned that his 16.0% strikeout rate is concerning. And he's not going to be able to sustain his 24.5% walk rate in pro ball.
OK, that's five full paragraphs without a mention of Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez (3B). As expected following his hamate bone injury, Alvarez has struggled to hit for power this season. And his sophomore season wouldn't rank him in the top 10 college hitters in the country by my score -- he had a scary 20.1% strikeout rate last season. Alvarez' injury may not have caused his stock to drop much but it also didn't allow it to rise like Beckham's and Florida State's Buster Posey's (C, pictured above). This is why Alvarez is not the clear favorite to go No. 1 overall anymore -- he's 4th on my board right now.
Here are three potential sleepers who I think have hit their way into top 50 overall consideration: Texas Tech's Roger Kieschnick (OF), Long Beach's Shane Peterson (OF), and UC Davis' Jake Jefferies (C). Kieschnick is far from an unknown, as he played for Team USA last summer. While his 15.8% strikeout rate isn't comforting, his 51.6% XBH is second -- only behind Davis -- among all the players I evaluated in this study. Peterson has a great walk rate (16.3%) to go along with a poor strikeout rate (17.6%) and decent speed. Jefferies is a amazing contact hitter (3.2% K) who doesn't walk much, run particularly well, or hit for a ton of power. But he's a solid defensive catcher who one of my buddies joked "could be Jason Kendall without the speed."
And lastly, here are three guys who I don't think have hit well enough to warrant strong top 50 overall consideration: UCLA's Brandon Crawford (SS), Arizona State's Petey Paramore (C), and Texas' Kyle Russell (OF). These three could very well get drafted earlier than 50th overall, but I wouldn't take them that high.
Time will tell how much substance my NCAA statistical studies have to them. I spent well over 40 hours researching players to consider for this study and collecting data. If I wind up being way off base, I'll find a way to refine my approach, as I'm confident that numbers can be useful in evaluating amateurs. But at this point I'm happy with the amount of time I devoted to this study.
Numbers are my comfort zone. I'm still learning about scouting and only have familiarity with it as this point. At the very least, I've taken the time to learn about this year's potential first rounders -- as independently as I could. And I'll be completely ready to evaluate them as MLB prospects.
Adam Foster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.