Playing off of a comment that the Braves 1994 and 1999 drafts weren’t unusual…
Very few drafts — Rany Jazayerli says he thinks only four — produce no Major Leaguers. A draft like 1999, where a team takes fifty guys and maybe three will have any Major League appearances at all, is very rare and I’d guess happens at most once a year. Every team, every draft, should produce at minimum a Wes Helms-caliber player. Take that 1999 draft:
40 players were picked in the first round. 15 have Major League appearances, and several more will this year and next. The first player picked, Josh Hamilton, is probably a washout, but the D-Rays got Carl Crawford in the second round. I haven’t done a full survey, but of the first half-dozen teams I looked at that didn’t get a regular in the first round, all got one in the second or third.
Take the 1994 draft, then. That was eleven years ago, the odds are virtually everyone who’s going to make the majors from that year already has. Maybe one or two guys might make it as filler, or someone will have a Lockhart-type career and make it very late, but that’s rare. Most of the guys who haven’t made it by now have moved on. 34 players were taken in the first round that year; 27 made the majors. That was a bad draft at the top, when the first two players (Paul Wilson and Ben Grieve) turned into marginal Major Leaguers and the best careers of anyone in the top ten have been turned in by Todd Walker and Dustin Hermanson. But the second ten saw Garciaparra, Konerko, and Varitek go 12-14.
The seven players drafted in the first after Jacob Shumate with the 27th pick all had Major League appearances, highlighted by Jay Payton. Troy Glaus went with the second pick of the second round. About half the second round made it to the Show, including Lombard but not Pointer. The pick after Lombard was Matt LeCroy.
There are 750 players in the Majors at any one time. Throw in players on the DL and it’s more like 820. Now, even using an impossibly generous average length of service — say ten years — that means that an average team in an average draft picks at least five Major Leaguers every two years. That’s bona fide Major Leaguers. Now, you get some players as international free agents, but that’s no more a quarter of what’s needed, probably less. And the actual Major League average length of service is nothing like ten years. It’s probably less than half that. At five years, the average team needs to produce four or five through the draft every year.
Of the Braves’ 1999 draft, only Foster seems at all likely to make it, and he’s no more than 50-50 even if he’s a lefty, seeing he’s already had an injury. Of the 1994 draft, it’s just Helms, if you don’t count the guys they couldn’t sign. And these are pretty marginal talents. A team of Helmses would probably be worse than the Royals.
Now the Braves’ international team has done a great job. Finding Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, and Andy Marte in a ten-year period, plus some random pitchers — that’s a spectacular base to build on. But you can’t win on that alone, and if you don’t develop some domestic talent you’re in big trouble. The Braves developed very few real players through the draft in the ten years after Chipper: it’s basically Schmidt, Millwood, Ramirez, Marquis, and (if you squint a little) Rocker among the pitchers, Dye, Helms, and Giles among the hitters. Maybe I’m missing one or two. Only because of the exceptional durability of the starting pitchers were they able to stay on top without going nutty on free agents. As it was, they had to fill too many “ordinary regulars” jobs with overpriced imports like Galarraga and Jordan. Ten years with only three hitters produced is awful. (As it is, Dye only succeeded when he got out of the system and might not have with the Braves’ philosophy. Giles was a late-round fluke who wouldn’t let the Braves overlook him. Helms still basically sucks.)
That seems to be changing a little. Adam LaRoche is exactly the kind of “ordinary regular” player that the Braves couldn’t produce in that period. Ryan Langerhans might be, disappointing as his start has been. I like Kelly Johnson but I doubt he’s going to be a star; instead he should be a good player. Even a guy like Nick Green or Pete Orr — the Braves couldn’t even develop depth in utility infielders in the nineties, coming up with only DeRosa.
Updated because Drewdat pointed out I screwed up on the number of Major League players.