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College Pitchers Not Safe

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Someone - and I'm betting it was regular BD commenter WTM - wrote to Kevin Goldstein to object to his characterization of a college pitcher as a "safe" pick." So Goldstein lined up (subscription required) the top five college pitchers taken in every draft since 2000, and I have to say - wow, it's even bleaker than I thought. Amazingly, none of the top five college pitchers taken in the 2000 and 2001 drafts are currently on a 25-man roster. Not one.

Just for fun, here are the top five college pitchers in the three previous drafts:

1999

  1. Kyle Snyder
  2. Barry Zito
  3. Ben Sheets
  4. Brett Myers
  5. Mike Paradis
1998
  1. Mark Mulder
  2. Jeff Austin
  3. Ryan Mills
  4. Jeff Weaver
  5. Kip Wells
1997
  1. Matt Anderson
  2. Jason Grilli
  3. Dan Reichert
  4. Jon Garland
  5. Chris Enochs
1998's top five were decent and 1999's were downright great, although '97's top five were awful. So perhaps it isn't always unwise to draft college pitchers.

Given my limited amount of knowledge, this would be my advice. Lots of top college pitchers fail. So if you have to draft one, draft one with upside. Some of those, like Anderson, will flop, but some, like Sheets, will succeed. Don't draft a pitcher who lacks upside but is "safe," because they aren't safe. For every Paul Maholm, there's a Tim Stauffer or a Bryan Bullington. If you have to use two picks to get a Paul Maholm or two to get a Ben Sheets, which would you choose?

So many good pitchers have been selected out of college in the past ten years - Sheets, Zito, Myers, Mulder, Weaver, Wells, Garland, Mark Prior, Jeff Francis, Chad Cordero, Justin Verlander - that'd it be unwise for teams to avoid them entirely. But they probably should pick them later than they do, and if I were running a team, I'd try to stick with the strategy of letting other teams take those chances.