Mets Draft and Development Debunked

One of the main reasons the Mets aren’t spending money on the 25-man roster (outside of David Wright) is because they are focused on rebuilding the organization through drafting and player development — correct? If that’s the case, then why are the Mets signing so few of their draft picks?

This post of the seeming conflict emanated from an exchange between readers in the following thread in the MetsToday comments:

norme says:
January 26, 2013 at 12:30 am

Hey Dan B,
I have a question.
I found your statement about the failure to sign draft choices very interesting. To better understand this data we have to put in perspective with other clubs. Do you know if this failure is similar to what other clubs do–better?—worse?

Furthermore, if a club systematically drafts and fails to sign a good number of these draftees, might they not be guilty of restraint of trade or some sort of willful restriction of a person’s right to earn a living? Just asking.

Dan B says:
January 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Thanks for the homework assignment. I only did the National East for the past two years since I do want to stay married. It was bad news for people who think the Mets are serious about rebuilding. For the past two years, the Atlanta Braves signed 72% of their draft picks. Nationals — 62%, Phillies – 58%, Marlins – 66%, and the Mets – 48%. It gets worse when you realize most teams don’t sign many of players from the last 25 rounds. If you look at just the first 25 rounds, where you are more likely to find your true prospects (and spend the most money), the Braves sign 96% of their draft picks, Nationals – 82%, Phillies – 85%, Marlins – 84% and the rebuilding New York Mets signed 74% of the players they picked in the first 25 rounds. To put it another way, the Braves signed eleven more draft picks and nine more top draft picks in the past two years then the Mets. You wonder why they always seem to have rookie of the year candidates and the Mets have Mike Baxter starting in the outfield? My conclusion – the Mets are no more serious about rebuilding then they are about signing free agents. They are most interested in lower costs to help pay off their massive loans which have balloon payments coming due until June of 2014.

Great work by Dan B. I took the torch he lit and did some more digging. Following are the number of players drafted and signed by all MLB clubs in the 2011 and 2012 drafts. I started with 2011 because that is the first draft executed by Sandy Alderson and his fantasy front office, and also the first year that the Mets unofficially began their rebuilding stage. Because it’s only two years, it’s a small sample size. At the same time, it is what it is, and there are questions that require answers.

Finally, instead of collecting data for the first 25 rounds, I settled on the first 20, for no particular reason other than 20 rounds seemed like a more fair assessment — indeed, had I gone to 25, the Mets would have looked even worse.

2011 Draft
Mets: drafted 51, signed 37, or 72.5%, including 18 of 21 in the first 20 rounds (85%).

Rest of MLB: 1479 drafted, 924 signed, or 62%
Top 20 Rounds: 608 drafted, 499 signed, or 82%

Based on these numbers, the Mets did an above average job of restocking their farm system via the 2011 draft. It was a good start for the new front office.

But wait – what the heck happened in 2012?

Mets: drafted 42, signed 19 (45%), including 16 of 22 (72%) in the first 20 rounds.

Rest of MLB: drafted 1196, signed 880 (73.5%), including 556 of 615 (90.4%) in the first 20 rounds.

In summary over the course of the two years, the Mets drafted 93 players, signing 56 (60%). The rest of MLB drafted 2675 players, signing 67%.

There are many different ways to look at this. On the one hand, the Mets added a total of 56 players to their minor league system via the draft over the last two years. That number doesn’t include free-agent signings — something I found more difficult to track, for all teams. Did the Mets significantly augment their draft signee pool with free agents? It doesn’t appear so; they signed about ten amateur free agents over the two years, which seems in line with what most other teams accomplished.

Is 56 players a big number? Well, the average team added 62 players via the draft. Is it a big deal that the Mets signed six less players than the average? I don’t know. But it’s hard to suggest that the Mets are “stockpiling” talent based on that figure.

On the other hand, it could be argued that sheer volume doesn’t necessarily result in success. Maybe the Mets are signing only the players they deem worth the dollars. Maybe they’re spending more of their money on the better players, and didn’t see it efficient to go over budget just to add players of lesser talent.

Probing that angle, we would have to accept the idea that the higher the draft pick, the better the player. Of course, that’s not always the case, but it’s a generality that fits most of the time. So, looking again at the 56 players added by the Mets over the past two years, 34 were drafted in the first 20 rounds. The other 29 teams signed 1055 picks from the first 20 rounds — an average of 36 per team. So again, the Mets aren’t far behind the average — but, they certainly aren’t above the average.

Perhaps it would be more helpful to know what teams were above the average, and see if there is any correlation with their farm system’s reputation. Following are the top 15 teams in terms of players signed from the draft over the past two years.

TeamSigneesTop 20 Signed
Blue Jays6637
White Sox6535

Which are the best organizations in baseball? Hard to say, as it’s very much a subjective thing and there are opposing views on where certain teams rank. However, most of the “experts” agree that the top 7 teams listed here — Rays, Angels, Mariners, Cardinals, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Blue Jays — are among the top ten of the best farm systems in baseball. The Braves, Royals, and Rockies are in some top-tens, and certainly in top-15 lists. And it should be noted that Jim Callis of Baseball America personally rates the Astros as #10, based primarily on their strong drafting over the last two years. To get a better idea on whether organizational talent and depth is related to volume, we should take a look at a five-year or ten-year history — a project for another rainy day.

So what does all this mean for the Mets? Again, two years is a very small sample size, so it’s hard to say. However, it appears that some of the more respected organizations have a habit of adding more players to their systems than others. Will the Mets follow that strategy going forward? Should they? What do you think? Answer in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Matthew Artus February 18, 2013 at 10:24 am
    Methinks it’s worth mentioning that the significant changes made to the MLB Draft rules in 2012, which it made significantly harder for clubs to spread their money around. I imagine that explains some of the dip in the Mets’ draft signings, though I have no idea how it compares to other clubs or the league averages.
    • Joe Janish February 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm
      In the text of the post I included the 2012 general numbers. The rest of MLB signed 11% MORE players in 2012 (73%) compared to 2011 (62%). There was also an 8% increase in top 20 picks signed.
  2. Lawrence Lewis February 18, 2013 at 10:35 am
    It’s also possible that the lower rate of signings is a function of drafting players with higher ceilings, i.e. high school seniors and college juniors who either accept scholarship offers instead or in the latter case return to school hoping for a higher draft position and bigger bonus in the subsequent draft.

    I recall that the Mets drafted Roger Clemens as a junior at UT but he didn’t sign. The Red Sox signed him the next year as a first rounder.

    • Joe Janish February 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm
      Generally speaking, if a guy is drafted and doesn’t sign, it’s because he is not a college senior. That status may or may not translate into “higher ceiling,” but it’s a BIG part of the draft process. Signability is perhaps more important than identifying talent for an amateur scout. Most good scouts know talent when they see it, but getting to know a kid and getting a feel for whether he would sign is what separates the wheat from the chaff.
  3. James Preller February 18, 2013 at 11:29 am
    Very interesting post, Joe, though it seems early to draw any meaningful conclusions. Matthew’s point is a good one, since the rule changes that impacted the 2012 draft utterly changed the signing dynamic. Blending ’11 and ’12 brings a lot of noise into the data, IMO.

    That said: Sandy Alderson gets a ton of credit from his supporters for his “patience” and commitment to draft and development. But most of that credit is based on assumption; we haven’t seen results yet, and really won’t have a fair assessment for a few more years. As always, Alderson talks a good talk. I still can’t see a meaningful distinction between the Mets current “plan” and that of, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates or any other low-budget team.

  4. MikeT February 18, 2013 at 11:39 am
    Great work Joe and everyone else involved. This is an interesting question to ask, and the research provided interesting results.

    I have two points to make.

    First, do remember that the Mets dropped their Gulf Coast League team in 2012. That team has returned for 2013. In that one year they simply did not have enough roster space to sign all of their draft picks. They have brought the team back this year and I’ll eat my hat if they do not sign more of their draftees in 2013.

    Second, if the Mets do not sign someone then they can assign that slot money elsewhere. Buying out a kid’s scholarship through bonus money is hard to do with a limited budget set by MLB. I think that they were smart knowing that if they sign a bunch of guys in this fashion, but lose out on a few others, then they would be better off than if they drafted a bunch of “signable” picks and signing all of them. That is a very long winded way of saying that they chose to invest in a few higher upside guys rather than many lesser upside. These were mainly guys out of high school who were ticketed for big time schools. These were very highly regarded prospects.

    • Dan B February 18, 2013 at 11:52 am
      Excellent ponit MIke, about the Gulf Coast League team — one I totally forgot about. However, why the heck would a rebulding team drop minor league affliates? Also, your theory about saving slot money for higher rated prospects is interesting. First of all, from what I gather the Mets don’t do that, that they prefer signing under slot prospects — they don’t save for the big fish. Someone correct me if I am wrong because I working off memory. Also, which would you prefer — fewer, but higher rated prospects or more, but lesser rated prospects? I don’t have an answer. Great players are hard to come by but then again, draft picks in baseball are so much harder to project future success.
      • MikeT February 18, 2013 at 12:18 pm
        Dan, I definitely was not defending dropping the GCL team. I’m glad it will be back. They lowest levels of the Mets system performed poorly this year due in part to guys playing against competition older and more experienced than they. Adding the GCL Mets back will help the Mets in more ways than just adding the roster space back.

        My guess is they thought they would save some money and test out a theory that the GCL is unnecessary. Not every major league franchise has a team at the level of the GCL. The Yankees most notably.

      • MikeT February 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm
        Oh and to your question about not signing over slot. In the past the Mets did not, but the past is irrelevant now with the new rules as of 2012. In Alderson’s first draft they absolutely went over slot and signed a ton of guys they would not have in the past. Of course that was the final year of that format. This past year I believe that within the first 10 rounds the Mets signed all but one pick, and went over slot on a few of them. If you refer to this (it is a bit incomplete, but shows my point then you will see that they went under slot for most of their top 10 picks, but went over, significantly on two of them. This could mean many things, mostly it shows that they did not use all of their allotted funds.

        Sometimes you lay out a plan, execute it as best you can, but end up still 90% complete. I think that is what happened to the Mets here. Signing a bunch of guys under slot and using the extra cash to sign a few guys to over slot. Then one guy just does not want to sign. You cannot undo your draft of reassign that money elsewhere in the draft. These things happen.

  5. Dan B February 18, 2013 at 11:42 am
    Mathew, if your theory is correct, then all teams would of seen a dip in signings. A quick look at draft results does not support your theory. Lawrence, if your theory is correct, then you are saying the Met’s scouting team has done a poor job projecting each prospect’s demands which is also a bad review of the Met’s rebuilding program. Also, all teams see a few players return to the draft for that reason. The Mets saw over HALF of the players they drafted in 2012 go unsigned.

    What is also disturbing for me is that the players the Mets draft and don’t sign are higher picks due to their bad records. The Mets are drafting in the first third and not sighing players and the Cardinals are drafting in the back third yet they see the value of signing draft choices. Also, the Met’s farm system is only rated as high as the middle because of d’Arnauld, Wheeler, and Syndergaard — three players they only recently traded for. It is not like there are a lot of mid level prospects already, making the need to sign a #19 round player less urgent. I haven’t even started ranting about cuts the Mets made to their scouting and minor league operations plus how the Mets never sign over slot draft picks. They rarely sing draft picks at the slot amount!

    The bottom line is that I still don’t believe the Mets operate with enough capital to fully finance a New York based team. I am beginning to think they don’t have the finances to operate a Kanas City based team. They don’t have the money for a payroll over $95 million and they don’t have the money to build through the farm system because that requires signing bonuses and being able to see your team really bottom out (i.e. the Marlins and Astros) by trading anything of value away for prospects.

    Look, I am just a guy with a computer with no access to the inner workings. i am going on what I read and research. I could be wrong and I hope I am.

    • DaveSchneck February 18, 2013 at 11:56 am
      great work by you and the others, this is a very interesting and overlooked topic. Like you, I am just a guy with a keyboard and an opinion, a scary combo, but like you I remain skeptical. My sampling is simply last year’s draft. The Mets took a kid shortstop at #12 that agreed to sign underslot, passing on Courtney Hawkins, a power hitting RF, that the ChiSox took next. He signed with the ChiSox and is already their top-rated prospect and was as high as #68 in one top #100 list this year. For the 2nd pick the Mets drafted a kid pitcher, but he refused to sign when the Mets failed to offer him the alotted slot money. Why this approach, I don’t know if it is lack of money or whatever, but it certainly is not consistent with the minor league mantra.
  6. Joe February 18, 2013 at 1:33 pm
    “again, two years is a very small sample size, so it’s hard to say. ”

    Yeah. I also would like to see a comparison to their record let’s say in the five years beforehand. I’m not willing to do the research myself, so hey, I realize this is akin (this might sound familiar) to liking to get a nice new car.

    They probably aren’t spending money for a few reasons, including economic difficulties and you know the management and Alderson are [deleted].

    Anyway, where should have they spent money? The OF would seem logical, but it is not as if there were many options there. Four years with a possible fifth for Bourne? A starter? They might have did better finding useful starting pitching, but spending a lot of money here doesn’t seem overly logical, especially with not that bad options already.

    IF help? Maybe, they could have spent money for someone there though other than 2nd, they have pretty good options. Catching? They signed a top prospect that not only stupid Mets fans thinks has a good future. Is this a comment on Reyes? Hairston? Not overly useful to spend lots of money for a 4th outfielder.

    Anyway, not sure what was ‘debunked’ here. Seems “unresolved.”

    • Joe Janish February 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm
      Joe, in your comments on past posts you defend the Mets for not spending money in the free agent market. Now you are defending their lack of spending on amateur talent. Do you feel that the Mets should never spend money on anything? Will talented players show up at Citi Field and pay the Mets for the honor of wearing the orange and blue?

      Whether it’s baseball or any other business, at some point, to be successful, there has to be an investment of money. You get what you pay for.

      I’m not even suggesting that the Mets should have spent an extreme amount of money — I am merely curious as to why, if they’re not spending much on the 25-man roster, why there isn’t more to spend on player development. It wouldn’t take tens of millions to sign 5-10 more amateurs every year.

      The definition of “debunked” is to expose a myth or to reduce an inflated reputation. The public perception — and one championed by the Mets themselves — is that Sandy Alderson and his regime are focused on rebuilding the organization via the farm system. If they’re adding fewer amateur players than the average, then there is a big question as to how the farm system is going to improve — ergo, the reputation has been reduced by turning a statement (“The are rebuilding the farm”) to a question (“Are they rebuilding the farm?”).

      Further, “Mets Draft and Development Unresolved” doesn’t sound nearly as intriguing. And I like alliteration.

    • Mike B February 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm
      I can sleep so much better that the Mets didnt give Bourn that extra year. Next year none of the FA’s are going to want that extra year, I cant wait to give Jacoby Ellsbury who will be 30 years old a 5 year contract. I mean he has played 1 full season in the last 4 years.
  7. Madatty February 18, 2013 at 2:14 pm
    How much di you think that the Mets’ inability/refusal to sign a lot of draft picks comes from the “Moneyball” strategies brought in by this administration?
    • Dan B February 18, 2013 at 5:52 pm
      Under Omar, the Mets rarely if ever signed over slot for a draft pick and back then, there was no financial penalty for doing so. Under Omar, the Mets rarely traded away players for prospects, either. So nothing Alderson is doing (or not doing) has strayed from long held company policy. What has changed is that the Mets use the excuse that they are focusing on their farm system for also not investing on the major league level. I believe they are cutting costs on both the major and minor league level until they get their loans refinanced. They can’t say that because they also want major league ticket prices.
  8. NormE February 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm
    I want to thank Joe Janish, Dan B. (again), DaveSchneck, Mike T. and all the others who have contributed to the question I raised back on Jan. 26th. The research many of you undertook indicates (to me) that Alderson and Bud Selig are intent on proving that a small market money approach can work. The Wilpons are willing guinea pigs since they owe much to Selig’s beneficence.
    Three other points:
    1. Don’t believe anything that comes out of Fred Wilpon’s oral cavity relating to the Mets.
    2. Joe Janish should be very pleased with high level of comments on this blog.
    3. Dan B, thank your wife for me.
    • Joe Janish February 18, 2013 at 11:24 pm
      Norm, you’re very welcome. Now I feel better about spending a dozen-plus hours over several days putting this together!

      I agree with your guinea-pig conclusion.

    • Dan B February 18, 2013 at 11:33 pm
      Sssh Norms. If my wife knew how much time I spend on the Mets, she would kill me. I tell her I am doing online porn instead. But you are welcome. I really do think this is the most intelligent Met blog out there. All the readers (and especially Joe Janish) make me think.
  9. Lawrence Lewis February 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm
    Of the unsigned draftees from 2012 18 were high school players and two were from junior colleges.
  10. Jason Bay February 23, 2013 at 10:49 pm
    2011 they signed an average number, 2012 they had no where to put them with the GCL team on the shelf. That was some kind of idea that came from one of those companies that examines your spread sheet and suggests where you can cut. I would imagine it wasn’t very popular with the FO and thankfully it’s coming back this year.

    TB had 11 picks in the first and supplemental round in 2011 from losing so many free agents.

    Angels farm system has been wiped out.