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What are reasonable expectations for Arjun Nimmala?

Or effectively for any draftee in latter half of the first round

MLB-USA Baseball High School All-American Game Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Blue Jays selection of Florida high school shortstop Arjun Nimmala last night in the first round was generally well-received by draft analysts as representing strong upside value due to a deep draft college draft class that caused well-proven players to drop to spots where in most years they would be unavailable.

There’s a long road into having that convert into major league value, and despite sepia-tinged coverage that would lead one to believe every first round draft pick is on the cusp of big league stardom and projects for average or better tools across the boar, the odds are long. The reality is that the majority of even the cream of the amateur crop chosen last night either won’t make it to the majors or have any material MLB impact.

So then what is a reasonable baseline expectation for the Jays’ latest great hope (once he formally signs for upward of $4-million)? To get a sense for the distribution of outcomes, I ran a series of screens on past draftees and how their careers turned out. I used the time period 1987 (when MLB went to one draft from four) until 2014 (after which most players who made it are still quite early in their careers).

That’s a sample of 28 drafts, though given changes in how players are scouted and teams approach the draft the older data has somewhat less inferential value. To build a comparable set of players, I started with all players drafted out of high school as shortstops, in the second half of the first round (picks 15-30).

That returns 35 players, or slightly over one per year. Of these, 13 (37%) never made the majors. Conversely, that means almost two-thirds did, which would seem to be a bullish indicator. But of those remaining 22, a dozen had only very short cups of coffee, or were purely replacement players (usually with short careers). That is, 25 of the 35, or over 70%, did not have have any real/material future major league value.

What about the other 10? From this point, there’s a long and pretty uniform tail of outcomes. There’s a couple of utility types in Bengi Gil (1991) and Christian Arroyo (2013), as well as a player who became a catcher in Michael Barrett (1995).

Then there’s a handful of players who were either low-end regulars or had a couple years as solid regulars in future Blue Jay Willie Greene (1989), Pokey Reese (1991) and Trevor Plouffe (2004). Notably none of these guys stuck at shortstop, finding homes elsewhere on the dirt.

Moving further up, there’s a couple of solid regulars in Royce Clayton (1988) and J.P. Crawford (2013). Most would probably be underwhlemed if that’s “all” that NImmala turned into, but this is actually a top 25th percentile outcome.

And then finally there’s a couple of real impact players. Travis Fryman (1987) didn’t stick at shortstop, but had a long career as an above average third baseman, if not star. In the true star category, Corey Seager (2012) represents the high end of the distribution.

Overall though, this is probably quite sobering. On a historical basis, taking a high school shortstop in a similar spot means about a 70% of essentially getting nothing, about 15% of getting a role player, 10% a regular, and 5% an impact player/star.

But given the deep draft and suggestion in most years a player of his ability would go higher, perhaps a comparison set of picks 15-30 undercuts him? Adding in draftees from picks 10-14 catches a couple more regulars in Delino DeShields (1987) and Addison Russell (2012). But even screening out the backend as well and leaving picks 10-25 doesn’t fundamentally change the picture. Of the 29 draftees, 11 didn’t make to the majors, with another eight in the cup-of-coffee/replacement category for the same “failure” rate of about two-thirds.

One final check to look at all high school hitters drafted in the range, rather than just shortstops. This adds another 83 draftees for a more robust sample, though less directly comparable. Still, the distribution is strikingly similar: 36 failed to make the majors (43%), with another 25 making it with no impact (30%) for a combined 75% no-value total. Then there’s a similarly flatish tail from utility-to-star outcomes.