Jim Callis and Joe Jordan on high school vs. college in the draft (with update)

It’s a topic that followers of the first year player draft in baseball have debated for years: Should a club draft more high school players that may have a higher ceiling with their talent or more college players that they have scouted more and are closer to the majors?

In the recent listing by Baseball America of its top 100 prospects in the game, there was some interesting math worth discussing.


Of the game’s current top 100 prospects on that list, 50 were drafted out of high school and just 21 from college, although six more were taken from a junior college.

Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis said he was not surprised by that 50 to 27 numerical disparity.

“That might be a little high, but I think we’ve had similar ratios in the past,” Callis said. “There isn’t a big edge for either demographic. I’ve found that you have more college guys as a percentage get to the majors, but the difference there is almost all fringe, cup-of-coffee guys. More high school guys, as a percentage, become stars or superstars, but it’s not a big difference.”

Callis said there is another reason why so many high school players made the list this year.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re going to err on the side of upside, and high school players have more upside in general than college players,” Callis said. “They’re younger and you can dream on them a little more than college guys. Also, the top college prospects tend to race through the minors. Stephen Strasburg was eligible for one Top 100 list, while Jason Heyward was eligible for three.

“With the Orioles, for example, Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz flew through the minors, while Zach Britton has been eligible for five Top 100s. I think the Top 100 is a reflection of a) it being easier to project/dream on high schoolers and b) they tend to stick out more (being more relatively young for their leagues and because the top college guys move quicker).”

I also sought some thoughts on this topic from O’s scouting director Joe Jordan and asked him about the 50-to-27 ratio on the Baseball America list.

“Every year, it seems like we are drafting more and more high school players high in the draft. I think as an industry, sometimes we go against conventional wisdom for those that feel like the college picks are safer guys. This stuff is so hard to evaluate. Two years ago, Zach Britton wasn’t on any list, he was nowhere to be found. Now he’s one of the best prospects in baseball,” Jordan said.

“Sometimes with high school players we just feel like if we can get them in our system, we can develop them the way we want. We protect the pitchers and the position players get to swing a wooden bat day one. But there is also the college player that may be more of a proven guy. You’ve have more looks and more of a track record with that player. I don’t know if there is a black and white answer to this. These things are cyclical and they change. The last few years, there have been some real good high school players come out.”

It would seem that scouts have to do much more projecting with a high school player, trying to look two or three years down the road at what that player might become and how he may mature physically and emotionally.

“It’s not as much as you think,” Jordan said. “College baseball, it’s not as easy as you would think to forecast what the guys will do. The way college baseball is played now, these players are told what to do every step of the way.

“It’s hard to evaluate instincts of a college player moreso than with high school. Simply because they are given a sign on every pitch that is thrown and the game is really controlled a great deal by the dugout. Yes, we see them more in college, but sometimes you don’t get a lot from it.

“I don’t want to slam college baseball, it is what it is. As for evaluating players, they do face better competition in some conferences and that’s a big help. But, heck, they are swinging metal bats. It’s the only sport there is where we are trying to make million dollar decisions and they are not even using the right equipment.”

Very interesting comments, as usual, and interesting takes from Joe Jordan and Jim Callis. What is your opinion? Should a team like the O’s focus more on high school or college players in the draft?

Update: We have discussed the O’s international efforts, or lack thereof, today on this blog and the one with Ken Rosenthal’s column. This link from Baseball America lists international spending by team in 2010.

Next Monday, March 7: We will convene at Hightopps Backstage Grille in Timonium for another O’s chat with fans. I’ll be there to talk with fans and take questions about the coming season along with MASNsports.com’s Jen Royle and Pete Kerzel.

We’ll talk with fans from 6-7 p.m. and then all settle in to watch the first MASN spring training telecast as the Orioles take on the Yankees. There will also be prizes and trivia, so join us next Monday, March 7 at Hightopps located at 2306 York Road, just north of the Timonium Fairgrounds.

You can follow me on Twitter and send comments and questions there: @masnsteve

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