Since its inception in 1965, The Major League Baseball (MLB) First-Year Player Draft has allowed MLB teams to draft players, mostly from High School & College, on a year by year basis.   The order of selecting teams is determined by the team’s record & overall standings from the previous season as well as free agent signings & other transactions that can result in the addition, or subtraction, of draft picks in the supplemental or compensation rounds.  It presently consists of 40 rounds and takes place every June.  Eligible players from the US, Canada, US Territories and Puerto Rico (PR) are subject to the draft.  Puerto Rico was included in 1989 while Canada in 1991.

PR was included in the draft at a time when the island was thriving with elite MLB talent.  Several homegrown MLB players signed as free agents prior to 1989 and where established MLB players, if not stars, at some point in their career.  Some notable players in this group where Iván Rodríguez, Edgar Martínez, and Roberto Alomar, among others.  In graph 1-1 there are 6 players who ended their careers with a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) between 30-68.  All 6 started began their MLB Careers between 1988-1992.

Graph 1-1: Notable Free Agents signed from PR before the MLB Draft was implemented in 1989. Source: Fangraphs

In the 29 years since the draft began in PR there have been 625 players drafted from a PR High School or, in rare cases, a PR College.   One player (Recently Retired & Future 1st ballot HOF Carlos Beltrán) had a WAR above 46 at 69.9.  Additionally, 3 drafted players (Javier Vázquez, Yadier Molina & Alex Ríos) finished their careers (Except for Yadi who continues to carve an amazing Career) with Career WAR over 27.6.  Another noteworthy fact is that 66 of the 400 players drafted & signed have played in MLB (16.5%).  Other interesting observations are:

  • Of the 66 MLB players, 13 (19.6%) have been catchers & 11 shortstops.
  • Of the 66 MLB Players, 17 have been pitchers with former Montreal Expos RHP Javier Vázquez totaling a Career WAR of 46 while the closest second pitcher (Texas Rangers LHP Alex Claudio) has a 4.4 WAR so far in his career.
  • Of the 400 signed players, 162 (40.5%) have been Top 10 Round Picks.

In regards to which rounds these players were drafted and signed, the following graphs (1-2 & 1-3) compare players from PR and Georgia (US), where the draft started in 1965, as an example:

Graph 1-2: PR % Players Drafted/Signed/Played MLB by Round Bracket. Source: Baseball Reference

Graph 1-3: Georgia % Players Drafted/Signed/Played MLB by Round Bracket. Source: Baseball Reference

Notably, 83% of Players from PR drafted in Rounds 11-20 have signed while the % for Players from Georgia was 70% in the same Rounds Bracket.  When we isolate the comparison for only HS players and include Texas in the comparison, we find an even bigger gap:

  • Puerto Rico – 52.4% of HS players drafted after Round 10 have signed
  • Georgia —— 25.7% of HS players drafted after Round 10 have signed
  • Texas ——— 20.2% of HS players drafted after Round 10 have signed

So, how many players have been drafted, signed, not signed and played MLB from PR since the draft was implemented?  Check graph 1-4:

Graph 1-4: PR Players Drafted/Signed/Not Signed/Played MLB (1989-2017). Source: Baseball Reference

As noted, the % of players drafted and signed has been high, especially in picks thru Round 27.  The bulk of MLB players have come from the first 7 Rounds, yet Rounds 30-39 have yielded MLB players despite the % of players drafted and signed being much lower than the first 27 Rounds.  Few players drafted in Rounds 50 to 70 (The draft used to have more than 40 rounds) eventually signed, although PR did produce 2 MLB players in 3B Edwards Guzmán (50th Round 1995 San Francisco Giants) & RHP José “Iche” Santiago who is the lowest drafted PR player to play in MLB.  He was drafted in Round 70 of the 1994 Draft by the Kansas City Royals.  Curiously, Santiago and Carlos Beltran (PR Drafted Player with Highest WAR) were signed by the same scout, Johnny Ramos.

As for which Teams have drafted the most players since 1989, the Royals have been the most active by far at 41 players followed by the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins at 32 players.  Notably, the Twins have signed 26 out of their 32 draft picks and 5 of those 26 have played MLB, the highest among all teams.

Graph 1-5: PR Players Drafted/Signed/Played MLB – By Team (1989-2017) Source: Baseball Reference

The draft will continue to be an important topic of conversation for Puerto Rico.  There are some who feel Puerto Rico should go back to the previous free agent signing mechanism as is the case internationally.  That would enhance demand and competition for talent among all MLB organizations and provide some additional leverage for the player to get better value for his talent.  As a matter of fact, an international draft was considered when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was being negotiated, yet it was squashed as it would have placed international and domestic (US) players on an even playing field as far as being subject to a draft which would be disadvantageous for international players for whom English is a 2nd language and academic opportunities at the collegiate level in the US are somewhat limited compared to their US peers.  To a certain point, the impact of this academic disadvantage has trickled down to players coming out of PR who don’t have the same leverage when negotiating fair market value for their ability.  Others feel the draft will continue to be a landmark of baseball talent acquisition in PR.

Recent drafts have also proven to be productive for talent in Puerto Rico.  Established MLB players SS Carlos Correa (1st pick overall), RHP José Berrios (1st Round Supplemental) and RHP Edwin Díaz (3rd Round) where all drafted in 2012 while OF Eddie Rosario, SS Yadiel Rivera and LHP Alex Claudio where drafted in 2010 and OF Rey Fuentes & emerging Dodgers Util Kike Hernández in 2009.  Perhaps we are seeing a rebirth of elite talent punctuated by the last 2 drafts who have yielded high upside prospects such as C Mario Feliciano, INF José Miranda and most recently OF Heliot Ramos and Nelson Velázquez, among others.

What we know is that ⚾️ continues to reign in supreme in Puerto Rico.  From the excitement generated by the 2016 WBC and the following caused by the #Team Rubio movement to the emergence of electric talents like PR Born Francisco Lindor, who graduated from a US HS, to Carlos Correa, Eddie Rosario, and others, baseball will continue to be part of the everyday life in PR.

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Luis Frontera is from Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico.  He pitched collegiately at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, IA where he used a 78mph submarine sinker to somehow survive 3 seasons.  He is an insurance professional and president of 643 Sports MGMT, LLC in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.