“A good team doesn’t not necessarily smart drafting choices make,” - an old baseball proverb, maybe. But some teams have a knack for this time of the year. Some teams have mastered the strategy of drafting homegrown talent.
The truth is, the draft is a crapshoot on all levels. You can never know how an 18-year old phenom will grow into an organization or if a late-round pick will become a breakout star-to-be. The fact of the matter is, you draft what your team needs, you take a chance on a young kid whose character you’ve had 0.5 seconds to judge, you trust the research your head scout has done, and you hope for the best. Sometimes, if lightning strikes just right and all of the stars align, you find a player that grows into your organization, continues to develop with the seasons, and creates a special place in the hearts of fans and the culture of the club.
While the strategy isn’t as linear as it looks, there are some clubs who have watched the fruits of their labor blossom more than others. Here are the five teams who are benefiting most from homegrown talent at the major-league level:
1. San Francisco Giants
Looking at the Giants roster right now, it’s almost completely made up of homegrown talent. With Buster Posey, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Matt Cain and Brandon Belt this team has really gone the distance in perfecting the art of cultivating good draftees and making them excellent players. When the Giants took Madison Bumgarner in 2008, who would have thought he’d be a force for both their defense and offense.
But they’re not slowing down yet. Young infielder Christian Arroyo, who was optioned to Triple-A over the weekend, is patiently waiting his turn to join the ranks of the Giants powerful, farm-fresh roster on a long-term basis.
2. New York Mets
Taking Michael Conforto in 2014 has been one of the best moves the team has made in recent years, especially since he’s current the backbone of Amazin’ offense. Before that, the Mets drafted Matt Harvey in 2010 and Brandon Nimmo in 2011. Depending on your opinions of Harvey, these signings have all made significant impact in the success of the Mets. But Harvey isn’t the only hurler that the Mets have made smart investments in from the beginning, with Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia and Steven Matz all on the roster. Now the real challenge is keeping them all healthy.
It’s almost impossible to talk about homegrown talent and the Mets in the same paragraph without mentioning David Wright. Taken in the first round of the 2003 draft, Wright became one of the most beloved players in Queens as well as the face of the franchise. While he hasn’t done much for the team lately do to a series of sad and unfortunate injuries, his lifetime WAR is still comfortably high at 49.9.
3. Cleveland Indians
Cleveland has become one of the poster teams on how to draft and keep popular and successful players. Just how popular, you may ask? The team drafted Jason Kipnis in 2009, Francisco Lindor and Cody Allen in 2011, and Tyler Naquin in 2012. Lindor has had a massive offensive presence for Cleveland since coming up in 2015, not to mention his all-out effort during the last World Series.
The team has just called up one of their most prized prospects, Bradley Zimmer. The young outfielder is already drawing comparisons to Grady Sizemore. In 45 plate appearances, Zimmer is batting .300 and slugged two home runs. He’s also struck out 15 times, but that’s to be expected when a player is called to the show so early.
Cleveland knows how to work the entire field when it comes to developing young players. Their drafted talent has not only been consistent, but like the organization enough to stay with them through some turbulence. Now, they’re out for redemption from last season’s World Series loss, a race they would not even been in if not for their homegrown players.
The Yankees have always been infamous with finding and retaining good homegrown players (they even have a TV series about this year’s crop). But as of late, it looked like the days of Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter-esque players were over for the club.
But not anymore.
Enter Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird. Partnered with the older Homegrown Players of Yore, Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances, the Yankees have struck an interesting balance of veteran and baby Bombers. While Gardner’s presence is typically a quiet one in New York, his career in pinstripes has garnered him a WAR of 30.3. Judge’s strikeout rate appears to be slowing down for now, however it’s still a little too early to call. What doesn’t appear to be slowing down for the 2013 first-round draft pick? Smacking baseballs out of the park. Sanchez has essentially had the catchers touch passed to him, and a new era of baseball is now evolving in the Bronx.
The Astros are underrated when it comes to finding solid young players for the organization. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Lance McCullers were all wins when Houston was building their team up. Although McCullers has had some issues with injuries in recent years, he was just named American League Pitcher of the Month for May. And the hitter of the month you may ask? Oh right, Correa.
With Alex Bregman emerging as a star with his strong plate discipline, the Astros can see their newest line of offense immersing. But for now, their homegrown players are taking not only the AL West, but the American League as a whole by storm.