The old saying is that it takes five years to evaluate a draft class, though I've always felt that was a little generous. Three years is usually enough to give you an idea of what you have. There are always exceptions, but by then the prospects should have separated themselves from the suspects.
Since the 2016 draft will begin Thursday, this is as good a time as any to go back and review the 2011 draft. That 2011 draft class has already produced one Rookie of the Year, two top-three finishes in the Cy Young voting, and one top-five finish in the MVP voting. Plus a bunch of All-Star Game appearances too.
Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is certainly not perfect or the definitive stat to measure performance. It does work very well for an exercise like this though. So, with an assist from Baseball-Reference.com, let's review the 2011 draft class.
Top 15 Players to Date
1. RHP Jose Fernandez, Marlins (1st round, 14th overall) -- 12.4 WAR
Fernandez has been truly remarkable at such a young age. He leads the draft class in career WAR despite missing more than a year due to Tommy John surgery. The Marlins plucked him out a Tampa high school and Fernandez spent just one year in the minors. He jumped from Class A to MLB in 2013 and dominated right away. We're talking All-Star Game, Rookie of the Year, and third place in the Cy Young voting. Incredible. Twelve teams passed on Fernandez, including the Diamondbacks twice.
2. SS Mookie Betts, Red Sox (5th round, 172nd overall) -- 10.9 WAR
By no means was Betts an unknown in 2011. He was a three-sport star in high school (baseball, basketball, bowling) and his athleticism was obvious. The Red Sox loved his tools -- last year, Alex Speier of the Boston Globe wrote about the "neuro-scouting" the Red Sox used to evaluate Betts before the draft -- so they paid him a well-above-slot $750,000 bonus. Now he's one of the premier power-speed players in the game. Betts was originally drafted as a shortstop, though he moved to second and then the outfield
3. RHP Sonny Gray, Athletics (1st round, 18th overall) -- 9.9 WAR
Vanderbilt is one of the premier player development programs in the country. Every year they seem to produce a first-rounder or three. Gray was the staff ace at Vandy as a junior, though he did have some doubters because he's only 5-foot-11 (there has long been a bias against sub-6-foot righties). Gray has proved those doubters wrong thanks to his quality stuff and off-the-charts competitiveness. He finished third in the AL Cy Young voting last year.
4. RHP Gerrit Cole, Pirates (1st round, 1st overall) -- 9.1 WAR
Cole was not a slam-dunk, no-doubt-about-it first-overall pick the way Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Heck, Cole was not even considered the best UCLA pitcher in the draft by some. Teammate Trevor Bauer had a better draft year -- Bauer won the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball's best player in 2011 -- but Cole was a better pro prospect because of his raw stuff. The Pirates grabbed Cole with the top pick and have been rewarded with a bonafide ace.
5. OF George Springer, Astros (1st round, 11th overall) -- 9.0 WAR
The concerns about Springer's propensity to swing-and-miss were very real at the time of the draft. He struck out in 18.5 percent of his plate appearances at UConn, high for a first-round prospect. Springer still strikes out a bunch, but he's overcome those swing-and-miss issues to be a dominant two-way player who can beat you in so many different ways.
6. 3B Anthony Rendon, Nationals (1st round, 6th overall) -- 8.2 WAR
Rendon was the consensus top position player in the draft, and it was a surprise when he slipped to the sixth-overall pick. To be fair to the teams that passed on him, shoulder and ankle problems were a big red flag at the time. Rendon was in the big leagues less than two years after being drafted, and he finished fifth in the NL MVP voting in 2014, his first full season in the show. He's done that while shuffling back and forth between second base and third base.
7. OF Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays (32nd round, 979th overall) -- 7.5 WAR
Despite setting a Division II record with a 54-game hitting streak in 2010, Pillar had to settle for a $1,000 bonus as a 32nd-round pick in 2011. His elite center field defense gave him a carrying tool and allowed him to reach the show only two years after being drafted. Pillar has been an incredible value for the Blue Jays, even if he does it with defense more than offense.
8. SS Francisco Lindor, Indians (1st round, 7th overall) -- 7.2 WAR
Lindor was the first high school position player taken in 2011, and his development has been textbook. He reached MLB in his fourth full pro season as a 21-year-old and is already on the very short list of the best shortstops in baseball. Lindor hits, gets on-base, defends, runs and is ultra-likeable. He's a franchise player in every way.
9. RHP Kyle Hendricks, Rangers (8th round, 264th overall) -- 5.8 WAR
The 2011 draft was unusually deep with Ivy League pitchers and Hendricks, a Dartmouth kid, seemingly reinvented himself in pro ball. He went from being a low-90s pitcher with a curveball and a changeup in college to an upper-80s pitcher with a knockout changeup and an effective cutter as a professional. It helps that Hendricks has exquisite command. The Rangers selected Hendricks in the eighth round then sent him to the Cubs in the Ryan Dempster trade one year later.
10. RHP Cody Allen, Indians (23rd round, 698th overall) -- 5.5 WAR
Twenty-nine teams are wondering how they missed on Allen in 2011. He was a starter with a good curveball at High Point University, but when the Indians stuck him in the bullpen in pro ball, his velocity jumped into the mid-90s and he zoomed through the minors. Allen reached the big leagues just 13 months after being drafted. That's incredible for a 23rd-round pick. He was the second 2011 draftee to reach the show behind Bauer.
11. 2B Joe Panik, Indians (1st round, 29th overall) -- 5.1 WAR
There were definitely a lot of split opinions about Panik at the time of the 2011 draft. Some thought he would be a high-average hitter who played a top-notch second base, and others felt he was nothing more than a utility player. The Giants are an outstanding player development organization, so it's no surprise Panik became that high-average hitter and great defender at second. Panik is one of only three 2011 draftees with a World Series ring, joining 2014 Giants teammate Andrew Susac (second round) and ...
12. OF Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox (supp. 1st round, 40th overall) -- 5.1 WAR
The start of Bradley's big league career did not go well at all, but he is emerging as an offensive force this season while playing his typically excellent center field defense. It's kind of funny to say the Red Sox are being rewarded for being patient when the guy was drafted only five years ago, but they were patient through Bradley's big-league struggles. It would have been easy to cut ties and trade him away at various points the last few seasons. JBJ appeared in 37 games with the 2013 Red Sox to earn a World Series ring.
13. SS Marcus Semien, White Sox (6th round, 201st overall) -- 5.1 WAR
Semien has hit far more than expected in pro ball after signing out of Cal. He reached the big leagues two years after being drafted and is now one of the top power hitting middle infielders in baseball. The White Sox used Semien to acquire Jeff Samardzija from the Athletics during the 2014-15 offseason.
14. SS Brad Miller, Mariners (2nd round, 62nd overall) -- 3.8 WAR
Miller was a divisive prospect at the time of the draft, and he remains a divisive player today. His tools are obvious and he flashes brilliance, but he remains plagued by inconsistency. Miller was called up and given a starting shortstop job by the Mariners just two years after being drafted. He was traded to the Rays over the winter.
15. 2B Kolten Wong, Cardinals (1st round, 22nd overall) -- 3.5 WAR
Like Panik, Wong had plenty of doubters at the time of the draft. He's on the small side (5-foot-9) which left folks wondering how he would handle pro-caliber pitching. Well, Wong has handled it just fine, enough to get him to the big leagues only two years after being drafted.
Five other players from the 2011 draft have racked up +3 WAR in the big leagues: Bauer (Diamondbacks, first round), Joe Ross (Padres, first round), Ken Giles (Phillies, seventh round), Travis Shaw (Red Sox, ninth round), and Billy Burns (Nationals, 32nd). Interestingly enough, four of those five have already been traded. Only Shaw is with his original team.
Best Picks in the 10th Round or Later
Pillar & Allen
Pillar and Allen have been two of the 10 most productive in the 2011 draft class overall, so it's no surprise they've been the two best players selected in the 10th round or later. It's easy to overlook the later rounds because the MLB draft is so long, but the difference between good teams and great teams is often the ability to turn those late-round picks into useful players, either for your roster or to use in trades.
RHP Cody Anderson, Indians (14th round, 428th overall) -- 2.0 WAR
Anderson is a pretty cool player development story. He didn't begin pitching full-time until junior college in 2011 mostly because it was his only way to make the team, and he's had to work hard in pro ball to improve his secondary pitches. Anderson does not have a full-time spot in Cleveland's stacked rotation at the moment, but he is their sixth starter and has appeared in 23 big-league games the last two years. Between Allen and Anderson, the Indians landed two very nice arms in the late rounds of the 2011 draft.
RHP Jerad Eickhoff, Rangers (15th round, 474th overall) -- 2.9 WAR
Texas landed two rock solid big-league pitchers in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft in Hendricks and Eickhoff, though neither of them ever threw a pitch for the Rangers. Hendricks was traded for Dempster a few years back and Eickhoff was part of the Cole Hamels trade last year. He's now part of the Phillies' promising young core.
OF Billy Burns, Nationals (32nd round, 967th overall) -- 3.3 WAR
The Nationals turned Burns back into a switch-hitter following the draft -- he was a switch-hitter in high school who batted right-handed exclusively in college -- and he had a 74-steal season in the minors in 2013. Washington traded Burns to the Athletics for Jerry Blevins two years ago.
Jury Still Out
Players do not develop at the same pace, so there are still several 2011 draftees in the minors working their way to the big leagues. Here are the four best players from the 2011 draft who have yet to play in MLB.
OF Bubba Starling, Royals (1st round, 5th overall)
Starling was a star high school football player and four-star quarterback recruit, but he took a $7.5 million bonus from the Royals to turn pro in baseball. His development has moved slowly, mostly because he was a raw baseball player after splitting his time between two sports in high school. Starling, 23, is struggling in Double-A right now, though he still possesses elite athleticism and big time tools.
OF Brandon Nimmo, Mets (1st round, 13th overall)
Nimmo, who is from the noted baseball hotbed of Wyoming, was the first Mets draft pick under GM Sandy Alderson. His development has not been quick because he was basically a raw athlete learning baseball at the time of the draft. The 23-year-old Nimmo is having a strong year in Triple-A and figures to make his MLB debut at some point in 2016, even if he's only a September call-up.
RHP Taylor Guerrieri, Rays (1st round, 24th overall)
Unlike Starling and Nimmo, Guerrieri's development has been slowed by injury --he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery in 2013 -- and two suspensions for marijuana use. He is now 23 and in Double-A, where throwing strikes has been a bit of a challenge. Guerrieri has missed a lot of development time in recent years but remains a promising prospect because of his power stuff.
OF Josh Bell, Pirates (2nd round, 61st overall)
Bell was considered unsignable at the time of the 2011 draft. In fact, he sent a letter to the commissioner's office saying teams shouldn't even bother drafting him because he intended to follow through on his commitment to Texas. The Pirates surprised everyone by taking Bell in the second round and giving him a $5 million bonus, which is still a record for a player selected outside the first round. Bell, 23, has since moved to first base, though he has mashed his entire career and is currently in Triple-A as the team's first baseman of the future.
RHP Tyler Glasnow, Pirates (5th round, 152nd overall)
The 2011 draft was the last draft before the bonus pools were put in place, so the Pirates really took advantage of their ability to spend freely. They gave huge bonuses to Cole and Bell, and also gave Glasnow a $600,000 bonus as their fifth-rounder. He's since filled out his 6-foot-8 frame and become one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Glasnow is currently carving up Triple-A and is expected to make his MLB debut sooner rather than later.
Baseball is very hard, and unfortunately not everyone develops as expected. Many players don't make it, including guys who look like the safest of bets. Here are three of the biggest busts from the 2011 draft.
LHP Danny Hultzen, Mariners (1st round, 2nd overall)
There was talk Hultzen would go first overall as an ultra-polished college lefty who figured to zoom through the minors. Instead, he's been dogged by shoulder problems throughout his career, which have limited him to only 167 2/3 innings in parts of six pro seasons. Hultzen has not pitched this year because of more injury problems, and he's thrown only 43 2/3 inning since 2012.
RHP Jed Bradley, Brewers (1st round, 15th overall)
The Brewers had two of the top 15 picks in 2011 and they used them on a pair of college starters. Righty Taylor Jungmann (12th overall) has thrown 140 innings with Milwaukee over the last two years. Bradley, on the other hand, has been hampering by injuries and mechanical problems in pro ball, so much so that the Brewers moved him to the bullpen last year. The team officially cut ties with Bradley last week and traded him to the Braves for cash.
LHP Chris Reed, Dodgers (1st round, 16th overall)
Reed was considered a high-risk player going into the 2011 draft because he was a reliever in college with inconsistent secondary stuff. He did show three pitches though (fastball, slider, changeup), and plenty of folks believed he could start. The bullpen was always available as a backup plan, after all. The Dodgers put Reed in the rotation in the minors and the inconsistency continued. He's also had a hard time missing bats, even after moving back to the bullpen last summer. Los Angeles pulled the plug and traded Reed to the Marlins in a minor deal last July.
Falling Short of Expectations, But Still Useful
There is a wide range out of outcomes between "total bust" and "star." Here are a handful of 2011 draftees who have fallen short of their ultimate ceilings, but are still useful big leaguers.
RHP Trevor Bauer, Diamondbacks (1st round, 3rd overall)
There was talk of Bauer going first overall because of his college dominance and deep repertoire of power stuff, but ongoing control problems have prevented him from becoming an ace at the big-league level. He's still a solid mid-to-back-end starter who will occasionally show flashes of brilliance. That's obviously a very useful player. Expectations for the third-overall pick are quite high though.
RHP Dylan Bundy, Orioles (1st round, 4th overall)
Man, I thought Bundy was going to be a megastar at the time of the draft. He was the No. 1 prospect on the board in my opinion. Bundy crushed the minors in 2012 and was in the big leagues as a 19-year-old that September. He's since been dogged by injuries, including Tommy John surgery and shoulder problems. Bundy is currently a mop-up reliever with the O's who is struggling to miss bats. The calcification in his right shoulder means his stuff probably isn't ever coming all the way back.
RHP Matt Barnes, Red Sox (1st round, 19th overall)
UConn hadn't had a true first-round pick since Charles Nagy in 1988 before Springer and Barnes went in the first round of the 2011 draft. Barnes showed a huge power arm in college and he still does to this day, but command and control problems have forced him to move to the bullpen. He's currently serving as a middle reliever who occasionally sees high-leverage work for the Red Sox.
The Ones Who Got Away
These days the draft runs 40 rounds deep -- it was 100 rounds two decades ago -- and teams do not sign every single player they select. They usually sign 25-30. Some players decide to go to college or go back to college for their senior season. Inevitably, some of those players go to school and improve their stock considerably, so they wind up being much higher draft picks down the road. Here are the four best unsigned players from the 2011 draft.
RHP Jon Gray, Yankees (10th round, 329th overall)
Gray was drafted three different times by three different teams. The Royals picked him out of high school in 2010 (13th round) and a year later the Yankees selected him out of junior college. Gray showed a very live arm as an amateur but did need to refine his mechanics, which is not at all uncommon. He opted to transfer to Oklahoma rather than turn pro in 2011, and during his two years with the Sooners he developed a power slider and regularly flirted with 100 mph. Gray was considered a potential No. 1 pick prior to the 2013 draft. The Rockies landed him with the third selection.
LHP Carlos Rodon, Brewers (16th round, 491st overall)
Rodon was certainly not an unknown out of high school. He was a three-pitch lefty with good size and was considered a possible pick in the top five rounds. A strong commitment to NC State and concerns about his durability -- his velocity would fall off noticeably after a few innings -- caused him to fall to the 16th round. Rodon went to school and, in addition to answering those durability questions, he developed the nastiest slider in the nation. Three years after the Brewers picked Rodon out of high school, the White Sox made him the third-overall pick in the 2014 draft. He was in the big leagues 10 months later.
RHP Aaron Nola, Blue Jays (22nd round, 679th overall)
A hernia and shoulder trouble in high school left scouts a little wary of Nola before the 2011 draft. He was considered a possible pick in the top five rounds based on the talent, but the combination of injuries and a strong college commitment caused him to fall to the 22nd round. Nola was dominant in three years at LSU while developing into a well-rounded pitcher who was as close to MLB-ready as it gets. The Phillies made him the seventh-overall pick in 2014, and he's already given them 155 2/3 innings with +3.7 WAR.
SS Trea Turner, Pirates (30th round, 602nd overall)
Unlike Rodon, Turner was a relative unknown out of high school. He was a scrawny kid who could run and hit a little, but the general consensus was that he was best off going to college for a few years to develop his game before turning pro. Turner joined Rodon at NC State, led the nation in steals as a freshman, and began to develop some power. Athletic college shortstops with speed and some pop are prime first-round draft fodder, and sure enough, the Padres made Turner the 13th-overall pick in 2014. He was later traded with Ross to the Rays as part of the package for Wil Myers, then Tampa immediately flipped him (and Ross) to the Nationals for Steven Souza.