Ask BA: Which First-Rounders Will Sign?

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The draft signing deadline is fast approaching, Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern. Signings will be my main focus this week, as I’ll be updating them via our MLB Draft Signings Central page, our 2013 MLB Draft Database and my Twitter feed at @jimcallisBA.

I also recorded a signings preview podcast with John Manuel this morning. That’s available at our podcast page and via iTunes.

Of the remaining unsigned first-round picks, who’s the most likely and least likely to sign?

Luke Bruggeman
Bloomington, Ind.

Hunter Renfroe

Hunter Renfroe (Photo by Andrew Woolley)

As I write this Monday afternoon, roughly 96 hours before the signing deadline, there are just five unsigned first-rounders: San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant (Cubs, No. 2), North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran (Marlins, No. 6), California high school righthander Phil Bickford (Blue Jays, No. 10), Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe (Padres, No. 13) and Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge (Yankees, No. 32). Barring any surprises arising in physical exams, I expect all five will turn pro.

The most likely to sign is Renfroe, who went to the College World Series finals with his Bulldogs teammates. I expect we’ll learn that he has reached a deal with the Padres in the next day or two once he passes a physical.

The other four are in similar situations, where the teams are trying to sign them at or slightly below their assigned pick values (which range from $6,708,400 for Bryant to $1,677,100 for Judge) and the players are trying to get full pick value or more. I can’t see Bryant or Moran (whose pick value is $3,516,500) going significantly higher in next year’s draft, when they’d be college seniors, and I don’t know why Judge would want to return for his senior year.

That would leave Bickford as the least likely to sign, which makes sense because he’s the lone high schooler of the bunch and theoretically could make a significant improvement on his current pick value ($2,921,400) after three years at Cal State Fullerton. He also has the biggest gap between his reported price tag ($4.25 million before the draft) and his pick value of any of the first-rounders. I still believe he’ll sign by Friday, however.

Could you compare shortstops Jurickson Profar (Rangers) and Francisco Lindor (Indians)? Though they took different routes, with Profar an international signing and Lindor a first-round draft pick, they seem to have a lot of similarities: very good defense, young for their levels, walk a decent amount, don’t strike out too much, good but not great speed, similar size. The main difference is that Profar has shown significantly more double and home run power so far. Do you think all of the similarities I listed are accurate for their future projections? Secondly, I’ve read that Lindor is expected to develop at least gap power. How much pop do you think he’ll have once he matures?

Ben Hall
Providence, R.I.

Profar ranked No. 1 on our Top 100 Prospects list entering the season. Now that Profar has graduated to the majors, Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox) and Lindor are the best shortstop prospects in the game. Bogaerts checked in at No. 4 and Lindor at No. 5 on our just-unveiled Midseason Top 50 Prospects list.

Ben’s comparisons are fairly accurate. To me, the most similar tools that Profar and Lindor share are solid speed and plus arm strength. Profar has a higher offensive ceiling, as he should hit for slightly more average and significantly more power, while Lindor projects as a better defender. They both have the tools to be all-stars.

While he won’t be the 20-homer threat that Profar will be, Lindor has enough strength and skills to produce maybe 30 doubles and 10 homers annually once he hits his stride in the majors. He’s still just 19, so he’s a long way from reaching his peak.

In light of Baseball America’s July 2 coverage, I thought about last year’s signings. I noticed that Dodgers lefthander Julio Urias didn’t make the top 20 rankings that Ben Badler put out prior to the start of the 2012 international signing period. Urias is arguably the best player from last year’s crop. Why wasn’t he on the list? What did scouts miss?

Zack Hotz
Redondo Beach, Calif.

Urias, who was signed as part of a package deal with the Mexico City Red Devils that cost the Dodgers $1.8 million, ranked No. 1 on last Friday’s edition of the Prospect Hot Sheet. In eight starts for low Class A Great Lakes, he has gone 2-0, 2.78 with 38 strikeouts in 32 innings. At 16, he’s the youngest regular starting pitcher in a full-season league since Jacobo Sequea in 1998.

Ben Badler is our expert on all things international, so I asked him to answer this question. Here’s his response:

Let’s start with this: Urias is better than anyone I spoke with thought he would be, including people with the Dodgers. Here’s what I wrote about Urias last year before July 2:

“There are teams who think Mexican lefthander Julio Urias belongs with the other top pitchers in this year’s class. At 6 feet, he doesn’t have a lot of size, but he’s still only 15 and is already throwing in the high 80s and touching 92 mph with feel for his craft. He has a good delivery and a loose arm. He’s able to cut his fastball and throw it for strikes, which is why some scouts prefer him to Venezuelan lefthander Jose Castillo. His changeup is one of the best secondary pitches in this year’s class, throwing the pitch in the high 70s and earning plus to plus-plus future grades from scouts.”

That’s a pretty positive report. Urias was the top prospect in Mexico last year, but the problem was that he had a medical condition in his left eye that scared teams. Several clubs I spoke with at the time had differing information about his eye, and the reports are still conflicting to this day. Teams said that they couldn’t get reliable info on his medicals from the Mexico City Red Devils, the Mexican League team that controlled his rights and ran the negotiations.

It was also the first year of the $2.9 million international bonus pools. Teams didn’t want to risk committing money to a player who might not pass a physical, especially given that Urias’ Aug. 12 birthday meant that by the time he signed, most of the top July 2 prospects would be gone.

We’re talking about a 16-year-old kid (and remember, he was 15 last year on July 2), so without speaking directly to the player or his family, I didn’t feel comfortable printing any of this information last year. I’m still not comfortable getting into any more detail, but now that some of the information has been reported in other outlets, it’s relevant to share this much for background information into or process as well as what teams were weighing. Kudos to the Dodgers for giving him a chance, and to Urias for dominating the Midwest League. That’s more important than any ranking.

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