Ask BA

First-round draft picks are signing at a slightly quicker pace than they did in 2009. Two weeks after the draft, nine of the 32 first-rounders had turned pro, compared to seven a year ago. All seven of the quick 2009 signees accepted bonuses at or below MLB’s guidelines, and only one of the nine in 2010 has received more than the estimated slot recommendation from a year ago: Rays catcher Justin O’Conner, who signed for $1.025 million as the No. 31 pick.

Multiple teams sources told me before the draft that the slot recommendations were up slightly from 2009, but so far teams have succeeded at getting players to sign at or below last year’s guidelines. Of the 10 sandwich-rounders to turn pro, only Mariners righthander Taijuan Walker ($800,000 at No. 43) exceeded last year’s recommendation, with six signing at the 2009 guideline and three taking less money. There was a great variance in how teams valued second- and third-tier players in this year’s draft, and the clubs used that lack of consensus to cut favorable predraft deals.

I’ll be making my annual pilgrimage to Rosenblatt Stadium, so there will be no Ask BA next week. Keep the questions coming, and the column will return on July 5. I’ll try to provide some briefer answers via Twitter: @jimcallisBA.

    How do you think the Angels will move outfielder Mike Trout along? I know he won't turn 19 until August, but he's tearing up low Class A. Do you think we could see him in the majors maybe late next year, or is 2012-13 a more realistic possibility? Torii Hunter's contract expires after the 2012 season, and Trout is his likely replacement. We all know about his plus-plus speed, but do you think his power will come around enough for him to be a 20-homer hitter in the big leagues? Will Trout crack the top 20 in the Top 100 Prospects list next spring?

    Jason Patterson
    Austin

Trout had a scintillating .360/.418/.506 pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League last summer, and he has had no problem making the jump to the low Class A Midwest League, one of the toughest hitting environments in the minors. He has been even better, batting .370/.449/.553 with 33 steals in 66 games. If he keeps this up, he’d have to rank near the top of the Top 100.

Though Trout has exceeded initial expectations, which already were high for the 26th overall pick in the 2009 draft, I don’t think the Angels will try to rush him. They have Peter Bourjos in Triple-A as a potential successor for Hunter, and he’ll allow Los Angeles to let Trout advance on his own timetable. I’d let him tear up the MWL this season and worry about accelerating his development further down the road. He figures to be ready by mid-2012 at the earliest.

It’s also possible that as Trout gets bigger and stronger, he’ll wind up in right field. He has the strength and bat speed to hit 20 homers per season in the majors, especially as he fills out and learns to turn on pitches more frequently.

    Did the players who declined to sign with the Astros in their ill-fated 2007 draft (Derek Dietrich, Brett Eibner and Chad Bettis) actually improve their financial positions through this year's draft over what they would have made with Houston? Was putting off free agency for an extra three years really worth the additional money they'll receive?

    Jon Orndorff
    Winston-Salem, N.C.

Houston’s botched 2007 effort resulted in the worst draft of the decade. The Astros’ problems started during the offseason, when they signed Carlos Lee and Woody Williams as free agents and surrendered their first two draft picks as compensation. There was little demand for Williams, and if Houston had waited until after the deadline for the Giants to offer him arbitration, it could have signed him and kept its second-rounder. At the same time, the Astros declined to offer arbitration to their own Type A free agents (Aubrey Huff, Andy Pettitte and Russ Springer). Springer might have cost Houston more than it wanted to spend, but offering Huff and Pettitte was a low-risk proposition that could have yielded two first-round choices and two sandwich picks.

The Astros compounded their problems by failing to sign their top two choices, Dietrich (third round) and Eibner (fourth), making them the first team since the 1980 Yankees to fail to sign a player before the fifth. Houston failed to land Bettis (eighth) as well.

Interestingly, 13th-rounder Chad Jones was considered the Astros’ most talented draftee at the time, a sandwich-round talent whose $2.3 million asking price and Louisiana State football scholarship scared teams off. Jones went on to win national championships in football and baseball at LSU before signing with the NFL’s New York Giants as a third-round pick this spring.

Various sources say Houston let Dietrich, Eibner and Bettis get away because they either wouldn’t budge from MLB’s bonus guidelines or because they budged too little and too late in the process. Three years ago, the estimated slot recommendations were $270,000 for Dietrich, $180,000 for Eibner and $123,300 for Bettis.

Fast forward to 2010, and all three players were second-round picks, with Eibner going 54th overall to the Royals, Bettis 76th to the Rockies and Dietrich 79th to the Rays. Bettis ($477,000) and Dietrich ($457,200) already have signed for bonuses at or near last year’s slot recommendations, while Eibner’s slot was valued at $663,300 a year ago.

From a purely financial standpoint, Bettis came out $354,700 ahead, while Dietrich gained $187,200 and Eibner stands to make an additional $483,300. While that’s not a lot of money, I still think they all made the right decision to go to college.

You can’t put a price tag on what you learn in three years of college, both inside and outside the classroom. Dietrich, Eibner and Bettis got to enjoy three years of major-conference college baseball and made more money by waiting. Furthermore, they didn’t delay their future major league free agency by three years. They may have delayed signing for three years, but college players generally make it to the big leagues a year or two quicker than high schoolers.

    Among this year's first-round draft picks, which two or three are on the fastest track to the major leagues?

    Dan Spalding
    South Bend, Ind.

As we reported yesterday, one of the reasons that Florida Gulf Coast lefthander Chris Sale signed quickly with the White Sox for $1.656 million is that he’ll get the opportunity to pitch his way into their big league bullpen as early as August. The 13th overall pick, he could reach the majors before many of this year first-rounders even sign a contract.

There were no elite college position players in this year’s draft, so college pitchers will dominate the list of the first-rounders with the quickest ETAs. After Sale, Mississippi lefthander Drew Pomeranz (No. 5 overall, Indians), Ohio State righthander Alex Wimmers (No. 21, Twins) and Georgia Tech righty Deck McGuire (No. 11, Blue Jays) are the next-best candidates to get to the big leagues the fastest.

Among the first-rounders, Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon (No. 4, Royals) should be the first position player to get to the majors. JC of Southern Nevada outfielder Bryce Harper (No. 1, Nationals) will need more time than most fans think, as I detailed in the June 1 Ask BA. The quickest high schooler will be The Woodlands (Texas) High righthander Jameson Taillon (No. 2, Pirates).

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