Ask BA

I was
putting together some draft charts for the
2012 Almanac
, and I noticed something interesting about first-round
bonus inflation. After the initial draft in 1965, first-round bonuses rose an
average of just 0.6 percent annually for the rest of the 1960s. That average
increased to 5.2 in the 1970s and 10.2 percent in the 1980s
before exploding in the 1990s, when first-round bonuses climbed by 26.9 percent
per year.

MLB hasn’t
been able to control bonus spending as much as commissioner Bud Selig would
like, but the informal slotting instituted in 2000 definitely has stemmed the
tide. First-round bonuses have grown by an average of just 3.8 percent annually
in the last 12 drafts. As I’ve said before the commissioner’s office should be
happy about what slotting has accomplished rather than disappointed in what it
hasn’t.

 

    It was a rough summer for Red Sox
    pitching prospects. Look at the arms on BA's
    Top 10 Prospects list from last year
    : Anthony Ranaudo, an advanced
    college arm, was mediocre in Class A. Drake Britton's command went backward in
    his second full year after Tommy John surgery. Felix Doubront had elbow, groin
    and hamstring injuries. Stolmy Pimentel regressed. Are all these simultaneous problems
    a coincidence or an organization issue? What's Boston's
    future rotation going to look like?

    Stephen Philbrick

    Cummington, Mass.

Ranaudo,
Britton, Doubront and Pimentel entered the 2011 season as the Red Sox’s top
minor league arms and exited it as question marks. Boston hoped Ranaudo would progress rapidly after
signing him for $2.55 million as a supplemental first-round pick, but after a
strong start in low Class A, he leveled off following a promotion. He showed a
mid-90s fastball and hammer curveball at times, but more often sat around 90 mph with his fastball and lacked consistency
with his secondary pitches.

Britton
hit 95 mph on occasion and also flashed a hard breaking ball, but his command,
consistency and mound presence left a lot to be desired. It’s now a lot easier
to project him as a hard-throwing lefty reliever than as a mid-rotation
starter.

Another
lefty, Doubront helped the Red Sox as both a starter and reliever in 2010. He
had a lost year in 2011, working just 88 innings while battling a variety of
ailments. I still think he has enough stuff to be a No. 3 or 4 starter if he
can stay healthy, but he’s also out of options and may have to serve a Boston apprenticeship in relief next year.

Pimentel
was the biggest enigma. Double-A hitters destroyed him to the tune of a 9.12
ERA and .352 opponent average, and following a demotion to high Class A, he
wasn’t as good there as he had been in 2010. He ran his fastball up to 97 mph, displayed good life on his heater at other
times, showed some signs of a solid changeup and flashed some effective
breaking pitches—but he couldn’t do any of those things with any
degree of reliability. He’ll try to pick up the pieces in Double-A next year.

Many of the
arms on the Red Sox’ next tier of pitching prospects had solid seasons (Brandon
Workman, Alex Wilson, Kyle Weiland, Chris Balcolm-Miller), and they also found
some promising reinforcements in the draft (Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Noe
Ramirez). But it was still a disappointing year for Boston’s minor league pitchers, especially because
they couldn’t provide any help when the big league staff imploded. Britton,
Doubront and Pimentel had developed nicely in the past, so there struggles and
Ranaudo’s appear to be more coincidence than evidence of a system problem in
the way the Red Sox handle young arms.

Gazing
into my crystal ball, I envision a 2015 Boston rotation of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh
Beckett, Barnes and Ranaudo. Lester and Beckett would have to be re-signed to
new contracts, however, so stay tuned.

 

    During the National League Championship
    Series, the announcers mentioned Edwin Jackson was drafted as an outfielder
    from Shaw HS in Columbus, Ga. Yet
    he made it to the big leagues as a pitcher at age 20. Why did he switch to
    pitching so quickly after being drafted as an outfielder?

    Kyle Garofaro

    St. Louis

The
Dodgers weren’t sure exactly what they had after they selected Jackson with the 190th overall pick in 2001. They
loved his athleticism, but didn’t know whether it would translate better in the
outfield or on the mound. He had been Shaw’s No. 3 pitcher, behind Nick Long
(an Expos fourth-rounder in 2001) and Steven Register (a Rockies third-rounder in 2004 after three years at Auburn).

In his
first pro summer, Jackson pitched 22 innings and got 26 at-bats as a DH in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. By the following spring, the
Dodgers determined that his upside was greater on the mound and he didn’t look
back. Jackson won Los Angeles’ minor league pitcher of the year award in
2002 and reached the majors in September 2003. When he beat Randy Johnson on
his 20th birthday, he became the youngest pitcher to win his big league debut
since Dwight Gooden in 1984.  

 

    I was reading an old Prospect Handbook
    and it said that Elliot Johnson signed with the Rays out of high school as a
    nondrafted free agent. How did he become a free agent? Why don't we hear more
    about guys with top-10-rounds talent who fall and start a bidding war with all
    30 teams?

    Marc Downie

    Chaska, Minn.

If an
eligible player goes unselected in a draft, he automatically becomes a free
agent, which is what happened to  Johnson
when he came out of tiny Thatcher (Ariz.) HS in 2002. Rays scout Craig Weissmann
happened to see him at an all-star game while on a trip to Arizona to sign second-rounder Jason Pridie that
summer, and he signed Johnson away from Eastern Arizona JC.

The reason
you don’t see bidding wars over early-round talents is that they almost never
make it through the whole draft without some team at least taking a late-round
flier on them. When they don’t get picked, it’s because they’ve made it clear
they have zero intention of signing and/or their asking price isn’t anywhere
close to what a club would be willing to pay.

Several
prominent players in baseball history signed as free agents after sliding
through an entire draft, including Bobby Bonilla, Larry Bowa, Toby Harrah, Bryan
Harvey, Kevin Mitchell, Dan Quisenberry, Jeff Reardon and Frank White. Heath
Bell is the most famous NDFA currently in the majors, and seven made their big
league debuts in 2011: Tim Collins (Royals/signed by Blue Jays), Scott Diamond
(Twins/signed by Braves), Brandon Dickson (Cardinals), Mark Hamburger (Rangers/signed
by Twins), Jerad Head (Indians), Alan Johnson (Rockies) and Matt Young
(Braves).

 

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Oct. 10 Ask BA

Minors | #2011 #Ask BA

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