Ask BA

It was no secret that most of the above-slot signings were going to be revealed in August, but I never anticipated that almost all of them would come in the day or two before the Aug. 15 deadline. I thought they’d be spaced out over two weeks and never anticipated I’d be as crushed with deadline activity as I was last week.

It also has occurred to me that for all intents and purposes, Prospect Season has begun at Baseball America. I’m currently working on our Cape Cod League Top 30 as part of our summer league coverage. Then it’s on to the Midwest League as part of our minor league Top 20 Prospects lists, followed by Draft Report Cards, followed by the organization Top 10/Top 30 lists that feed into our 2008 Prospect Handbook.

Anyway, that’s a long way of explaining why you’re getting Ask BA on Tuesday rather than last Friday. On to your questions . . .

    How exactly do major league contracts work for draft picks? I see both four- and five-year deals were given to 2007 draftees, all of which provide for a signing bonus as well. How are these payments structured, and does the major league nature of the deal mean that the player will be eligible for free agency when it expires?

    Matt Braun
    Berwick, La.

    What are the advantages to the team and to the player when a draft pick signs a big league contract?

    Jim Skowronski
    Oswego, Ill.

The vast majority of draftees (and other amateur free agents, for that matter) sign standard bonus contacts, in which their full bonus is paid out by the end of the following calendar year. This year’s draft featured four major league contracts: No. 1 overall pick David Price, Devil Rays (six years, $5.6 million bonus, $8.5 million guarantee); No. 27 Rick Porcello, Tigers ($3.58 million bonus, $7.0 million guarantee); No. 30 Andrew Brackman, Yankees ($3.35 million bonus, $4.55 million guarantee); and No. 35 Julio Borbon, Rangers (four years, $800,000 bonus, $1.3 million guarantee).

By giving a draftee a major league contract, the team can spread the bonus over several years. Price, for example, will receive $3.9 million of his $5.6 million bonus in 2012, so the present value (as calculated by MLB) is $3,430,440, quite a savings. Not coincidentally, that amount is also under MLB’s slot recommendation for the No. 1 pick ($3.6 million). Clubs also can use big league deals to stay under slot with the bonus but compensate the player further, as Texas did with Borbon, whom MLB slotted at $950,000. In these situations, both the team (for staying under slot by its calculations) and the agent/player (for getting over slot in total cash) can claim a victory.

Draftees who sign major league deals immediately go on the 40-man roster. That gives the team one less spot at its disposal, but there’s usually deadwood on every 40-man roster. More of a concern is that the player’s option clock starts ticking four or five years earlier than it would otherwise. However, these players almost always will qualify for a fourth option, so it’s unlikely to become an issue. Even with a high schooler like Porcello, the Tigers can option him to the minors in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 as needed. (This year won’t count as an option because he’ll be assigned to the minors for less than 20 days.) If Porcello isn’t ready for Detroit for good by 2012, it’s unlikely that more time in the minors would turn him into the pitcher the Tigers believe they’ve signed.

Players with big league contracts immediately become members of the Major League Baseball Players Association and enjoy the benefits associated with that, such as a quality insurance plan. They’ll also get invited to big league camp while on the 40-man as well.

    Please excuse my blatant anger, but come on! Kyle Blair drops his asking price from $1.5 million to a reported $1.1 million, an indication he really wanted to sign. The Dodgers knew they he represented a first-round talent as a fifth-round pick. Why didn't they take him at a discount? If they had signed him, where would he rank among their prospects?

    J.V. Siegel
    Sherman Oaks, Calif.

If you’re looking for someone to blame, you can take your pick between MLB, for trying to get teams to adhere to the slotting system, or Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who decided to toe the line. The Dodgers’ scouting department thought highly of Blair, a California high school righthander. If Texas prep righty Chris Withrow hadn’t been available with the 20th selection, Los Angeles would have taken Blair with that pick. The slot for the 20th choice was $1.35 million, which would have met Blair’s asking price (different sources have reported it as $1.1 million and $1.35 million).

In recent years, the Dodgers have drafted several late-rounders who could have been signed for less than what they would cost as future first-rounders: Richie Robnett (32nd round, 2002), Luke Hochevar (39th round, 2002), Matt Antonelli (19th round, 2003), Joe Savery (15th round, 2004) and David Price (19th round, 2004). Don’™t be surprised if Alex White (14th round, 2006) and Blair join that group in the next few years.

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitching prospect in the Dodgers system and arguably as good as any in the entire minors. Blair would rank with the next tier, which would also include Scott Elbert, James McDonald, Jonathan Meloan and Withrow.

    BA doesn't seem to give Geovany Soto much love, and I was wondering why. He not only did not make your Cubs Top 10 Prospects list, and he also was beaten out by Jeff Clement at catcher on your midseason minor league all-star teamPremium. His numbers seem staggering. What am I missing? And how do you currently rate the top catching prospects in the game?

    Dave Porges
    Pittsburgh

It’s not that we don’t consider Soto a prospect, because we do. And he’s tearing up Triple-A this year, batting .359/.429/.641 with 21 homers and 95 RBIs in 100 games. But we also factor in that it’s his third year at Iowa and that he entered 2007 with career .262/.344/.371 averages in six pro seasons.

Soto is a solid catching prospect, but he’s not the elite hitter that his stats this season might suggest. That said, he’s better offensively and defensively than regular Cubs catcher Jason Kendall, and Chicago’s playoff chances would be enhanced if it put Soto in its lineup.

As for the best catching prospects in baseball, I’d rank the top five in this order: Matt Wieters (Orioles), Jeff Clement (Mariners), Hank Conger (Angels), J.R. Towles (Astros) and Bryan Anderson (Cardinals).

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