The mid-August signing deadline in place for the 2007 through 2011 drafts provided financial incentive for top picks to hold out until the 11th hour, and many did because it practically guaranteed a larger bonus. In other cases, players agreed to over-slot deals well ahead of the Aug. 15 deadline, yet Major League Baseball suppressed those contract announcements until the last minute, lest other players gain negotiating leverage. As a result, those five drafts featured relatively few top picks signing and gaining professional experience in the year in which they were drafted. Here are seven notable exceptions to the rule who all benefitted from signing early.
|RHP Jordan Zimmermann|
Selected by Nationals from Wisconsin-Stevens Point in second round of 2007 draft; signed June 13
A Division III standout, Zimmermann showed feel for an impressive four-pitch repertoire in 2007, his first pro summer, ranking as the short-season New York-Penn League’s No. 5 prospect. He rocketed to Double-A Harrisburg in ’08, leading all Nationals minor leaguers in wins (10), ERA (2.89) and strikeouts (134), and then made the Washington rotation out of spring training in ’09. Only a rehab from Tommy John surgery has slowed him down—he leads all Nats pitchers with 32 wins since 2009.
|1B Brett Wallace|
Selected by Cardinals from Arizona State in first round (13th overall) of 2008 draft; signed July 1
Wallace hit .327 for low Class A Quad Cities to rank as the Midwest League’s No. 5 prospect in his debut summer of 2008, making enough hard contact to spend the season’s final two weeks at Double-A Springfield. He spent the majority of ’09 at Triple-A, first at Memphis and then at Sacramento, following a July trade to the Athletics for Matt Holliday. So while Wallace never contributed in St. Louis, he rapidly built trade value that the Cardinals cashed in for a middle-of-the-order bat.
|CF Mike Trout|
Selected by Angels from Millville (N.J.) High in first round (25th overall) of 2009 draft; signed July 2
The Legend of Mike Trout began in the Phoenix suburbs, when the 17-year-old hit .360 in the Rookie-level Arizona League to rank as the circuit’s No. 1 prospect in 2009. That experience paid off when he earned top prospect honors in two Class A leagues—the Midwest and California—in 2010, then won the BA Minor League Player of the Year award in ’11, the same year he made his big league debut. One of the finest rookie seasons ever (.326, 30 homers, 49 steals) earned Trout the 2012 BA Major League Player of the Year Award, not to mention national acclaim.
|LHP Pat Corbin|
Selected by Angels from Chipola (Fla.) JC in second round of 2009 draft; signed June 18
Like Brett Wallace, Corbin delivered the most value to the team that drafted him in a second-year trade, in Corbin’s case for Dan Haren at the 2010 deadline. Signed by distinguished former Angels scout Tom Kotchman, Corbin’s athleticism, loose arm and aptitude portended big things right out of the gate as he ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2009. He won the Double-A Southern League strikeout title (142) in 2011, made his big league debut with the Diamondbacks in ’12 and this season has established himself as a rotation fixture in Arizona—but not before beating out talented young pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Randall Delgado for a rotation spot this spring.
|2B Jason Kipnis|
Selected by Indians from Arizona State in second round of 2009 draft; signed July 9
Kipnis ranked as the short-season New York-Penn League’s No. 5 prospect in 2009, despite seeming like a position mismatch as an undersized left fielder without huge power. His pro outlook improved considerably when he learned to play second base—and play it well—during that year’s instructional league. He reached Double-A in 2010, ranked as the Triple-A International League’s No. 7 prospect in ’11, the year he made his big league debut, and could be headed for a 20-20 season in 2013.
|SS Andrelton Simmons|
Selected by Braves from Western Oklahoma State JC in second round of 2010 draft; signed June 9
Simmons lived up to his billing as the top defensive shortstop in his draft, wowing Rookie-level Appalachian League observers during his 2010 debut, showing incredible range, arm strength and fundamentals. Prospect watchers began to take notice when he won the high Class A Carolina League batting title (.311) the following season, and the entire industry noticed when Simmons took over as the Braves’ everyday shortstop in June 2012, less than two years after being drafted. Today, he may be the best defensive shortstop in the game.
|LHP Chris Sale|
Selected by White Sox from Florida Gulf Coast in first round (13th overall) of 2010 draft; signed June 22
The White Sox enticed Sale to sign earlier than other college pitchers in his draft class with the promise of a big league callup that year if he pitched well. He did, and the White Sox carried through on their promise, promoting Sale that August after just 11 minor league appearances. He pitched well out of the bullpen as a rookie in 2011, but after shifting to the rotation in ’12 he’s gone 22-11, 2.89 in two seasons as one of the top starers in the American League.