Baseball's first-year player draft is no longer the secretive affair it used to be, with its proceedings now conducted on Internet radio and television programs. But teams still try to keep a lot of their doings a secret.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, some secrets get out. And the industry might not like the news that is getting out.
As news about the Yankees spending aggressively in the international signing period spread--the organization signed the consensus top prospect, Venezuelan catcher Jesus Montero, for $2 million--word was also getting around that the Yankees were being spending above the commissioner's office's recommended slots for its draft class.
They made waves on draft day with several picks, starting with Southern California righthander Ian Kennedy with the 21st overall pick. Kennedy wasn't a consensus first-round talent due to his smallish (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) frame, which offers little projection, and because his performance fell in his junior season. Then the Yankees took Nebraska righthander Joba Chamberlain--whose top-10 draft stock fell late due to injuries--in the supplemental first round, grabbed New York City prep righthander Dellin Betances in the eighth round, and snagged righty Mark Melancon in the ninth round--eight rounds later than the Arizona righthander might have gone if not for his elbow injury.
While Chamberlain and Melancon had yet to sign, Betances had agreed to a $1 million bonus, a record for an eighth-round pick. (It broke the mark the Yankees set with last year's eighth-rounder, Oklahoma prep outfielder Austin Jackson.) Then word spread that the Yankees had signed Kennedy for a bonus significantly over slot.
While one rival scouting director said the amount of Kennedy's bonus was $2.6 million, more reliable accounts close to Kennedy's camp put the bonus at $2.25 million. A call to Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer was not returned by press time. Moreover, a source told Baseball America the deal was in place within a week after the draft.
Kennedy, represented by agent Scott Boras, was working out at Southern California while waiting for the deal to become official. That timetable would depend on when the Yankees could get the bonus approved by the commissioner's office, which has been strident in encouraging clubs to stick to its slot recommendations.
"It's not a good process," one scouting director said of negotiations with the commissioner's office for bonuses that are over slot. "I don't think anyone enjoys it, and most of all I think it's not good for the player, who has to sit there and wonder what's going on. A lot of teams just don't want to put players through it, and I can understand that."
Kennedy's slot was expected to be in the $1.45 million range. The Twins signed No. 20 pick Chris Parmelee, a high school outfielder, for $1.5 million, while No. 22 pick Colton Willems, a prep righthander drafted by the Nationals, signed for $1.425 million.
Kennedy had an outstanding career at Southern California, going 24-12, 3.09 in three seasons with 380 strikeouts. He finished third all-time at USC in strikeouts (behind two four-year players, Rik Currier and Seth Etherton) and second, behind Cubs righthander Mark Prior, in strikeouts per nine innings (10.99).Quartet Still Unsigned
Kennedy's agreement leaves four first-round picks still unsigned. Two, like Kennedy, are Boras clients--righthanders Luke Hochevar, picked No. 1 overall by the Royals, and Missouri righthander Max Scherzer, picked 11th by the Diamondbacks. Two--lefthander Andrew Miller, selected sixth overall by the Tigers, and righthander Daniel Bard, picked 28th overall by the Red Sox--helped pitch North Carolina to the College World Series championship series.
Regarding the Tar Heels, their negotiations understandably got going late, but the fact they hadn't signed by the major league all-star break also indicated their talks may take a while. Several industry sources indicated Bard and his adviser, agent Michael Milchin, were hoping to do a deal similar to the one the Red Sox gave St. John's righthander Craig Hansen last year with the 26th overall pick. Hansen signed a $4 million major league contract with a $1.3 million bonus. This year, the Red Sox gave prep outfielder Jason Place, the 27th overall pick, a $1.3 million bonus, so a Hansen contract would probably pass muster with the commissioner's office from a slotting perspective.
However, the Red Sox don't seem inclined to give Bard a major league contract. While Bard's upper 90s fastball--which he threw exclusively for his last 42 pitches against Oregon State in the last game of the CWS--matches that of Hansen, he lacks Hansen's consistency, well-above-average slider or polish. Hansen reached the major leagues last year and is an important piece of the Red Sox bullpen in 2006. Bard likely would need at least a year in the minor leagues to hone his inconsistent mechanics--his elbow drops frequently, costing him command and flattening out his slider. Bard also has a changeup that doesn't match Hansen's, even though Hansen is a reliever.
Boston's scouting director, Jason McLeod, would say only that negotiations with Bard are ongoing. "We're not in a hurry to get anything done," he said. "He threw a lot this spring, and he's probably just waiting to see what some of the other guys drafted ahead of him sign for."
Bard's teammate, Miller, was the top prospect on the board for most organizations and the College Player of the Year. Industry observers said they believed Miller was waiting for Hochevar to sign before negotiations between the Tigers and Miller's agent, Mark Rodgers, begin in earnest. Rodgers has been busy this spring anyway, signing record deals for clients Jeff Samardzija and Chris Huseby with the Cubs.
Tigers scouting director David Chadd did not return calls seeking comment. Miller, who won the Roger Clemens Award as the nation's top pitcher, wrote in a BA.com chat that he was excited about the prospect of joining an organization on the rise like the Tigers.
"I'm looking forward to signing and getting my assignment," he wrote. "I'm happy everyone in Michigan is excited, the Tigers are generating a lot of excitement. I'm staying ready to pitch when the deal gets done."
The fact Hochevar had yet to sign struck several scouting directors as a surprise, considering he was a professional when drafted and thus could negotiate with the Royals prior to the draft. Industry scuttlebutt had the Royals holding firm on a $4 million offer. Attempts to obtain a comment from Boras during the all-star break were unsuccessful.DRAFT DOTS
• Just as MLB has recommended slots for signing bonuses, the commissioner's office also is recommending new language for contracts for drafted players. Several scouting directors confirmed that MLB has told clubs they can include a clause in player contracts requiring them to pay back a pro-rated share of their signing bonuses if they do not fulfill the terms of the contract. By MLB's definition, fulfilling the contract would mean playing the seven years (first year of the contract plus six full seasons) that the player's rights are controlled by the organization. MLB first informed its clubs of this opportunity last year. • Louisiana State's football program was waiting for word from Jared Mitchell, the Twins' 10th-round pick, on whether he would play pro baseball, college football or both. Mitchell, a wide receiver in football, was considered a first two rounds talent in baseball but fell to the 10th round due to his football commitment.
"Basically the decision is simple because I'm losing a lot if I don't go to college," Mitchell told the LSU student paper, the Reveille. "If we don't like what we see then the decision is simple. It's always been a dream to play both college and professional. I'm going to go with my gut feeling."