Draft Winners & Losers
Sizing up the signing deadline
It's impossible to say who had a good draft and who had a bad draft when many of the best players have yet to play a professional game. But it is possible to judge who had a strong performance around the signing deadline that just passed, and who didn't.
Washington has drafted and signed premium talent each of the last two years with the No. 1 overall selection. Despite dealing with hyped players in Stephen Strasburg and now Bryce Harper, the Nats didn't change the game with their contracts. Strasburg set draft bonus and contract records, but within reason; Harper got the largest guarantee for a position player, by $400,000 over a contract signed nine years ago. Neither contract was outrageous, and both got done. The Nationals also added pitching depth by going over slot to sign players in the second (Sammy Solis, $1 million), fourth (A.J. Cole, $2 million) and 12th (Robbie Ray, $799,000) rounds.
• Hendricks Sports Management:
Once best known as the agents for Roger Clemens, the Hendricks brothers scored the largest signing bonus ($6.5 million) of the 2010 draft for No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon. They also locked up Taillon's fellow Pirates draftee, hard-throwing prep righty Stetson Allie, for $2.25 million. Perhaps their biggest coup was negotiating the $5.25 million two-sport bonus for Texas prep righty Zach Lee, leveraging his football commitment to Louisiana State for the largest draft bonus in Dodgers history.
Last year we thought the Pirates came up short, but first-rounder Tony Sanchez was better defensively than our reports. This year, the Pirates took more consensus choices and had to pay nearly $9 million to get Taillon and Allie, who had the best pure stuff of any prep pitchers. The Pirates had four unsigned picks in the first 10 rounds, and their draft success ultimately will rest with the two high school righthanders. The upside is worth the gamble.
• Logan White:
The Dodgers aren't what they used to be thanks to the ownership of the McCourts and their ugly divorce, and the team has been on a budget in the draft in recent years. In fact, Hideo Nomo's $2 million signing bonus, handed out in 1995 under the O'Malley regime, still ranked as the fifth-highest in franchise history—until Monday. The Dodgers made the risky Lee pick work when they handed him a two-sport contract at $5.25 million. White, scouting director since 2002, has consistently found impact talent despite tight budgets, and he was able to get creative to sign a pick many in the industry thought he'd punted.
• Anthony Ranaudo:
The Louisiana State righthander had a difficult spring, going 5-3, 7.32 and giving up nine home runs in just 52 innings. He had entered the season at the top of the college draft board, though, and he finished close to it with a $2.55 million bonus from the Red Sox as a supplemental first rounder. Ranaudo would have gotten more with a healthy, successful season for LSU, but he still got the second-highest bonus for any college pitcher, just $150,000 behind No. 5 overall pick Drew Pomeranz.
• Bud Selig:
The commissioner's office has not exactly made the draft easier or better for everyone, nor has it succeeded in curbing bonuses, the primary motivation for all the rules and procedures and guidelines that currently govern the draft process. But in the case of Barret Loux, Selig got it right. The Diamondbacks picked Loux sixth overall, even though he was not a consensus top-10 talent and had injury issues as a sophomore. When Loux failed a physical in July, though, at least Arizona had the fallback of getting pick the seventh pick in next year's draft.
Loux, meanwhile, could have been hung out to dry by the NCAA if he'd attempted to return to Texas A&M. Instead, Selig, the Diamondbacks and Loux were able to work out a compromise, as Selig declared him a free agent as of Sept. 1. Other players get their contracts voided every year (such as Brewers prospect Cody Scarpetta), just not with picks in which the club gets compensation. And when it has happened in the past with first-rounders—think R.A. Dickey in 1996, or Tim Stauffer in 2003—those clubs had to sign their picks or get nothing.
Here, Loux gets to work out for clubs and see if he can show that he's healthy enough for a shot at pro ball, while the Diamondbacks get next year's pick. It's not a situation that should happen every day, but it was a smart way to handle it for baseball and for Loux.
It appears the Brewers were victims of circumstance, with Dylan Covey being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes while going through his physical prior to agreeing to terms on a contract. Covey and his family decided to adjust to the disease by having Covey go to college at noted pitching producer San Diego; the Brewers said they had no hard feelings. But they also had no first-round pick and appeared to have spent less than $2 million on their entire draft class.
At least the Diamondbacks and Brewers had medical reasons to point to for not signing their first-rounders. For the first time in team history, the Padres failed to sign a first-round pick. San Diego and Florida prep righthander Karsten Whitson, advised by SFX, ended up about $600,000 apart, according to industry sources, and Padres general manager Jed Hoyer told reporters the two sides were "fairly far apart."
San Diego tried to make up for it, going above slot for third-round righty Zach Cates, who has an electric arm, and sixth-rounder John Barbato, who got their largest bonus at $1.4 million. But Whitson was picked ninth overall for a reason. His slider was among the best secondary pitches available in the draft, and he has good athletic ability that put him on the short list for "second-best prep pitcher in the draft," after Taillon. Not signing him is a blow, plain and simple.
• The Process:
It's not apparent who the current system benefits. OK, that's not entirely true. It feels like everyone at Baseball America picked up dozens of Twitter followers, and Monday was one of our top web traffic days of the year. So thank you for that.
Still, while baseball's draft has become an event everyone in the industry looks forward to, the signing deadline is viewed with a mix of dread and loathing. Changes are coming in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, which means we have only one more draft under this system.
Expect significant draft changes, and in light of the Loux and Covey situations, I'd like to suggest (a) moving the draft to the end of June and (b) installing a medical combine in June for prospects to take their drug tests, get their eyes checked and take their physicals en masse. You want to play for our cartel? Come to our combine.
Many more changes will be discussed—including a worldwide draft or at least significant reforms in international scouting—and it's not yet clear what kind of system baseball will have for scouting and player development in 2012. But no one would set out to design a system as illogical as the current one.