We're gearing up for a slew of draft signings this week, with the deadline looming at 11:59 p.m. EDT Friday and 11 first-rounders (and several other high-profile prospects) still in negotiations. After a quiet weekend, the Nationals made the most noise today, signing three of their top choices for bonuses that exceed MLB's recommendations. Long Beach State shortstop Danny Espinosa (third round) got $525,000, Florida high school pitcher Graham Hicks (fourth) received $475,000 and Florida prep catcher Adrian Nieto turned pro for $376,000.
Fear not, Giants fans. Or Pirates fans, regarding Pedro Alvarez. Or fans of just about any other club with an unsigned first-round pick.
We're going through the usual last-minute rhetoric, with both clubs and players laying it on thick. Pirates president Frank Coonelly worries that "grossly exceeding the well-established market for drafted players" would harm his club's ability to build a winner. (So would not signing Alvarez.) Yonder Alonso, the seventh overall pick by the Reds, says his chances of returning to Miami for his senior year are 50-50. (I'll take that bet at even money.)
With the exception of Wake Forest first baseman Allan Dykstra , who has a hip condition that worries the Padres, I believe all of the unsigned first-rounders will agree to terms before the deadline. Here's how I see it all unfolding:
• Vanderbilt third baseman Alvarez (No. 2 overall, Pirates) and Florida State catcher Posey (No. 5, Giants) will get the most lucrative deals in this year's draft, landing major league contracts worth more than No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham's deal with the Rays. Beckham signed a draft-record $6.15 million bonus, with MLB calculating the present value at $4.7 million after Tampa Bay spread it over five years under provisions for two-sport athletes.
• Like the other top college pitchers have done in recent years, San Diego lefthander Brian Matusz (No. 4, Orioles) and Missouri righty Aaron Crow (No. 9, Nationals), will probably get major league deals in the neighborhood of $5 million.
• The two interesting guys to watch will be the lone high schoolers remaining, first baseman Eric Hosmer (No. 3, Royals) and righthander Gerrit Cole (No. 28, Yankees). Both are advised by the hard-bargaining Scott Boras Corp. (as are Alvarez, Joshua Fields and Dykstra). Hosmer has potentially the most devastating bat in this draft, and Cole has arguably the most electric arm. While the college players will lose leverage if they return to school, Hosmer and Cole could cash in even bigger in the 2011 draft. However, I still think they'll sign huge deals well over their slot values, which MLB pegs at $3 million for Hosmer and $1.26 million for Cole.
• Miami first baseman Alonso, Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham (No. 8, White Sox) and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak (No. 11, Rangers) all appear to be angling for big league contracts, while the second tier of college bats typically has received slot money or slightly more. I believe all three will turn pro, and if they do get larger-than-precedent deals, it will set the bar higher for the future.
• Georgia reliever Fields (No. 20, Mariners) is a college senior with no remaining eligibility, so the deadline doesn't apply to him. Seattle can sign him up until a week before the 2009 draft. It's hard to envision Fields waiting to re-enter next year's draft when he'll be almost 24, but he may get a little more than MLB's slot value of $1.5 million.
Huff doesn't have to be protected on the 40-man roster this offseason, so it's unlikely that the Indians will make a move with their 40-man roster before they must. That said, he has pitched so well this season that he's making a strong push for the 2009 rotation. In 24 games (23 starts) between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo, he has gone 9-5, 2.42 with a 127-24 K-BB ration, a .201 opponent average and 11 homers allowed in 130 innings.
Huff, who has bounced back from a sprained elbow ligament that limited him to 11 starts, projects as a solid mid-rotation starter. His best pitch is an outstanding changeup, which helps his 89-92 mph fastball play up. His command and the life on his fastball also make it tough on hitters. He's still working on refining a consistent breaking ball and fiddling with both a slider and a curveball.
Holland just missed cracking our Rangers Top 30 in the 2008 Prospect Handbook, but he'll easily make it in next year's edition. In his first full season as a pro, he has gone 10-1, 2.60 in 22 starts between low Class A Clinton and high Class A Bakersfield. Opponents are hitting just .217 with three homers against him, and he has posted a 128-34 K-BB ratio in 125 innings.
A 25th-round pick out of Wallace State (Ala.) CC in the 2006 draft, Holland signed as a draft-and-follow the next spring. Credit area scout Rick Schroeder with a tremendous find. Holland has a better fastball than most lefthanders, as it ranges from 91-97 mph and really jumps on hitters. His changeup is a solid second pitch, and he'll also flash a quality slider. He still has a ways to go, but Holland has a ceiling of a No. 2 starter.