For the first time this year, a team other than Florida sits atop our College Top 25 rankings. Florida State won its eighth straight weekend series to displace the Gators, who had held their preseason No. 1 ranking through the first seven weeks of play.
That's the longest season-opening streak at No. 1 since Stanford did the same in 2002, en route to a third-place finish at the College World Series. The Cardinal also hold the all-time record of ranking No. 1 for the first 14 weeks of a season in 1998, a year in which they amazingly didn't even advance to the NCAA regional finals.
It's not realistic, because there's absolutely no reason for the Orioles to rush Bundy all the way to the majors in his first pro season. He's on the 40-man roster after signing a $6.225 million big league contract as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft, but he'll probably reach the organization's innings limit for 2012 (believed to be about 125 innings) well before he'd get a September callup. Baltimore is also nowhere near contending for anything but fifth place in the American League East, so it would be silly to start Bundy's service-time clock ticking toward arbitration and free agency.
From a pure talent standpoint, the thought of Bundy pitching in the majors as a 19-year-old isn't ludicrous. He's the most polished high school pitcher I can remember, to the point where scouts tracking him for the 2011 draft said it made more sense to consider him as a college arm. He has the stuff, command, athleticism, delivery and makeup to be a No. 1 starter. An evaluator whom I respect as much as anyone in baseball saw Bundy this spring and said not to be surprised if he got to the big leagues as quickly as Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen and Trevor Bauer, the three college pitchers selected ahead of him last June.
In his pro debut on Friday, Bundy did nothing to dispel the hype. Pitching in the low Class A South Atlantic League, he struck out six in three perfect innings. We won't see him in Baltimore this year, but Double-A isn't out of the question.
Double-A Southern League rivals Jackson and Mobile ranked 1-2 on our list of the most talented minor league Opening Day rosters, largely on the strength of their pitching staffs. I rank Mobile's Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs slightly ahead of Jackson's Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen as prospects, but I give the edge to the Generals because they have a better third starter in James Paxton.
I do like BayBears lefthander Patrick Corbin as well, but he's not in the same class as those other five arms. That said, Corbin has shown improved velocity this spring and threw six scoreless innings in his first start of the season. Bauer and Paxton also pitched shutout ball in their opening starts, while Hultzen surrendered five runs in four innings in his pro debut. Skaggs and Walker are scheduled to make their first 2012 starts today.
Another rotation that stands out is high Class A Bradenton, which features 2011 No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole and 2010 No. 2 overall choice James Taillon. In the March 12 Ask BA, I identified 11 potential No. 1 starters in the minors and noted that the Diamondbacks, Mariners and Pirates were the only systems with more than one. Each of those organizations paired their potential No. 1s together to begin the season.
This is exactly the strategy teams are discussing to find ways to create extra money to sign players for more than their assigned pick values from the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. That also may be the only way to generate extra cash. For instance, a club could draft a college senior in the middle of the third round and sign him for $25,000, thus giving it an extra $400,000 to play with.
It looks like if a team jumps through a lot of hoops, it could sign one additional big-money player in the draft. However, it's still going to be difficult to scrape up enough cash to hand out a seven-figure bonus after the first 75 or so selections and nearly impossible to give huge money to a player who doesn't go near the very top of the draft.
Under the new rules, I don't see how the Pirates could have given Josh Bell (pick No. 61) $5 million, or how the Padres could have paid Austin Hedges (pick No. 82) $3 million, to name just two examples from the 2011 draft. It's possible that players will scale back their expectations, and teams are somewhat optimistic that they'll still be able to sign most of the best high school talent. But even if they were willing to take two-thirds of what they got paid in 2011, Bell now would have to go in the top five picks and Hedges in the first 17, or else their teams would have to do some juggling.
One thing to look out for when teams go bargain-hunting is that the potential bargains have more leverage than MLB probably intended. Because a team loses the assigned value of a pick in the top 10 rounds if he doesn't sign, it can't just ram a low bonus down a player's throat. It needs to know that a player, even a college senior, will take its offer.
I understand the necessity of taking away the pool money for choices in the first three rounds, because teams receive compensation if they don't sign them. It wouldn't make sense to allow, say, the Mariners to not sign the No. 64 choice in this year's draft and get both the value of that selection ($806,000) to spend elsewhere as well as the No. 62 pick in 2013. But I would have let teams do whatever they wanted with their assigned bonus pool for rounds 4-10—those pools range from $1.15 million (Phillies) to $1.38 million (Astros)—picks unprotected by compensation.