Perhaps the biggest positive from the new draft rules is that players are signing quickly. No more wasted summers, no more MLB-orchestrated charades pretending that players who have agreed to lucrative deals haven't done so.
When today began, 19 of the 31 first-round choices and 22 of the 29 supplemental first-rounders had officially signed or were known to have agreed to terms. At the same stage last year, only 12 of the top 60 picks had turned pro.
There won't be an Ask BA next week because I'll be at the College World Series, but I'll return to answer your questions on July 2. And I'll still take your queries on Twitter (@jimcallisBA) between now and then.
There were eight players in the top tier of talent this year, and they all went in the first eight picks: Correa, Buxton, Mike Zunino, Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, Albert Almora, Max Fried and Mark Appel. Soler would have fit comfortably in that group, though draft rules would have prevented him from getting anything close to the nine-year, $30 million contract he landed from the Cubs.
Soler wouldn't have gone ahead of Correa or Buxton. Correa is a shortstop who draws comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki and Alex Rodriguez, while Buxton has better tools than Soler and won't have to move out of center field. While Soler likely will begin his pro career in center and could make his major league debut there, he figures to lose a step as he fills out and wind up in right field. Soler is a very attractive prospect, but he's not as attractive as Correa or Buxton.
After the Astros and Twins selected Correa and Buxton 1-2, the Mariners were locked in on a position player at No. 3. My guess is they still would have taken Zunino because he plays a scarcer position and will get to the majors more quickly than Soler. The Orioles and Royals wanted pitchers with the next two selections, so I'm not sure they would have diverged from Gausman and Zimmer.
That would have made Soler available when the Cubs picked at No. 6. As mentioned in last week's Ask BA, I think he'll rank ahead of their first-rounder (Almora) when we compile our Cubs Top 30 Prospects list for the 2013 Prospect Handbook, so I believe Chicago would have drafted Soler sixth overall. An argument can be made to reverse the order as well, because while Soler has more offensive upside, Almora has more polish, a higher floor and a better chance to remain in center field.
Appel, the Stanford righthander expected to go No. 1 overall but who dropped to the Pirates at No. 8, certainly could sign with a Japanese team and try to become a free agent. Whether he'd actually hit the open market is the real question.
When the Nationals took Stephen Strasburg with the top choice in 2009, he was hailed as the best pitching prospect—maybe the best prospect—in draft history. He ultimately signed a $15.1 million contract that represented the biggest draft deal ever. At the same time, it fell fall short of the contracts bestowed on top international free agents such as Jose Contreras ($32 million in 2002) and Daisuke Matsuzaka ($52 million in 2006).
Seeking to gain leverage for his client, agent Scott Boras hinted that Strasburg might head to Japan for a year and then seek free agency. He would have had to find a Japanese team willing to make him a free agent after one season rather than the standard nine, and one that would take part in helping him circumvent the MLB draft.
Even had Strasburg succeeded in doing so, MLB assured the Nationals that its interpretation of the draft rules would have made the pitcher re-enter the 2010 draft rather than granted him free agency. Had this story line played out, Strasburg certainly would have filed a grievance. Whether that would have made him a free agent remains to be seen.
J.D. Drew successfully won a 1997 case after MLB unilaterally ruled players who signed with independent league teams had to re-enter the next year's draft. But Drew didn't become a free agent because the arbitrator decreed that the decision didn't apply to him because he wasn't a member of the MLB Players Association.
If Appel tests the Japan route, MLB would rule that he'd have to re-enter the 2013 draft and the grievance process would have to play out. I still believe, as stated in last week's Ask BA, that his best move is to get his career started by signing for the $3.5 million to $4 million Pittsburgh will be able to pay him without incurring a draft-pick penalty under the new rules this year.
Arizona State led all programs with 10 draftees in 2012, starting with shortstop Deven Marrero (first round, Red Sox) and three third-rounders in righthanders Brady Rodgers (Astros) and Jake Barrett (Diamondbacks) and second baseman Joey DeMichele (White Sox). Florida, led by first-rounders Mike Zunino (Mariners) and Brian Johnson (Red Sox), and Texas Tech, headlined by sandwich pick Barrett Barnes (Pirates), had nine each.
Interestingly, only the Gators advanced to NCAA postseason play (ultimately reaching the College World Series) because the Sun Devils were ineligible and the Red Raiders went just 29-26 and tied for last place in the Big 12 Conference.
Orange Coast, which finished fourth in the California state tournament, topped all junior colleges with six draftees. Righthander Brandon Brennan (fourth round, White Sox) was the Pirates' first choice. Howard (Texas) ranked second among juco with five draftees, most notably righty Reid Scoggins (15th round, Angels), en route to a runner-up finish in the NJCAA regionals.
Among high schools, Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, Fla.) and the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, P.R.) tied for the lead with four draftees each. Archbishop McCarthy, the 2011 national champions, won their third straight state title while moving from the 4-A to 6-A level and had a first-rounder in righthander Nick Travieso (Reds). Puerto Rico Baseball Academy not only produced the No. 1 overall pick in Correa, but also had a sandwich-rounder in his double-play partner, Jesmuel Valentin (Dodgers).