New Draft Rules Create Confusion, Run On College Seniors

We knew the new draft rules would create some unexpected twists, and the second day of the draft did not disappoint.

The draft rules set up in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement were designed to hold down signing bonuses and get teams to line up their draft boards based more on talent and less on a player's signability.

On Monday night, that ideal held true. Players were largely picked based on where teams saw them on their draft boards. And while Stanford righthander Mark Appel's slide added drama, the draft didn't see a Jacob Turner, Josh Bell or Nick Castellanos-like slide, where a premium talent fell a long way to a team willing to meet his significant asking price. The draft board largely lined up based on talent.

That wasn't true on Tuesday as the draft wore on, however. It became clear that for many teams, the second half of the top 10 rounds was less about best player available and much more about the best player willing to accept a small bonus.

The new draft rules attach a value to each pick in the first 10 rounds. The total of all of those picks is each team's bonus pool for this year's draft. Go over budget and the team pays a tax, and if it goes over by more than 5 percent it starts losing draft picks. Any player selected after the 10th round who signs for more than $100,000 counts against the pool. And if a team doesn't sign a pick in the top 10 rounds, it loses the budget space allotted for that pick.

So teams had to know how to stretch their dollars, but just as importantly, how to make absolutely sure they would sign all of their picks in the first 10 rounds. So while talent was important, finding cheaper players after the first few rounds became even more important. And no draft commodity is cheaper than the college senior.

As an example, the Blue Jays were as aggressive as anyone in the first three rounds of the draft, selecting premium high school talents in Matt Smoral (supplemental first round) and Anthony Alford (third round). Both could have asking prices well beyond their draft slots. But after taking Alford in the third round, Toronto selected seven straight college seniors.

College seniors have little bargaining leverage. If the Blue Jays work out well-below market deals for some or all of those college seniors, they could use the extra money to sign Smoral or Alford. The Blue Jays' total bonus pool is $8,830,800. The seven Blue Jays' picks from the fourth through 10th round carry an allotment of $1.244 million. If the Blue Jays hypothetically signed those seven players for $200,000 total, that would be $1 million that could be used to sign Smoral or Alford.

Teams could also use savings to take swings at difficult signs in the 11th round and beyond. While any player after the 10th round who signs for more than $100,000 counts against the team's bonus pool, there are no rules or penalties for doing that. And because an unsigned player after the 10th round doesn't diminish a team's draft pool, there's less risk to taking a top talent in the 11th round than there is in the fifth. An unsigned fifth round player would cost a team more than $200,000 of its bonus pool. An unsigned 11th-round pick costs nothing.

So the Astros took Hunter Virant, ranked No. 53 on the BA 500, with the first pick of the 11th round (339 overall). If they don't sign Virant and he heads to UCLA, the Astros have lost an 11th-round pick. If they find they have saved enough money on their first 10 picks to sign him, Virant would give them a supplemental first-round talent.

“I think after people got through (round) 10, I think they played it through 10 to see how much they could save in their pool,” White Sox scouting director Doug Laumann said. “Once they realized after 10 what they were going to have, then they went ahead and redistributed in 11, 12, 13 because they knew how much cushion they were going to have.”

And in a perverse incentive, because the first $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round does not count against a team's budget, a team can stretch its bonus pool by taking better talent in later round. Say a team wants two players, one who will sign for $1,000 and the other who will sign for $250,000. If it takes the $250,000 player in the sixth round and the $1,000 player in the 11th, $250,000 counts against the budget. But reverse those two picks and only $150,000 counts against the pool. That explains why nine players in the BA 500 were picked in the 10th round, while 18 players in the BA 500 were taken in the 11th round.

Some teams played things more conventionally and stuck to their board.

“I haven’t regrouped to see what other teams have done, but I think everyone tried to balance things out and find ways to be creative to the draft,” an American League scouting director said. “I think for us, personally, I think we were happy with how it turned out.”

“I think every team is trying to feel things out and see how things work for them,” the AL scouting director said. “I think each team is definitely trying to figure out the best way to strategize for the draft.

Coming into the draft, signability was the buzzword and it certainly remained a key topic for the second day of the draft.

“It definitely was,” he said. “Especially with having to have your pick sign within those first 10 rounds or you lose your allotment, I think signability definitely came into play."

Conor Glassey contributed to this report.