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Draft Notes: Reds’ Gambles Remain Unsigned

David Espinosa
David Espinosa
Photo: Rick Battle

A month after the 2000 draft, 56 of the top 100 selections had signed, including the first four players picked and 16 of 30 first-rounders.

But several teams were having difficulty getting their premium picks under contract–none more than the Reds, who had signed only three of their first 12 selections.

Two of the three, righthanders David Gil (third round, Miami) and Ryan Mottl (sixth round, Clemson) were college seniors, generally the easiest players to sign. And they didn’t even come into the fold until June 27. The other, righthander Bryan Edwards (ninth round), left the University of Texas and was playing in the independent Atlantic League at the time of the draft.

Despite his club’s slow pace in signing, Reds general manager Jim Bowden said he wasn’t concerned. "We know this process can take a while," he said. "Our intention is to sign them all, but we’re not in any hurry.

"Normally Cincinnati, because of its small- to mid-market size, has a history of paying below market value, but this was a little bit of a different year for us. Because of the way this draft unfolded, we took some risks on a few players with higher expectations. Naturally, that’s going to take a little longer."

Among the players the Reds drafted were Miami high school shortstop David Espinosa (23rd) and Pepperdine catcher Dane Sardinha (46th), both of whom were on the short list of players considered by the Marlins for the No. 1 pick overall.

"Our first pick (Espinosa) is a special player, someone we had ranked in our top five," Bowden said. "We feel he was worth the gamble. If we don’t sign him, we’ll get a compensation pick in next year’s draft. If that happens, we’ll have a chance to get an equivalent player because the 2001 draft has the potential to be outstanding."

Espinosa and Sardinha slipped in a draft where a premium was placed on signability. Both players are represented by agent Scott Boras and declined to participate in predraft bonus discussions, as did all of Boras’ nine clients in this draft. All nine remain unsigned.

Bowden says he was not influenced by any predraft directives from Major League Baseball to curb bonus inflation.

"We’ve always done our own thing," he said. "We’re not committed to following the industry lead. We’re excited about our draft, but the key will be to sign our picks. It will be worth the gamble if we get ’em all done."

Devil Rays Get Creative

Because of cash-flow problems brought on by poor attendance in Tampa Bay and no selections in the second, third or fourth rounds, the Devil Rays had to be more creative than usual this year.

The Rays signed Rhode Island high school outfielder Rocco Baldelli in the first round and Baylor shortstop Jace Brewer in the fifth by deferring the bulk of their signing bonuses to later years.

The Devil Rays agreed to a $2.25 million bonus with Baldelli, the sixth overall pick, by taking advantage of a draft rule that allows the bonus of multi-sport athletes to be paid out over five years. A bonus usually must be paid in full by the end of the second calendar year after a player is drafted.

Brewer was projected as a possible first-round pick before he wrote a letter to every major league club asking that he not be drafted. The Devil Rays didn’t heed the request and enticed Brewer by offering him a major league contract–the only such contract so far this year and the 11th in draft history. The contract guarantees Brewer a September callup and provides a $300,000 bonus with $1.2 million payable over four years.

The agreements are a far cry from 1999, when the Devil Rays paid out the largest bonuses in both the first and second rounds, including a record $3.96 million deal to first overall pick Josh Hamilton.

Baldelli is the latest in a string of high-profile Devil Rays picks who have qualified for the five-year bonus plan. Only players who can demonstrate prowess in a second sport to the commissioner’s office are eligible.

The Devil Rays have used the rule to sign standout high school quarterbacks Carl Crawford, Doug Johnson, Kenny Kelly, Jason Standridge and Doug Waechter in the top three rounds of recent drafts. Only Johnson, the former Florida quarterback who has put aside his baseball career to pursue a career in the NFL, has not made strides in the Devil Rays system.

"The five-year rule is beneficial to both parties," Devil Rays scouting director Dan Jennings said. "It gives the player a fair chance to develop his baseball skills, and it gives the team the protection it needs."

Baldelli did not qualify on the basis of his football accomplishments. Rather, it was for his achievements in basketball, track and volleyball. In addition to a baseball scholarship offer to Wake Forest, Baldelli had a scholarship offer to UCLA for volleyball and the chance to walk on to Princeton’s basketball team. He was also a Rhode Island indoor sprint champion.

"He’s a special athlete with all the quick-twitch muscles," Jennings said. "Even at 6-foot-4, he runs extremely well and is very graceful."

Short Hops

  1. Among players signed in the first three rounds, the only bonus so far that is substantially out of line with others around it is the $2 million deal the Expos gave their third-round pick, Washington high school outfielder Grady Sizemore. Otherwise, the teams have signed players to bonuses relative to those of the players drafted around them. Aside from Sizemore, only players selected in the first 10 picks had been given as much as $2 million. But like Baldelli, Sizemore’s deal was structured over five years. He had signed a football scholarship to Washington.

  2. Even agents have become sympathetic to the plight of scouting directors in this draft. Says one: "This has been a can’t-win situation for them. They’re expected to get the best talent they can, but they’ll get called on the carpet (by the commissioner’s office) if they step out of line on bonuses, and they’ll get called on the carpet (by their own club) if they don’t sign a player."

  3. Miami continues to keep its fingers crossed that it can keep one or two players from its recruiting class. Among Hurricanes recruits still unsigned were lefthander Sean Burnett (first round, Pirates), Espinosa and righthander Zach Miner (fourth round, Braves). Miami has already lost three first-round recruits: shortstops Luis Montanez (Cubs) and Corey Smith (Indians) and lefthander Joe Torres (Angels).

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