With Top 100 Prospects, It Pays To Spend

Follow me on Twitter

CHICAGO—How much are the Top 100 Prospects truly worth?

That remains to be seen until we see how their careers play out. But we can tell you how much they cost.

Baseball's best prospects turned pro for a total of $170,863,100 in signing bonuses. Eight of them received major league contracts that called for another $26.9 million in guaranteed salaries, meaning that the Top 100 Prospects signed for an average of $1,977,631. Exactly half of them received seven-figure bonuses.

The 22 international players on the list received an average of $2,405,341, a figure boosted by Reds lefthander Aroldis Chapman (No. 7 on the Top 100). He landed the richest deal by far, a six-year, $30.25 million major league contract with a $16.25 million bonus.

Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias (No. 52), a fellow Cuban defector, reaped the third-highest windfall with a four-year, $8.25 million big league deal that included a franchise-record $6.25 million bonus. His contract is testament to his defensive wizardry—and also the difference between the open market and the draft.

The 78 prospects who arrived via the draft averaged $1,856,995, led by Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper (No. 1), who signed last August for a $9.9 million major league contract (including a $6.25 million bonus), the largest guarantee ever for a drafted position player. Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley (No. 12) ranks second among draftees with a $7.5 million big league deal ($6 million bonus), while the highest straight bonus belongs to Pirates righthander Jameson Taillon (No. 11) at $6.5 million.

Teams are willing to pay dearly for talent. But there are several bargains among the Top 100 Prospects as well.

International Steals

Dodgers righthander Rubby de la Rosa (No. 90) was overlooked on the international market, where most top prospects sign as soon as they become eligible at age 16. De la Rosa, a Dominican, didn't receive any offers until he was 18 in 2007, at which point he packed just 130 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame. He did throw 90 mph, enough for Los Angeles to make a modest $15,000 investment, the smallest bonus on the Top 100.

De la Rosa now weighs 170 pounds and regularly pitches in the mid-90s. He has been clocked as high as 102 mph.

Clubs have to project deep into the future on teenage Latin American players, and they're not afraid to make significant investments for prospects with precocious, electrifying talent—see Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (No. 60, $3.15 million) and Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (No. 30, $3 million). At the same time, teams don't have to spend as much on players who are years away from realizing their physical potential.

As a result, the seven cheapest signs on the Top 100 are all international free agents: de la Rosa, Mets righthander Jennry Mejia (No. 44, $16,500), Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (No. 96, $27,000), Mariners righty Michael Pineda (No. 16, $34,000), Braves righty Randall Delgado (No. 35, $50,000), Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario (No. 49, $65,000) and Angels second baseman Jean Segura (No. 57, $70,000).

The biggest bargain is Pineda, who signed out of the Dominican at age 16 in 2005. At that time, Pineda was oh so projectable at 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds and could hit 90 mph., though he lacked feel for his secondary pitches and didn't have the smoothest arm action. Fast forward six years, and Pineda has grown to 250 pounds and works at 93-97 mph with his lively fastball, topping out at 101.

Draft Discounts

Of the 78 drafted prospects, 46 received bonuses in excess of MLB's recommendations, 22 received slot money and 10 signed for below-slot bonuses.

The least expensive draft signee was Athletics first baseman/outfielder Chris Carter (No. 91), who got $105,000 as a 15th-round pick from the White Sox in 2005. Scouts regarded Carter as the top prep hitter in Nevada and loved his power, though he lacked a clear position and was considered too raw for pro ball.

The cheapest draft picks all were later-round selections: Carter; Rays lefthander Matt Moore (No. 15), who showed arm strength but lacked polish when he lasted eight rounds and signed for $115,000 in 2007; Cubs righty Trey McNutt (No. 48), who fell through the cracks at Shelton State (Ala.) CC before getting $115,000 as a 32nd-rounder in 2009; and Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings (No. 22), who was better known as a juco all-America wide receiver at Itawamba (Miss.) CC when he earned $150,000 as a 10th-rounder in 2006.

The best prospects to take under-slot bonuses are Royals lefthander John Lamb (No. 18) and Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (No. 25), both of whom had extenuating circumstances. Lamb missed his high school senior season in 2008 after fracturing his elbow in a car accident. Kansas City waited 145 picks to select him and paid him $165,000—$31,000 below MLB's guideline.

Chisenhall was expelled from South Carolina after stealing electronic equipment and cash as a freshman in 2007, then resurfaced at Pitt (N.C.) CC. He hit his way to the 29th overall pick and signed for $1.1 million, a discount from MLB's $1.24 million recommendation.