2019 Draft Stock Watch: How Do High Bonus Pool Teams Draft?
We’re now less than two months away from the 2019 draft. Things are starting to wind down, and with that we wanted to focus on perhaps the most intriguing team in this year’s draft.
No, it's not the Orioles and the No. 1 overall pick—though it will be interesting to see how Executive Vice President/General Manager/Scouting Director/Swiss Army Knife Mike Elias handles things outside of the first overall pick. Instead, the D-backs and their enviable collection of picks and bonus pool money should be most interesting come June.
Arizona has a plethora of draft selections for several reasons. First, they failed to sign their first selection in last year's draft (current UCLA freshman Matt McLain) with the 25th overall pick. For that they were given pick No. 26 in this year's draft.
Secondly, the D-backs gained a pair of compensation picks between the first round and the competitive balance round A (No. 32 and No. 33) after both lefthander Patrick Corbin and outfielder A.J. Pollock signed with other teams in free agency this offseason for more than $50 million. Had either player signed for less than $50 million, the D-backs would have received a pick after the second competitive balance round.
Then, the D-backs received their own competitive balance round B pick (No. 74) as one of the 10 smallest markets or for having of the 10 smallest revenue pools in the game. The team then traded for the Cardinals' competitive balance round B selection (No. 75) in the offseason trade that sent Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis.
Since Arizona GM Mike Hazen and scouting director Deric Ladnier have seven Day 1 picks and $16,093,700 to work with, we figured it would be insightful to take a look back and see how teams with the most pool money in previous drafts have chosen to allocate those resources, and whether the D-backs' strategy this year could follow suit.
One thing we do know is no team will have to work harder in the lead up to the draft than the D-backs. While teams picking at the top of the draft can narrow their list to a few top players—and teams picking at the bottom of the first round can reasonably write off a dozen or so players as highly unlikely to be available with their first pick—Ladnier and the D-Backs have to be well-versed on almost every prospect in the class.
The 2018 draft served as a prime example of this, with two players ranked among the top five on the BA 500 falling to the Rays at pick No. 16 and the Royals at pick No. 18. While teams with less pool money picking in the five thru 15 range may not have been comfortable taking one of Matthew Liberatore or Brady Singer because of signing bonus concerns, both the Rays and Royals had the resources necessary to become a landing spot for the two players. While Liberatore wound up signing for less than the slot value at No. 16 with the Rays, Kansas City needed (and was able) to sign Singer for $4,247,500—more than every player drafted between picks 12 and 17, and a little over $250,000 less than Jarred Kelenic received as the No. 6 overall pick.
The second most obvious benefit to having added bonus pool money and picks is that the D-backs can more comfortably add risky, high-upside players to their draft class if they choose. Having eight picks among the top 100 selections means there's less pressure on a scouting director to nail them all. Conversely, a team like the Red Sox, which has just two picks among the top 100, need to be much more convinced that the two prospects they take will turn into productive players.
We looked back at each of the last four drafts to see how the top bonus pool teams decided to allocate their resources and see whether or not Arizona would be able to follow any of those paths in the 2019 draft. While the 2015 Astros, 2016 Reds and 2017 Twins all had fairly significant differences in terms of draft order, both the 2018 Rays and Royals reflect the D-Backs' draft pool reasonably well for these purposes.
Here's a breakdown of each draft class.
Bonus Pool: $17,289,200
Top Picks: 2, 5, 37, 46, 79
Notable Picks 10th Round or Later: LHP Patrick Sandoval (11th round, $900,000)
The Astros had the benefit of a pair of top five picks in 2015 after failing to sign their No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 draft (lefthander Brady Aiken) and used the extra picks and the pool money to acquire three players ranked among the top 10 in the 2015 BA 500.
Houston signed Louisiana State shortstop Alex Bregman with the No. 2 pick for just $5.9 million (compared to a $7,420,100 slot value), then went slightly under slot with prep outfielder Kyle Tucker at No. 5 for $4 million (compared to a $4,188,800 slot value). That allowed the Astros to sign the No. 4 and No. 8 prospects in the class and also slide the fifth-ranked prospect, outfielder Daz Cameron, all the way down to the 37th overall pick in the first supplemental round for $4 million. The savings Houston managed from their first two picks allowed them to sign Cameron for more than $2.3 million more than the assigned slot value for pick No. 37 ($1,668,700).
The Astros are the only team we’ll touch on who spent more than 85 percent of its total bonus pool on their first round through supplemental second-round picks. After giving Cameron a (still) record-setting supplemental first-round bonus, Houston went under slot with each of its top-10 round picks before splurging in the 11th on lefthander Patrick Sandoval. While the Astros kept going under slot, Trent Thornton has proven to be a big leaguer while Riley Ferrell and Garrett Stubbs have chances to also make it.
It would be harder to execute the Astros' strategy today because there is less spread in pick values at the top of the draft. In 2015, Cameron's $4 million topped the bonus for any player in the first round taken after pick No. 5. Last year, five players from picks 10-18 received $4 million or more, which wasn't far off the $4.5 million that Jarred Kelenic received as the No. 6 overall pick.
Bonus Pool: $13,923,700
Top Picks: 2, 35, 43, 79
Notable Picks 10th Round or Later: RHP Ryan Olson (13th round, $250,000)
While the Reds handed out the highest bonus in the 2016 draft by giving Nick Senzel $6.2 million, the team still saved more than $1.5 million on the pick, as the No. 2 overall selection was valued at $7,762,900. Like the Astros a year before, the Reds were able to save a massive amount of money on a top-five selection and put that toward a pick in the 30s who ranked much higher.
Outfielder Taylor Trammell slid down the board to No. 35 and signed for $3.2 million—$1,362,800 more than the assigned pick value at that slot. The Reds employed a similar strategy to the Astros, but also went overslot for their next three picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. Because of that, Cincinnati got to its money savers earlier, taking four straight college players for a combined $30,000 in rounds seven thru 10.
Bonus Pool: $14,156,800
Top Picks: 1, 35, 37, 76
Notable Picks 10th Round or Later: None
Minnesota spread its money out more so than any of the other teams we’ll mention. The Twins saved more than a million dollars when No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis agreed to a $6.725 million deal—compared to a $7,770,700 slot value. The fact that the top five players in the 2017 class were all among the same tier likely helped them in that regard.
After that, the Twins signed Mississippi State outfielder Brent Rooker for $1,935,300 (exactly slot value) at No. 35 and saved $446,100 on righthander Landon Leach with their second-round pick, giving them plenty of money to work with for the third round.
With the first pick in the third round, the Twins were able to spend big to prevent righthander Blayne Enlow from getting to campus at LSU and taking a chance on his massive upside. The No. 33 prospect in the class got a $2 million signing bonus at pick No. 76, more than $1.2 million above the assigned slot value.
By getting Enlow to slide to the third round and also signing a few above-slot players in rounds five thru seven, the Twins spent 28.47 percent of their pool money on rounds three thru 10 and just 71.06 percent on the first and second rounds. No other team we’ll touch on spent more than 18.5 percent of bonus pool money in rounds three thru 10.
Ricky De La Torre
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While it's worth looking at how all teams with large amounts of bonus pool money spend their cash in the draft, the most obvious comparisons to the D-backs in 2019 are the two 2018 bonus pool leaders, the Royals and Rays. Like the D-backs, both the Royals and Rays didn't have a pick until the middle of the first round and acquired a large bonus pool thanks to multiple picks following the first round.
Bonus Pool: $12,781,900
Top Picks: 18, 33, 34, 40, 58, 94
The Royals somehow managed to get Brady Singer all the way down at No. 18 overall. He was the No. 4 prospect on the BA 500 and was in the mix among the top 10 picks on draft night. Instead, Kansas City grabbed him at No. 18 and gave him a $4,247,500 signing bonus, compared to a $3,349,300 slot value.
After that, the Royals gave a slightly overslot bonus to Singer's teammate, Jackson Kowar, at No. 33 and stuck with college players for the most part, going underslot on four consecutive four-year players. Kansas City saved some significant money on its seventh-round pick, righthander Tyler Gray ($2,500), and 10th-round pick, lefthander Austin Lambright ($2,500). Those savings allowed the Royals to take a couple shots after the 10th round, signing lefthander Rylan Kaufman for $772,500 and then getting righthander Jon Heasley, ranked No. 266 on the BA 500, in the 13th round for $247,500.
The Royals had an obvious college-heavy strategy entering the draft, but their significant amount of pool money allowed them to grab a top-10 talent that slipped down the board despite 17 teams picking in front of them.
Bonus Pool: $12,415,600
Top Picks: 16, 31, 32, 56, 71, 92
Notable Picks 10th Round or Later: OF Beau Brundage (33rd round, $297,500)
The Rays had a similar situation to the Royals, as No. 2 ranked prospect, lefthander Matthew Liberatore, slipped to them at No. 16, where they managed to sign him and still save money. Liberatore signed for $3,497,500, compared to a $3,603,500 slot value. They then doubled up on sliding, high-upside lefthanders by taking South Florida flamethrower Shane McClanahan at No. 31. McLanahan, who was ranked No. 8 on the BA 500, signed for $5,700 more than the slot value.
After that the team again went with upside, and took prep outfielder Nick Schnell for $125,800 more than the slot value at No. 32.
By getting two top-10 talents without having to overpay, the Rays were able to stick fairly close to the assigned slot values throughout the top-10 rounds. They got a money-saver in the 10th round in Nevada-Las Vegas righthander Alan Strong, who signed for $7,500, which helped them land righthander Taj Bradley, ranked No. 146 on the BA 500, for $403,900 more than the assigned slot value in the fifth round.
The Rays also drafted a quality college player deep into day three and signed Portland outfielder Beau Brundage, ranked No. 328 on the BA 500, for just under $300,000.
While it's difficult to purposely slide players down the board under the current CBA, both the Rays and the Royals last year were able to show how teams with lots of bonus pool money are able to aggressively react on draft day and take talented players who otherwise wouldn't have fallen to them—either for signing bonus reasons or risk questions.
While the Royals seemed to minimize risk as an overall strategy in 2018, the Rays serve as a prime example of how a team with several picks and plenty of pool money can go after expensive, high-upside players at the top of the board and also supplement those picks with safer picks behind them. The Rays were able to land safe, college performers fairly high in the draft with picks like shortstop Tyler Frank, righthander/outfielder Tanner Dodson, shortstop Ford Proctor and outfielder Grant Witherspoon in the second or third rounds.
The D-backs will also have more picks among the top 100 than either the Rays or the Royals in 2018, which only adds to their ability to get creative and take on risk, if they choose.