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I was putting together some draft charts for the 2012 Almanac, and I noticed something interesting about first-round bonus inflation. After the initial draft in 1965, first-round bonuses rose an average of just 0.6 percent annually for the rest of the 1960s. That average increased to 5.2 in the 1970s and 10.2 percent in the 1980s before exploding in the 1990s, when first-round bonuses climbed by 26.9 percent per year.

MLB hasn't been able to control bonus spending as much as commissioner Bud Selig would like, but the informal slotting instituted in 2000 definitely has stemmed the tide. First-round bonuses have grown by an average of just 3.8 percent annually in the last 12 drafts. As I've said before the commissioner's office should be happy about what slotting has accomplished rather than disappointed in what it hasn't.  

    It was a rough summer for Red Sox pitching prospects. Look at the arms on BA's Top 10 Prospects list from last year: Anthony Ranaudo, an advanced college arm, was mediocre in Class A. Drake Britton's command went backward in his second full year after Tommy John surgery. Felix Doubront had elbow, groin and hamstring injuries. Stolmy Pimentel regressed. Are all these simultaneous problems a coincidence or an organization issue? What's Boston's future rotation going to look like?

    Stephen Philbrick
    Cummington, Mass.
Ranaudo, Britton, Doubront and Pimentel entered the 2011 season as the Red Sox's top minor league arms and exited it as question marks. Boston hoped Ranaudo would progress rapidly after signing him for $2.55 million as a supplemental first-round pick, but after a strong start in low Class A, he leveled off following a promotion. He showed a mid-90s fastball and hammer curveball at times, but more often sat around 90 mph with his fastball and lacked consistency with his secondary pitches.

Britton hit 95 mph on occasion and also flashed a hard breaking ball, but his command, consistency and mound presence left a lot to be desired. It's now a lot easier to project him as a hard-throwing lefty reliever than as a mid-rotation starter.

Another lefty, Doubront helped the Red Sox as both a starter and reliever in 2010. He had a lost year in 2011, working just 88 innings while battling a variety of ailments. I still think he has enough stuff to be a No. 3 or 4 starter if he can stay healthy, but he's also out of options and may have to serve a Boston apprenticeship in relief next year.

Pimentel was the biggest enigma. Double-A hitters destroyed him to the tune of a 9.12 ERA and .352 opponent average, and following a demotion to high Class A, he wasn't as good there as he had been in 2010. He ran his fastball up to 97 mph, displayed good life on his heater at other times, showed some signs of a solid changeup and flashed some effective breaking pitches—but he couldn't do any of those things with any degree of reliability. He'll try to pick up the pieces in Double-A next year.

Many of the arms on the Red Sox' next tier of pitching prospects had solid seasons (Brandon Workman, Alex Wilson, Kyle Weiland, Chris Balcolm-Miller), and they also found some promising reinforcements in the draft (Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Noe Ramirez). But it was still a disappointing year for Boston's minor league pitchers, especially because they couldn't provide any help when the big league staff imploded. Britton, Doubront and Pimentel had developed nicely in the past, so there struggles and Ranaudo's appear to be more coincidence than evidence of a system problem in the way the Red Sox handle young arms.

Gazing into my crystal ball, I envision a 2015 Boston rotation of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Barnes and Ranaudo. Lester and Beckett would have to be re-signed to new contracts, however, so stay tuned.  

    During the National League Championship Series, the announcers mentioned Edwin Jackson was drafted as an outfielder from Shaw HS in Columbus, Ga. Yet he made it to the big leagues as a pitcher at age 20. Why did he switch to pitching so quickly after being drafted as an outfielder?

    Kyle Garofaro
    St. Louis
The Dodgers weren't sure exactly what they had after they selected Jackson with the 190th overall pick in 2001. They loved his athleticism, but didn't know whether it would translate better in the outfield or on the mound. He had been Shaw's No. 3 pitcher, behind Nick Long (an Expos fourth-rounder in 2001) and Steven Register (a Rockies third-rounder in 2004 after three years at Auburn).

In his first pro summer, Jackson pitched 22 innings and got 26 at-bats as a DH in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. By the following spring, the Dodgers determined that his upside was greater on the mound and he didn't look back. Jackson won Los Angeles' minor league pitcher of the year award in 2002 and reached the majors in September 2003. When he beat Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday, he became the youngest pitcher to win his big league debut since Dwight Gooden in 1984.    

    I was reading an old Prospect Handbook and it said that Elliot Johnson signed with the Rays out of high school as a nondrafted free agent. How did he become a free agent? Why don't we hear more about guys with top-10-rounds talent who fall and start a bidding war with all 30 teams?

    Marc Downie
    Chaska, Minn.
If an eligible player goes unselected in a draft, he automatically becomes a free agent, which is what happened to  Johnson when he came out of tiny Thatcher (Ariz.) HS in 2002. Rays scout Craig Weissmann happened to see him at an all-star game while on a trip to Arizona to sign second-rounder Jason Pridie that summer, and he signed Johnson away from Eastern Arizona JC.

The reason you don't see bidding wars over early-round talents is that they almost never make it through the whole draft without some team at least taking a late-round flier on them. When they don't get picked, it's because they've made it clear they have zero intention of signing and/or their asking price isn't anywhere close to what a club would be willing to pay.

Several prominent players in baseball history signed as free agents after sliding through an entire draft, including Bobby Bonilla, Larry Bowa, Toby Harrah, Bryan Harvey, Kevin Mitchell, Dan Quisenberry, Jeff Reardon and Frank White. Heath Bell is the most famous NDFA currently in the majors, and seven made their big league debuts in 2011: Tim Collins (Royals/signed by Blue Jays), Scott Diamond (Twins/signed by Braves), Brandon Dickson (Cardinals), Mark Hamburger (Rangers/signed by Twins), Jerad Head (Indians), Alan Johnson (Rockies) and Matt Young (Braves).  

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