We’re just a few days away from baseball’s draft pick signing deadline which is at midnight ET on August 15th. That means it’s another year of Bud Selig and Major League Baseball swing and miss at their attempt to maintain fiscal sanity among owners. In an attempt to limit signing bonuses, the commissioner won’t allow most big money bonuses to be announced until the deadline. His thinking is that if bonuses are announced in advance of the deadline, players and “advisors” won’t be able to use those bonuses as leverage for their own bonuses.
This is of course stupid. Players and advisors are surely aware of the buzz and speculation surrounding other picks even if their bonuses aren’t officially announced, and they’re going to get money anyway. This only hurts the players and teams. By the time most of these players sign at the deadline, it’s too late for them to make their pro debut that season, and they’re missing out on valuable experience. The very best college players plus Bryce Harper can hold their own in an Arizona Fall League assignment, but for the rest, they’ll head to instructional ball and not get until real game action until the next season.
The teams don’t need saving from themselves in the draft either, at least not when it comes to the draft. Sure, the Padres probably regret giving Matt Bush 3.15 million seven years ago, but that’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to teams’ finances. That’s on the high end for draft bonuses too. If Sean Coyle never pans out for the Red Sox then yes, his 1.3 million signing bonus is a sunk cost, but it’s obviously a great risk for Boston to take. If he does pan out, the Red Sox get to pay a talented player the league minimum for three years and then still three years below market value through arbitration. The mistakes that do make a dent and affect baseball operations are through free agency like signing Julio Lugo for 36 million or John Lackey for 82.5 million. Last year, Toronto led the league in draft spending with 11.6 million in bonuses. That’s nothing to baseball franchises even if a player or two doesn’t reach their potential.
That being said, some picks were able to sign. 23 of the first 60 picks, or the first and supplemental rounds, have signed. Jim Callis of Baseball America and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus both say that every first round pick will sign, and there’s no reason to disagree with that. Last year, three first round picks didn’t sign: Barret Loux (Arizona), Dylan Covey (Milwaukee) and Karsten Whitson (San Diego). The first didn’t come as a surprise because of his shoulder issues, but the last two did. This season, it will again be a surprise if first rounders don’t sign. This will be an update on the brief pro careers of the first rounders that have signed.
3. Trevor Bauer, RHP Visalia (Arizona)
According to Jim Callis, the Diamondbacks were probably able to get MLB to allow Bauer to sign by selling them on his potential to help them in this year’s playoff hunt. He debuted quickly after signing and has done well in limited innings. In his most recent outing, his first six outs were strikeouts, and he has 17 in nine Cal League innings. There’s some buzz that he could be promoted to AA Mobile very soon, and he deserves it with his mature approach and great arsenal of pitches.
10. Cory Spangenberg, 2B Fort Wayne (San Diego)
Spangenberg was a good for San Diego. He’s a talented player that fit an organizational need, and he was willing to sign for slot at this unprotected pick for the Padres. He tore up the Northwest League with an OBP over .500, so he got promoted to the Midwest League where he’s struggled. His average is less than half of what it was in the Northwest League, and he’s been much less patient. It’s only a small sample size of games though, and just the fact that he’s already in full season ball is impressive.
16. Chris Reed, LHP N/A (Los Angeles)
When I started this blog entry, Reed had not yet signed. When i picked it back up again, he has. He projects as a reliever, so he should be able to move through the Dodgers’ system quickly. All of their affiliates up to AA are in the playoff hunt, so he could be a nice addition to any of them.
17. C.J. Cron, 1B Orem (Anaheim)
The Angels are lacking in power throughout the organization especially because Kendrys Morales continues to struggle coming back from injuries. Cron was one of a few polished college bats at the top of the draft, but as a 1B/DH type, his suitors were limited. He was assigned to Orem in the Pioneer League, and he was one of the best sluggers in the league as anyone would expect from a top college talent. A few days ago, he dislocated a kneecap at the plate, and that obviously spells trouble. The MRI results aren’t back yet, but any missed time for a young player isn’t good.
18. Sonny Gray, RHP Midland (Oakland)
Gray is making his Midland debut as I write this. Gray is known for his competitiveness and stuff, so while it’s a bit aggressive to assign him to AA so soon, the A’s feel like he can handle it. Prior to being assigned to the Texas League, Gray made one start in the complex league in Arizona to get back in the swing of things after signing. He could either be a very good starter or late inning reliever, but as a first rounder, Oakland likely prefers a starter.
22. Kolten Wong, 2B Quad Cities (St. Louis)
For the second straight year, the Cardinals went with a lower upside but higher ceiling college hitter. They hope that Zack Cox can take over third base very soon and for Kolten Wong to do the same at second. Some analysts don’t like his tools, but one thing everyone can agree on is his hit tool. Because he excels in that, he gives himself a great shot to be a productive major leaguer. In the Midwest League, he’s batting .327 and slugging .500. Recently, he was placed on the DL with a hamstring injury.
28. Sean Gilmartin, LHP Rome (Atlanta)
This was a step away from Atlanta’s usual draft strategy of seeking upside over polish, and this pick was considered to be a reach by some. Gilmartin makes up for his lack of stuff with great pitchability and command, but it’s debatable whether or not that package is a first round pick, especially with Atlanta’s pitching depth, but of course teams don’t draft for ML need in the draft. Like Gray, Gilmartin made one start in a complex league before being assigned to a full season affiliate, low-A in Gilmartin’s case.
Like Gilmartin, the Panik pick was a bit of a reach to most analysts, and I’ll avoid using the obvious pun and the Giants’ need for a shortstop. Panik has done what’s expected of top college talent in a short season league, and he’s ready for a full season assignment. He’s making great contact with a .339 average, and he’s showing an advanced approach at the plate. He’s not hitting for much power, and he might never. He may stay in the Northwest League as long as the Volcanoes are in contention.
32. Jake Hager, SS Princeton (Tampa Bay)
Hager was the third pick by the Rays and second position player. They love up the middle talent even though Hager isn’t really a standout athlete. He’s a competitor with great makeup, and that certainly played in their decision to aggressive assign him to the Appalachian League where he’s one of the five youngest players in the league. He’s hitting only .226 with a little power and no patience, and it’s not surprising that he’s struggling a bit with the difficult assignment to Princeton.
33. Kevin Matthews, LHP Spokane (Texas)
This was a bit of a head scratcher at the time of the draft, but the Rangers’ scouting and evaluation team deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point. He’s a small lefty that’s going to throw a lot of strikes, and of course that has a lot of value. After 12 innings in the complex league, the Rangers assigned him to Spokane along with a lot of other talent in the system. At some point, he’ll probably be shut down as a recent high school pitcher, but it’s been a successful pro debut to date.