Beginning in 2003 at Baseball America, I’ve gone through the annual exercise of making Draft picks through the top 10 rounds. The idea is to put my reputation, if not my money, where my mouth is, because I spend so much of my time critiquing how teams do in the actual Draft.
It works like this: I randomly assign myself the choices of a team outside the first five selections, and I’m subject to the same bonus-pool restrictions that clubs face. In other words, I can’t just take the most talented player in each round and wind up with a $15 million signing budget.
If you want to check out my picks from 11 years of drafts at BA, they’re all here. I’ve picked 24 players who have made it to the big leagues — not including Luke Hochevar, my 2005 first-rounder, whom I didn’t sign. The best prospects in my farm system are third baseman Garin Cecchini (who got a cup of coffee with the Red Sox this year) and left-hander Daniel Norris, while outfielder Mikie Mahtook and catcher Andrew Susac are on the verge of their first callups.
Anyway, let’s get to the 2014 Draft. I drew the eighth slot (Rockies), which means I get a competitive-balance pick to play with and $8,347,300 in bonus-pool cash for the first 10 rounds. I also can spend an extra $417,365 without losing a future first-rounder, so that will be my upper limit.
Round 1 (No. 8): Kyle Freeland, lhp, Evansville (real draft: Round 1, No. 8, Rockies). I went in the same direction that the Rockies did with their actual pick, and for the same reasons. Though past medical reports raised some questions about the health of Freeland’s elbow, he was as dominant from start to start as any college pitcher this season. He has a heavy fastball that can reach the mid-90s and backs it up with a low-80s slider than can morph into a mid-80s cutter. He flashes an average changeup too, and he throws tons of quality strikes, so I see a possible frontline starter. Additionally, his lack of leverage means I can save money versus the $3,190,800 assigned pick value and spend it elsewhere. I also considered Coral Springs (Fla.) Christian Academy right-hander Touki Toussaint and Hartford lefty Sean Newcomb before deciding on Freeland.
Widespread trading of First-Year Player Draft picks is prohibited, but clubs are allowed to swap the 12 choices awarded each year in the competitive-balance lottery. The Marlins did just that on Sunday, sending the 39th overall selection to the Pirates for Bryan Morris.
The deal not only moves a premium pick from Miami to Pittsburgh, but it also affects the spending power for each team. The assigned value of the No. 39 choice is $1,457,600, so the Marlins’ pool for the first 10 rounds drops to $12,741,700 (down from first to second among the 30 clubs) and the Pirates’ rises to $7,063,700 (up to 13th from 21st). The Astros, who own the No. 1 selection for an unprecedented third consecutive year, now have the biggest bonus pool at $13,362,200.
The Draft pools cover the top 10 rounds and any bonus money in excess of $100,000 given to players taken in rounds 11-40. If a player selected in the first 10 rounds doesn’t sign, his assigned value is subtracted from his team’s pool.
A club that exceeds its Draft pool by 0-5 percent gets with a 75 percent tax on the overage. The penalties get much more severe at higher threshholds: the loss of a first-round pick and a 75 percent tax for surpassing it by more than 5 and up to 10 percent; the loss of first- and second-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and the loss of two-first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.
Below are the Draft and international pools for each club, listed in descending order:
DRAFT BONUS POOLS Team Picks Draft Pool 1. Astros 11 $13,362,200 2. Marlins 12 $12,741,700 3. White Sox 10 $9,509,700 4. Blue Jays 11 $9,458,500 5. Royals 12 $8,602,900 6. Cubs 10 $8,352,200 7. Rockies 11 $8,347,300 8. Indians 12 $8,234,100 9. Brewers 11 $7,605,600 10. Twins 10 $7,525,600 11. Diamondbacks 12 $7,228,300 12. Cardinals 12 $7,087,200 13. Pirates 12 $7,063,700 14. Reds 11 $6,973,400 15. Phillies 10 $6,896,700 16. Mariners 11 $6,767,900 17. Red Sox 11 $6,373,300 18. Padres 10 $6,098,600 19. Giants 10 $5,949,800 20. Rays 11 $5,848,400 21. Angels 10 $5,774,000 22. Mets 9 $5,308,300 23. Nationals 10 $5,275,700 24. Dodgers 10 $4,947,700 25. Tigers 10 $4,890,200 26. Rangers 10 $4,820,700 27. Athletics 10 $4,778,300 28. Braves 10 $4,557,700 29. Yankees 9 $3,202,300 30. Orioles 8 $2,204,400 Total 316 $205,786,400
When I wrote a First-Year Player Draft overview to tie in with the launch of MLBPipeline’s expansion/revision of our Draft Prospects list from 50 to 100, I spoke with Astros scouting director Mike Elias, whose club holds the No. 1 overall pick for the third straight year.
In the overview, I wrote that Elias said Houston had narrowed its pool of candidates for the top choice to seven players. He wouldn’t identify them, but it’s believed that Cathedral Catholic High (San Diego) left-hander Brady Aiken, North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon, Shepherd (Texas) High right-hander Tyler Kolek and East Carolina righty Jeff Hoffman — the first four players on our Top 100 list — are the front-runners. The Astros also are considering Rancho Bernardo High (San Diego) catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson and Louisiana State righthander Aaron Nola, and they’re monitoring North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner and San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer.
I quoted Elias as saying he’s pleased with the options at the top of the draft:
“We’re definitely happy with the level of talent among the players we’re considering. It’s a good group. All of them are extraordinarily talented and a lot of them should be extremely valuable Major League players. But in terms of having a huge separation between the first and second pick, I don’t really feel that’s the case. We can go in a number of different directions and be happy with that pick.”
Though Elias had a few more interesting things to say about the Draft and the No. 1 choice, I didn’t have room to get into them all in the overview. So I’ll share a few more of them here.
On whether the process of scouting the No. 1 pick has been different in 2014 than in 2013, his first year as scouting director:
“It really hasn’t been. There were several pitchers to consider both of those years, and it’s rather pitcher-heavy this year. In terms of managing out time, it’s been very similar. We’ve basically maintained the same approach we’ve used the last three years, trying to get as many looks as possible, trying to spread the decision-makers out as much as possible. We do feel it’s best not to get too locked in or locked out on any one player in March or April.”
On the pressure that comes with having the top choice and the need to get it right after the Astros have finished with MLB’s worst record for three straight years:
“We’re not under any illusions about how important this pick and not just the first pick are. We’re treating all of the picks with the utmost importance. It’s not just pressure on us, but pressure on the players too. We’re evaluating who can handle it. We’re deploying all of our resources to get these picks right.”
On the multiple strategies open with the No. 1 selection. In 2012, Houston saved money by signing Carlos Correa for $4.8 million and spread it around to land supplemental first-rounder Lance McCullers Jr. for $2.5 million and fourth-rounder Rio Ruiz for $1.85 million. Last year, the Astros gave Mark Appel $6.35 million and didn’t pay out exorbitant bonuses in later rounds:
“Our assessment of the Draft class last year was that we didn’t feel like it was particularly deep. There weren’t obvious high school players with strong college commitments or who got hurt during the season or had a big [bonus] number. We had hard time seeing who those players were. The year before, we had a list and Lance and Rio were on it. We do have a feel for it and try to take that into account. Last year, [Sean] Manaea was the the big one and we were poised to consider him with our second pick but the Royals took him.
“I feel this is a much deeper Draft class. There’s a lot of high school pitchers and they can be unpredictable as to where they go in the Draft. This year, you might see more players with first-round talent not get selected in the first round. You might see some teams with resources strike later. We’re spending a lot of time on 1-1, and if we decided after watching guys for five months that we have a split camp, it’s possible that we could do that. But we’re not going to do it if it feels liek we’re trading off on talent at the No. 1 pick.”
The assigned values for picks in the top 10 rounds of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and for each team’s four international slots have increased by 1.7 percent over last year’s figures, according to a document I’ve obtained.
The total of the Draft bonus pools for all 30 clubs equals $205,786,400. The total of the international bonus pools for all 30 teams is $79,194,000. The industry as a whole spent $219,302,880 on Draft bonuses in 2013, and had paid out $88.7 million on applicable international bonuses through Feb. 9 (the signing period runs through June 15).
The Marlins, who have more selections (13) in the first 10 rounds than any club, have the highest Draft pool at $14,199,300. The Astros, who own the No. 1 overall choice for an unprecedented third straight year, rank second at $13,362,200. That top pick is valued at $7,922,100, just shy of the all-time Draft bonus record of $8 million, paid by the Pirates to No. 1 overall selection Gerrit Cole in 2011.
The lowest Draft pool belongs to the Orioles, who forfeited their first- and second-round choices by signing compensation free agents Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. Baltimore has an allotment of $2,204,400.
Our month of updated Top 20 Prospects lists and state-of-the-system reports at MLBPipeline.com concludes today with the Reds and Rockies. I saw plenty of interesting players when I checked out the Rockies at their Cactus League base at Salt River, and here’s one I didn’t mention in the camp report . . .
Another breakout candidate: Johendi Jiminian
Signed for $350,000 from the Dominican Republic in 2010, Jiminian spent the first three years of his career in Rookie ball and is still waiting to make his full-season debut after his fourth. Ticketed for low Class A Asheville in 2014, he could emerge as one of Colorado’s top lower-level pitching prospects.
There’s still a lot of projection remaining in his 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame, and Jiminian already has an impressive fastball. He routinely works in the low 90s with good life, pounding the bottom of the strike zone.
Jiminian cut his walk rate from 6.4 innings in 2012 to 2.6 last year, and he also improved his secondary pitches. But Bridich said the biggest gains the 22-year-old right-hander made in 2013 came with his mound presence.
“He’s a young kid who has grown up a lot and become a man,” Bridich said. “He throws in the low to mid-90s with deep angle on his fastball. His breaking ball and changeup are at least average, and plus at times. He was a little scared when he came over here, but he’s a competitor now.”
The MLBPipeline.com version of March Madness ends today with updated Top 20 Prospects lists and state-of-the-system reports for the Reds and Rockies. Here’s an interesting Reds nugget that didn’t make it into my Cactus League camp report from Goodyear . . .
Three questions with Amir Garrett
Garrett’s upside as an athletic 6-foot-5 left-hander who can hit 96 mph led the Reds to draft him in the 22nd round in 2011, give him a $1 million bonus and let him play college basketball at St. John’s. NCAA transfer rules mandated that he sit out this hoops season after moving on to Cal State Northridge. He used his time off to attend spring training and will be part of low Class A Dayton’s Opening Day roster.
MLBPipeline.com: Have you reached any decision about picking one sport?
Garrett: Right now, nothing is set in stone. I’ve been in a camp for a while but I’m not committing myself to anything yet. I’m not saying I’m done with basketball. I’m just focusing on baseball right now, doing what I need to do. When the time comes, I’ll know. I don’t know when that time will be, so I’m just going with the flow.
MLBPipeline.com: Do you prefer one sport to the other?
Garrett: I love them both equally. That’s why it’s tough to give one of them up. I love to do both, so even though it’s difficult I find a way to do it.
MLBPipeline.com: How much progress have you made in six weeks of spring training?
Garrett: I’ve improved a lot, in my pitching, in my delivery. Everything is coming along well. I just need time on the mound.
Another breakout candidate: Dorssys Paulino
After signing for $1.1 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, Paulino made his pro debut the following summer as the second-youngest regular in the Rookie-level Arizona League. The shortstop had no problems adapting, as he batted .355/.404/1.014 and earned a late-season promotion to short-season Mahoning Valley.
That spectacular performance earned Paulino a trip to the low Class A Midwest League at age 18 last year. This time he was the youngest everyday player in the circuit, and this time he didn’t dominate, hitting .246/.297/.349.
Paulino still has the same quality bat speed and a higher offensive ceiling than most infielders. He had his best month of the 2013 season in August, setting the stage for what the Indians believe will be a strong return to the MWL.
“He’s still just 19,” Cleveland farm director Ross Atkins said. “He has had a great offseason and a great spring training. He has improved his athleticism and overall strength. He’s a lot more confident and has a much better foundation for success at Lake County. Last season affected his confidence but it didn’t affect his work.”
The MLBPipeline.com spotlight shines on the Diamondbacks system today. Here’s a bonus item that wound up on the cutting-room floor when I wrote my Cactus League camp report from Salt River . . .
Three questions with Braden Shipley
Scouts rated Shipley as the third-best college pitcher in the 2013 Draft, so the Diamondbacks were thrilled to get him with the 15th overall pick. The first player ever taken in the first round from the University of Nevada, he orignally was recruited as a shortstop.
MLBPipeline.com: I think it’s mandatory that we ask this of all position players-turned-pitchers. Do you miss hitting?
Shipley: I do. But what’s actually been kind of fun is getting the chance to hit a little bit in camp. We had a little competition one day to see who could hit the ball back through the hole on the ball feeder, and I won it. It feels good swinging the bat. But making the transition to full-time pitcher has been fun.
MLBPipeline.com: Scouts say you have the potential for three plus pitches. How would you rank them?
Shipley: I think my fastball is definitely my best pitch. I can run it up to 97-98 mph when I want. I have that sixth gear where it kicks into overdrive. My fastball is my best pitch, then my changeup, then my curveball.
MLBPipeline.com: For a guy who can sit in the mid-90s and touch 98 mph with his fastball, scouts sure talk about your changeup a lot. Considering that you’ve only been a full-time pitcher for two years, how did you pick up a quality changeup so quickly?
Shipley: The summer after my freshman year, when I was going to Alaska to pitch, I knew the one thing I needed was a changeup. I spent so much time on my changeup and fastball up there that I lost my feel for my curveball, but in the long run, it’s been good for me. I use a modified circle changeup, my own personal touch. It’s just a feel thing. Once it got more like I wanted it to, I stuck with it. Now I can throw it like I want to, where I want to. Guys ask how I throw it and I try to help them out. It’s rewarding to get asked about it because of all the hard work I put in.
Our wall-to-wall Rangers coverage today at MLBPipeline.com includes an updated Top 20 Prospects list. As I’ve done for all the Top 20s I’ve written, I give you the next five prospects who would have made an expanded list, plus a sleeper:
21. Marcos Diplan, rhp. One of three seven-figure international signings by the Rangers last summer, he landed a $1.3 million bonus. He’s small for a starter at 5-foot-10, but he combines stuff (fastball to 96 mph, promising curveball) and polish like few 17-year-olds.
22. Chris Bostick, 2b. Acquired along with Michael Choice from the Athletics in exchange for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom in December, he’s a line-drive hitter who’s athletic and versatile. The big question with Bostick is whether his hands are soft enough for him to stay in the infield.
23. Jose Leclerc, rhp. He averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings in low Class A last year, thanks to a lively mid-90s fastball and a nasty cutter. Leclerc also throws a curveball and changeup that can be average pitches at times, though his lack of command and feel likely will keep him in the bullpen.
24. Drew Robinson, 3b. While he has progressed slowly since signing as a fourth-round pick from a Las Vegas high school in 2010, he has the approach, left-handed swing and power potential to profile well offensively at third base. Robinson isn’t especially quick but gets the job done at third base.
25. Cody Buckel, rhp. He went from Rangers minor league pitcher of the year in 2012 to suddenly losing his control in 2013, when he walked 35 in 10 2/3 innings. Buckel looks like he has put those problems behind him this spring, showing a low-90s fastball to go with a solid curveball, slider and changeup.
My favorite deep sleeper: Roman Mendez, rhp. One of three prospects acquired from the Red Sox for Jarrod Saltalamacchia in July 2010, he became a full-time reliever in 2013 but missed most of the year with a stress fracture in his elbow. When healthy, Mendez has a 92-96 mph fastball with sink and backs it up with a slider and splitter.
Three questions with Alex Gonzalez
Gonzalez blossomed from an 11th-round pick out of a Florida high school in 2010 to the 23rd overall selection last June after three years at Oral Roberts. Signed for $2,215,000, he reached high Class A by the end of his first pro summer.
MLBPipeline.com: Scouts love the life on your low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider, and your ability to command them despite how much they move. Have your pitches always danced this much?
Gonzalez: I’ve always had natural movement on my fastball. I’m trying to focus on throwing it straighter at times to help my catcher, but for the most part I command it. I get myself into trouble at times trying to figure out the movement. Now I’m getting more sink with a two-seamer than natural cut. My slider, it’s more of a cutter now because of the velocity. I’m trying to throw a slider now that’s a little less firm than my other pitches.
MLBPipeline.com: How did you go from high school in Boca Raton, Fla., to Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Okla.?
Gonzalez: My high school coach as a junior and senior, Justin Timmerman, was a volunteer at Oral Roberts. I wanted to commit as a junior and I did research on the head coach at the time, Rob Walton. I knew he would help me get a lot better. Before I came to Rob, I was more like a thrower. He set the mentality with me to be more like a hunter, get two strikes and then finish the hitter off. I pikced up my slider from Rob, too. I had more of a slurvy curveball in high school, but he gave me the grip and my slider.
MLBPipeline.com: It’s hard to find a story about you that doesn’t refer to your nickname. Do you prefer to go by Alex or Chi-Chi?
Gonzalez: I’d rather be Chi-Chi. I’ve had that nickname since I was young. My grandpa’s brother gave it to me. I never really asked why. I was just Chi-Chi. My parents and family called me that, and when they started coming to games and called me that, other people picked up on that.