General : : Top Ten
Monday, June 09, 2008

College Seniors: Draft Wild Cards

Allan Simpson         David Rawnsley        
More than any demographic in the baseball draft, college seniors are viewed differently than other prospects. They often come with a negative connotation as most are seen as late-round afterthoughts, cheap signs, inexpensive roster-fillers or convenient pawns for teams to keep their signing budgets in check. Five years ago, the Kansas City Royals drafted college seniors with all their picks from the fifth- through ninth-rounds, and paid them $1,000 apiece.

There are two distinct types of “senior signs” in any draft.

There are those seniors who have some level of legitimate prospect status, often carried over from not signing after their junior season. Clubs will slot these kind of seniors prominently on their draft boards and spend a solid draft pick on them. The players cannot expect to receive slot money in the rounds they are selected and will often be offered far less (each club’s policy towards seniors differs) than a high school senior or a college junior in a corresponding slot. The bonus they can expect to receive is often about two-thirds of a conventional draft pick. But these seniors are treated as prospects, not roster fillers.

Then there are the roster fillers, players signed in later rounds for a very minimal signing bonus ($1,000-$2,500) to fill out short-season Class A or Rookie-level rosters. Teams draft these players according to their own organizational needs, many not until near the end of the draft.

True Story: Sometimes these roster-filler, senior signs turn out to be future major leaguers. When I was with the Houston Astros in 1994 as an assistant scouting director, we were at the stage of the draft where we were alternately drafting senior-fillers and draft-and-follow candidates. We had a scout in the Northeast named Bob Blair, who had yet to have one of his players drafted, just missing on a couple of very good prospects early. Noting that, and for no other good reason than Bob needed a player and 6-foot-5 lefthanders are always a good risk, I decided to draft John Halama from St. Francis (N.Y.) College in the 23rd round. It was apparent from the first time Halama pitched at Auburn (New York-Penn) that Bob, and every other scout in the area, had under-evaluated Halama and that he was a future major leaguer (88-90 mph fastball, ++ changeup, + command, unbelievable pickoff move, poise, etc.). He ended up pitching 262 games in the big leagues.--DR

In the order that we project they’ll be drafted in June, here’s the 10 most noteworthy D-I transfers:

Seniors can occasionally play an integral role early in the draft. Take the 2007 draft, when Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta was the seventh overall pick (Brewers) and was immediately followed by Vanderbilt reliever Casey Weathers (Rockies). Two other seniors, Gonzaga righthander Clay Mortensen (36th pick, Cardinals) and Louisville righthander Trystan Magnuson (56th pick, Blue Jays) were picked in the compensation round.

That scenario is not likely to be repeated this year as only one senior is projected to be selected in the first round or comp round, Georgia closer Josh Fields. That’s more in keeping with the five-year stretch from 2002-06 when only two college seniors were selected in the first round.

Since Fields, a Braves draft pick, didn’t sign last year as the 70th pick overall and has had a significantly better senior season, his selection in the first round should come as no surprise. His path parallels that of LaPorta, who was projected as a potential early first-round pick prior to his junior season before a weak spring caused him to plummet in the draft, and he returned for his senior season.

There is usually a range in each draft when the elite-level senior signs start flying off the draft board. It usually depends on the depth of signable talent in a particular draft and how pressured teams are in towing the line on bonuses. Sometimes this scenario happens as early as the fifth to sixth rounds; other years it occurs a little later.

For the purposes of Today’s Top 10, the top college seniors this year can be broken into three categories: (1.) players that were drafted a year ago, (2.) players that have never been drafted, and (3.) players that were drafted out of high school but went undrafted as college juniors. The only significant potential early-round draft that fits the latter category is Long Beach State righthander Andrew Liebel, a potential third-rounder.

We’ll identify the top 10 prospects in both of the earlier categories, starting with the college seniors who were drafted a year ago:
Rank Player Pos. College Drafted '07 Projected '08
1 Josh Fields RHP Georgia Braves (2) 1st round
2 Cole St. Clair LHP Rice Indians (7) 3rd-4th
3 Sawyer Carroll OF Kentucky Nationals (18) 3rd-6th
4 Mitch Harris RHP Navy Braves (24) 4th-6th
5 Robbie Weinhardt RHP Oklahoma State Astros (38) 5th-6th
6 Ryan Strauss RHP Florida State Twins (35) 5th-6th
7 Erik Davis RHP Stanford Rangers (21) 5th-6th
8 Dominic de la Osa OF Vanderbilt Tigers (10) 5th-7th
9 Tyler Coon LHP Southern Mississippi Diamondbacks (38) 6th-7th
10 Pat McAnaney LHP Virginia Pirates (38) 6th-8th
The top-rated college seniors in this year’s draft who have never been drafted:
Rank Player Pos. College Projected '08
1 Paul Gran 3B Washington State 4th-6th
2 Rob Musgrave LHP Wichita State 4th-6th
3 B.J. Rosenberg RHP Louisville 5th-6th
4 Ryan Kulik LHP Rowan (N.J.) 5th-8th
5 Nate Recknagel 1B Michigan 5th-8th
6 Tyson Bagley RHP Dallas Baptist 5th-8th
7 Cory Arbiso RHP Cal State Fullerton 6th-8th
8 Josh Satin 2B California 6th-8th
9 Tom Koehler RHP Stony Brook 6th-8th
10 Alan DeRatt RHP UNC Asheville 6th-8th
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