Draft : : Story
Saturday, July 14, 2012

Draft 2012 Perspective

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Stanford
From almost any perspective, the 2012 draft has been a rousing success. That became apparent on Friday, the new deadline for signing the 1,231 players that were selected this year.

Not only were a record number of players signed in the first 10 rounds, but a modern-day draft record was set for the highest percentage of players overall that were signed. Moreover, the players were signed by mid-July, unlike a year ago when 23 of 33 first-rounders and 98 players in the first 10 rounds remained unsigned as late as Aug. 15, the final day for signing draft picks under the old system.

Under terms of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement authored last off-season, provisions were made to move the signing deadline up to July 13 and also reduce the number of rounds from 50 to 40—rules that both sped up the signing process and led to a larger percentage of drafted players being signed than ever before.

But the biggest impact that came from the most sweeping changes in draft history was the restraint on bonuses that clubs showed in signing their picks—a significant and welcome development compared to recent drafts, when teams were free to spend bonus money at will and often did so recklessly.

Faced this year with the real threat of a significant tax and, more importantly, the loss of premium draft picks in future years if they exceeded newly-imposed signing bonus-pool amounts, no club aggregately spent so much to sign players that they will be required to forfeit a draft pick, although a handful of teams slightly exceeded their imposed bonus-pool limits and will be taxed accordingly.

The Minnesota Twins paid out the highest signing bonus this year, $6 million to Georgia prep outfielder Byron Buxton, the second overall pick. That figure was topped by four players a year ago, including an $8 million bonus paid to UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick. By contrast, the top four players drafted this year—No. 1 Carlos Correa ($4.8 million), Buxton, No. 3 Mike Zunino ($4 million) and No. 4 Kevin Gausman ($4.32 million)—were the only players to receive bonuses of even $4 million or more.

Twenty players (16 first-rounders, 4 supplemental first-rounders) received bonuses of at least $2 million, down from 23 in 2011.

In the most-noteworthy case of the new, restrictive new draft rules having their intended effect of actually forcing a team to walk away from one of its premium picks rather than be penalized significantly, the Pittsburgh Pirates failed to come to terms with the eighth pick overall, Stanford righthander Mark Appel, the lone selection in the first round not to sign.

The Pirates, who spent upwards of $17 million to sign all their draft picks a year ago, were prepared to offer Appel a bonus as high as $3.8 million—$900,000 over the slot for the eighth pick, and the highest amount they could go without having to forfeit a first-round pick in the 2013 draft—but Appel, represented by hard-line agent Scott Boras, had a larger figure in mind and would not compromise. By not signing, Appel will return to Stanford for his senior year and be eligible for the 2013 draft.

Boras’ inability to get Appel the contract he sought under the new draft rules can only be perceived as a setback for Boras as he has been at the forefront of landmark draft signings in recent years, notably Stephen Strasburg in 2009 and Bryce Harper in 2010.

As a senior, Appel would appear to have almost no chance to improve on his draft standing a year from now, and may actually be in greater danger of seeing his stock drop. Among a record 63 college seniors drafted in the first 10 rounds this year, none signed for an amount greater than his draft slot, and only three signed for bonuses upwards of $100,000.

The Pirates, on the other hand, will not be penalized for failing to sign a premium pick as they will receive essentially the equivalent pick (ninth overall) in next year’s draft as compensation. But by spending only $2,809,200 on bonuses in the first 10 rounds (significantly less than their bonus pool amount of $6,563,500 for the first 10 rounds), the Pirates fell far short of their record spending spree of a year ago, when they spent $8 million to sign Cole, and an additional $5 million to sign their second-rounder, Texas prep outfielder Josh Bell. Both were record bonuses for the first- and second rounds.

The Houston Astros initially had Appel on their short list of five prospects to go No. 1 overall and appeared primed to select him, but were scared off as well by Appel’s lofty bonus demands, and settled instead on Correa instead as the No. 1 selection. That compromise decision paid off handsomely for the Astros as they not only signed Correa for $4.8 million—$2.4 million below the prescribed slot of $7.2 million—but smartly utilized the unused allotment to draft and sign two premium picks that might have been unsignable otherwise.

In the sandwich round, the Astros drafted Florida prep righthander Lance McCullers and signed him for $2.5 million—the largest bonus in that round, and double the slot amount for the 41st pick overall. In the fourth round, they selected California prep infielder Rio Ruiz and signed him for $1.85 million—more than five times the slot amount for that pick, and more than double the bonus of all but one other pick in that round.

Buxton, the second pick overall, received easily the largest bonus this year, and yet it was $200,000 less than the slot authorized for that selection. With no other player receiving even as much as $5 million, those figures alone point out how Major League Baseball has succeeded in curbing the runaway inflation that characterized drafts over the better part of two decades.

Moreover, a record number of players were signed in the first 10 rounds. Even with Pittsburgh’s failure to sign Appel, just nine players went unsigned, and one of those players, Florida senior outfielder Preston Tucker, Houston’s seventh-round pick, is still eligible to sign because he has exhausted his college eligibility.

A year ago, there were 28 such selections that went unsigned in the first 10 rounds; in 2010, there were 26.

Moreover, 897 of 1,231 players drafted were signed. That’s a signing rate of 72.9 percent—the highest since Major League Baseball went to an all-inclusive, one-draft format in 1986 by abandoning the January draft and the secondary phase of the June draft.

Though they did not have first- or second-round picks, the Los Angeles Angels managed to sign 36 of their 38 selections, the best signing ratio by any team in a single draft since the Los Angeles Dodgers signed 33 of their 34 picks in the June regular phase in 1985. No team has ever signed all its draft picks in a given year.

In the same 1985 draft (June regular phase), the 26 major-league teams signed 74.7 percent of their selections, though were successful on only 33 percent of their picks in the June secondary phase, lowering the overall signing percentage for that year to 70.1 percent.

With 21 apiece, the Pirates and New York Mets had the most unsigned draft picks this year. The damage could have been greater for the Pirates, but once they realized they were not going to sign Appel and had available funds in their bonus pool, they quickly jumped in to sign two Florida high-school products, 16th-rounder Max Moroff for $300,000 and 17th-rounder Hayden Hurst for $400,000. They also came to terms with eighth-rounder Kevin Ross, an Illinois high-school shortstop, and 18th-rounder John Kuchno, an Ohio State righthander, in the final 48 hours. Both those players signed for $125,000.

With all the new draft rules in place this year that significantly limited the ability of teams to shell out significant bonuses to players after the 10th round, there were few bonuses that exceeded six figures and certainly none that hit seven figures or even came close, as had been the case in recent years.

The largest bonus signed by a player after the 10th rounder went to Illinois prep righthander Ryan Borucki, a 15th-rounder who signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for $425,000. Borucki had been targeted as a potential early-round pick before hurting his arm in the spring.

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