Come Monday evening teams will wait in a room looking at a board of their favorite amateurs, hoping that they can get the players they want at the desired spot. Fans will love and/or hate their team’s picks, while many will be vindicated one way or the other by a player succeeding or washing out.
In order to achieve the proper level of exuberance or anger at the Rangers for their picks, let’s break down what the MLB draft is about and what kind of players the Rangers are looking at with their two first round picks and beyond.
Each MLB club is assigned a signing bonus pool based on the value of their slots in the first 10 rounds of the draft. The allotted bonus pool is a semi-hard cap; if teams go over their pools in the first 10 rounds they are taxed based on the amount. If a team goes over 5% of their pool the team loses a first and second round pick in the next year’s draft. As a result teams never go more than 5% over their bonus pool and it works as a fairly hard cap.
The Twins have the largest pool at $14,156,800 as the first few picks of the draft have substantially higher values attached to them, but like a logarithmic curve it quickly drops and the bonus pools get close together in value.
The Rangers have a larger bonus in 2017 than having the 26th slot would suggest due to the Rockies signing Ian Desmond after the Rangers offered him a Qualifying Offer and he rejected it. Under the collective bargaining agreement in place at the time the Rangers received an extra pick at the end of the first round, also known as a compensation pick. As a result the Rangers have a signing bonus pool of $7,626,600, or a bit more than $1 million extra than without the comp pick.
MLB drafting philosophy is quite a bit different than the NBA or the NFL, where players are expected to help a team within a year or two of development. The MLB rarely has players that reach the MLB in the same year they are drafted. The ones that do are usually college arms who debut in bullpens. Usually, it takes between two to four seasons before making it to the big leagues.
Because of this, MLB teams don’t try to draft for need as their needs may be different by the time a drafted player is able to crack an MLB squad. In his pre-draft press conference last Wednesday, Rangers Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg said, “It’s always the best player for us, you don’t want to pass up players up. The year we took [Justin] Smoak we had [Mark] Teixeira.”
Each team employs area scouts to get a comprehensive understanding of the talent in each region. Cross-checkers fly from region to region to get second and third opinions on the important players to make sure a team knows exactly how they will value and rank the player.
Teams will assign every draft eligible amateur player in the country a value, ranking them based on future projections and the likelihood they will reach those projections. Each team values skills-sets differently and draft day can have surprises based on how a team values a prospect.
In 2017 there are good mixes of arms and bats from colleges and prep schools. The elite performing college players who are projected by scouts as MLB regulars or better are often taken early due to being further along in their development. However, as a large portion MLB quality talent is drafted straight out of high-school, these players are uncommon.
The college players who will be around when the Rangers pick at 26th and 29th respectively are usually elite college performers, but have concerns or limited ceilings.
By the second round many of the college players taken will have major flaws in their game, but still have the talent to warrant the risk. As early as the fourth round teams will take players coming off of their senior year, and thus no bargaining power, in order to save bonus pool money for other picks.
The vast majority of the prep school kids are raw talent, although at the top of the draft there are players who have shown exceptional talent, athleticism, and skill like Hunter Greene. Greene is an elite athlete who can reach 100 with his fastball and projects to have two average or better offerings and above average control.
Guys like Hunter are extremely rare and any draft in a given year may have one or two prep kids with his polish and talent. Many of the high-school kids who are drafted in the late first round are athletic middle of the diamond position players with comparatively high ceilings and risk, non-premium defensive players with loud offensive tools, and pitchers who have elite stuff and concerns or safer arms with lower ceilings.
Where the Rangers will draft early in 2017 there are players who could go there with all the profiles mentioned:
- Jake Burger, a third baseman at Missouri State, is a powerful bat who has an advanced approach, but has concerns about his ability to hit at advanced levels.
-Matt Sauer is a prep arm with a big fastball and slider, but there are concerns that the changeup won’t develop enough to stick as a starter.
-A personal favorite, Brent Rooker is a college outfielder with major offensive tools and good athleticism, but has only performed at an elite level in his junior season.
These players show promise in abundance and flaws in equal parts. Guys like Jake Skole or Kellin Deglan get drafted in the late first round, guys like Joey Gallo get drafted in the first round, and then once in a generation a guy like Mike Trout gets drafted there.
After the first rounds the talent groupings are much tighter and it’s up to the team’s preparation and philosophy to find the largest amount of precious stones in a massive amount of… not precious stones. The next nine rounds will be a combo of drafting talent as well as some picks that are intended to save money in order to pay the talent that teams want to sign.
The prep school kids have a massive amount of bargaining here because going to college is an easy possibility, so they often want higher bonuses than the allotted slot value.
After round 10 the bonus cap is mostly lifted, and players can be signed for up to $100,000 without counting against the cap. Often times you will see players with top 10 round talents go in the 11th round so their bonuses won’t count against the bonus pool as much.
Although it’s rare that the late rounds produce big name players, it does happen. Guys like Ian Kinsler — drafted in the 17th round by the Rangers — can produce huge value for their team from a low expected return slot. These rounds are where scouts really make their money and show their dedication to the job.
The draft is an always exciting part of the year and the Rangers have some great opportunities to go in many different directions with their picks. There will be successes and disappointments both, but the lifeblood of the MLB will produce names that are shouted at games for the next 20 years. That’s worth getting worked up about.
You can follow along with Kevin as he tweets about the Draft beginning tonight @KevinWC7.