The MLB First Year Player Draft is less than a month away. A little while back, I provided an exceedingly early Diamondbacks draft preview. Even in the title, I called out the fact that the preview was too early to really get all that worked up about, and really, it was just meant to get some names out there and identify the strategies that Arizona has at their disposal with the first pick. Now with the draft approaching, some things have changed and the strategy employed by the team may be coming into focus. It’s now time to start listening closely and reading between the lines as it’s no longer too early to start caring; the draft is almost here.
Big Changes to the Player Pool
In the draft preview, I laid out some player groupings of guys that the team could consider with the first overall pick. The stocks of those players have changed and it’s important that we first re-evaluate them. Below are some major changes to draft stock (in the order with which they appeared in the preview):
- Brady Aiken: made all of one start at the IMG Academy where his lingering elbow issues, the ones that caused last year’s number one selection not to sign, led to Tommy John surgery that shut him down for the season. He will still be drafted, but is no longer a top three pick.
- Michael Matuella: showed some progress with his command in the early going with Duke before his elbow popped and he wound up having TJ, too. He could go somewhere between 12-18th overall, but isn’t a possible number one pick.
- Brendan Rodgers: the highly-prized high school shortstop from Florida has had an okay spring. His stock hasn’t changed a whole lot; he’s still considered a top-five guy. With that said, the Diamondbacks are reportedly out on him, which means we can take him off the list as a potential 1.1 selection.
- Garrett Whitley: the prep outfielder from New York has done nothing this spring but continue to build his draft stock, now to the point that he’s considered a potential top-five pick who should be off the board no later than 12th overall.
- Dillon Tate: the UCSB righty has come from the fringes of the first round to perhaps cementing himself as the best overall prospect. A relief pitcher in his previous two college seasons, Tate made the transition to the rotation seamlessly and has consistently turned heads.
- Tyler Stephenson: a high school catcher from Georgia who can really hit, Stephenson has really rocketed up the draft board in recent weeks and is now considered a potential top-five pick. The Diamondbacks have been linked to him after Dave Stewart was spotted at one of his games last week.
The Diamondbacks have the same two strategic options that they had before: (1) take the best player available (Dillon Tate, probably) and give him a large chunk of slot value for the number one overall pick ($8.6M), or (2) select a player who’s toolsy and intriguing first overall, then work out an underslot deal for that player and save significant cash to reinvest in the second, third and subsequent rounds. I said as much a while back, and if you don’t recall, consider the following parameters:
Navigating Bonus Pool Allotment Limitations
Identifying talent isn’t the only concern because, hey, that would be too easy. Since the latest iteration of the CBA, teams have been placed under new financial constraints. I’ll explain this the best I can in the bullets below:
- Each pick in the first ten rounds has a slot value assigned. The first overall pick in last year’s draft class was valued at $7.9 million, for example.
- That sum of money is totaled up and that figure represents the total amount of money a team can spend on all of it’s picks in the first ten rounds (including the competitive balance and compensatory picks). The Astros had the first overall pick last year and had a bonus allotment of $13.36 million.
- If a team exceeds that total then they face stiff financial penalties and could even forfeit future picks in upcoming drafts. The fines and penalties are stiff enough to generally keep teams in check.
- Each team can decide to spend that total allotment however it sees fit, although the agents of players are well aware of the value any player drafted at any spot in the first ten rounds, what each player is slotted to receive and, therefore, push for the largest bonus possible.
This has tended to result in two types of strategies.
1. Choose the best player possible each time through, but know that you may end up running out of money before you can sign all of your picks within the top ten rounds, or
2. Choose players at high value picks (such as in the first or second rounds) who are willing to sign for below-slot figures, save money, then clean up in the mid to late rounds when some expensive players are still on the board and other teams are out of cash.
As of even a week ago, we didn’t really know which of these two strategic tracks the Diamondbacks preferred, but that’s started to change. Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs reported that the team appears to be leaning towards going the underslot route in an attempt to bank cash for later in the draft. That would rule out Dillon Tate, presumably, as he will likely have the highest bonus demands of any player. There have also been rumors the that as an organization, the Diamondbacks do not like the idea of drafting a pitcher first overall, so that just builds more momentum towards them going the underslot position player route.
Then even more information started to leak and, well, it’s best summarized in the information below:
Source: D’Backs have reached out to HS players other than GWhitley, TStephenson & DCameron about below slot deal as the #1 overall pick.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) May 11, 2015
Industry buzz still is ARZ leaning college at 1-1 & is price-shopping under guise of 1-1 bargain to find over-slot targets for picks 43 & 76
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) May 11, 2015
ARZ will save at least $2.5 million vs slot on the 1st overall pick & possibly as much as $5 million, to then apply savings to other picks. — Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) May 11, 2015
Savings would allow ARZ to hypothetically call player still on the board at #17 & tell him they have more than 17th slot for him at pick 43. — Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) May 11, 2015
Then player tells teams he wants $1M more than 17th slot to sign, increasing odds he slips to #43. This happened multiple times in ’14 Draft
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) May 11, 2015
Thats’ a hell of a strategy. Essentially, Arizona could take a college guy first, negotiate to the best of their abilities, then try to get a prep bat to fall by promising him big cash at 42nd overall. This has apparently worked for teams in the recent past, but it’s incredibly risky. If the D-backs were picking again at, say 20th overall, this may work, but it’s hard to imagine the three prep bats they’ve been linked to (below) falling as far as the 42nd pick.
A New Group at the Top
So this leaves us with a new group to consider at the top of the draft. Of course, the strategy outlined above is only one potential scenario and there are clearly a lot of options. So let’s take a look at each of the prospects individually, then discuss the final result.
Dillon Tate, RHP, UCSB
The Santa Barbara standout has consistently showcased a 70-grade fastball and plus, sometimes plus-plus, curveball all season long. His change is behind the other two pitches, but it has average potential at least with a chance to be plus. His command has come and gone at times, but that’s to be expected from a 20-year old pitcher. As one contact put it, he’s the best piece of clay from which to create your mold. No prospect throwing 98 has consistent command at this level, but Tate has the tools to be a potential ace in the near future.
Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilit
Swanson is considered the safe choice as a shortstop. Defensively, he has a chance to stick at short long term, although he’s not thought to be an above-average defender there. The swing is quick and simple with some line drive power and he could be a quick mover in the minors. While teams don’t draft for need, Swanson could be the answer for the Diamondbacks up the middle in relatively short order, although he projects to be more “solid” than “impact.”
Tyler Stephenson, C, GA HS
Stephenson has risen up the draft board quickly with a very productive spring. He went from a 2nd or 3rd round guy to a potential answer in the top half of the first round, which is quite the leap. At 6’4″ and 210-pounds, he’s big for a catcher, which usually signals a move to another position, but there’s thought that he might actually stick behind the plate. There have been some Matt Weiters comps and that’s not a bad thing.
Garrett Whitley, OF, NY HS
Whitley popped up late last summer with a great showing at the Area Code Games in California. Coming from a cold-weather state, he stands out as a toolsy outfielder with a lot to offer. There’s some movement with the hands in his swing, but he has a feel for contact and has plus power, mixed with the ability to play either center or right field. It’s a high upside profile that’s going to take some development.
Daz Cameron, OF, GA HS
Cameron is similar to Whitely above in nearly every way accept his name has been associated with the top of the draft from the get-go. He’s got a cleaner swing and good bloodlines (son of Mike Cameron) as a good raw athlete. He’ll also take some time, but he’s the kind of high-upside player that the Diamondbacks need in the system, especially in the outfield.
Just How Far Under-Slot?
While the D-backs will presumably be working to get signing figures from the prep names on this list in the next few weeks (from “advisors,” not “agents”) we can probably assume that Stephenson, Whitley and Cameron would come at a hefty discount (as compared to the whole slot value), maybe signing for something in the neighborhood of $3.5-4.5 million, saving Arizona as much $5 million that they can spend elsewhere in the draft. That’s a Carlos Correa-esque savings, and with any luck, they’ll end up with a guy who becomes something in the mold of the Astros’ young star. That, however, is far from a guarantee.
Swanson represents a sort of middle ground in that he won’t be taking the steep discount that the prep players might accept, but may still sign well below the slot value for the pick. Let’s guess that he’d want something in the $5-5.5 million range. The team still gets a player at a marquee defensive position who can hit, but gets the assurance that comes with a college player and he should move more quickly through the minors while still saving them upwards of $3 million in cash. Not a bad idea.
But Dillon Tate is still the best player available and we don’t know what his bonus demands are. He knows he’s the best player available and it would be surprising if he didn’t want $6-6.5 million in a bonus. That doesn’t save Arizona much money at all, but it gives them a little bit of wiggle room, although it’s far less than what they’d presumably want. Still, he’s the best player in the draft and securing him would be a great way to make sure this team has a good draft.
But there may be some posturing here, as well. If we know that the Diamondbacks have been scouting these discount prep bats, then surely Tate’s representatives know this as well. Could the Diamondbacks be scouting these preps and maybe even leaking information in order to get Tate’s price down? If he’s a kid who’s set on being the first overall pick, the threat of losing that opportunity might have him and his camp reconsider their asking price. Maybe he could care less, we just don’t know. But drafts have gotten political plenty of times before, and if they team were so inclined, they could send a few smokescreens to try to get who they want for the price they want.
Spending the Extra Cash
I’m in favor of the team signing Dillon Tate, but I understand the reasoning behind the alternative strategy. There’s nothing wrong with the team getting a good deal first overall and spreading the wealth to other guys. That makes plenty of sense and it’s been done well before. Except there is just one issue to determine: who do they want to spend the saved money one?
The biggest issue with this draft in the first place, and a big part of why they’re considering what they’re considering, is the fact that this draft is remarkably thin. It’s devoid of top-level talent, and many of the guys who were initially regarded as top-level players were hurt or have performed disappointingly. So one has to wonder, if they team is trying to save money, where do they plan to spend it? I wouldn’t expect that they’re trying to save money with the idea that there will be a guy to spend it on, but rather that they have a couple of targets in mind already.
I, however, don’t know who those guys will be. Mauella and Aiken had high pedigrees and were injured a few weeks back, so they’ll slide down the draft board, but they should be long gone before the D-backs pick again at 42. At that point, they’ll be looking to nab some prep players away from their college commitments with large bonuses. Getting guys at slot value in rounds two and three really defeat the purpose of saving the cash on the first overall pick, so they must have some ideas in mind. At least one would hope. They can continue to be aggressive in rounds 4-10, but they won’t be the only team with extra money to spend and the guys they hope will fall may not do so, making this quite the risky proposition.
It’s Not Over Til It’s Over
This is not the last of the draft rumor mill. We’ll continue to hear information as the draft draws closer. Right now, if I had to venture a guess, I think they steer clear of Tate, then look for the best combination of tools/bonus figures and make the selection at 1.1. Without knowing the bonus demands of the players in the pool, it’s impossible to make a guess since that’s what I believe the overall deciding factor will be, at least consider the information we have right now. There’s sure to be more information at a later time, but for now, this is what we have.
How the rest of the draft shakes out is anybody’s guess. There are 29 other clubs with 29 other strategies, so rolling the dice at number one with the hope of nabbing a particular player or two in the next few rounds is quite the risk. Those guys could very well get popped by someone else before Arizona has the chance. I’m sure they’re aware of this, and maybe they just haven’t made their mind up yet. We should know more in the coming weeks and we’ll definitely be checking in at least once more prior to draft day.
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