Yesterday my Atlanta Braves inked their first round pick, Mike Minor, to a contract that contained a $2.42 million signing bonus. This is the largest bonus ever given out to a Brave, besting Jeff Francoeur’s $2.2 million in 2002. This got me thinking, which is generally a bad thing.
I can’t claim to have ever seen Mike Minor in person, so everything I know about him is based off of internet reports and his college stats. Most everyone seems to agree, however, that Minor’s ceiling as a prospect is a number three or four starter. I don’t know about you, but when one of my teams has a top 10 pick in any draft, I’d like to see them try and find a superstar. Some examples of #7 picks from past years: Prince Fielder – 2002, Nick Markakis – 2003, Troy Tulowitzki – 2005, Clayton Kershaw – 2006.
That’s a pretty impressive list. We have a 50 homer guy, one of the best young outfielders in the game, a solid or better shortstop, and maybe the best young pitcher not named Tim Lincecum.
With all due respect, Mike Minor will probably not end up on this list. So how is it that he ended up with a higher bonus than all the players I just named? Well, that’s the problem with Major League Baseball draft.
At the time the Braves took Minor there were several other players left on the board who were considered to be ace-type talents: Matt Purke, Tyler Matzek, Shelby Miller, Jacob Turner. To me, common logic suggests that we should have selected the best player at the position we were after, in this case, left handed pitcher. Both Purke and Matzek are left handed pitchers but their bonus demands were going to be too high. Neither of the two high schoolers have signed so far.
The Braves took Minor because he was going to be more sign-able than the others. So we sacrificed ability for sign-ability. That should never, ever happen in a draft at any sport. The point of a draft for the worst team to get an infusion of the best talent. In baseball, more so than any other sport, that doesn’t happen.
To make matters worse, MLB has this stupid slotting system. This article talks about the pressure that MLB is putting on teams who are trying to sign their picks. The Yankees can sign players for half a billion dollars in the offseason, but how dare the Braves give their top pick an extra $250,000? What’s wrong with this picture? I’ve also read about Royals fans who are claiming that Bud Selig is trying to take away their bid for the 2012 All-Star Game if they overpay their draft picks. Way to pick your battles, Bud. Don’t bother with the Oakland A’s who signed 17-year old Michael Inoa for $4.25 million during the international signing period.
What Bud would love to do is institute a hard cap on the draft like their is in basketball. I don’t think that’s a bad idea, but I’m sure the Player’s Association and Scott Boras would never allow it.
Instead, he could put a cap on how much a team could spend in the draft. Give them a certain amount that the team cannot go over. Then the teams would draft more based on talent than sign-ability. Obviously some players, like this year’s #1 pick Stephen Strasburg, would have demands higher than others, but he couldn’t make a demand so outlandish that he would handcuff the entire organization.
One thing I would like to see implemented into the MLB draft and the NBA draft is the NHL’s draft and follow model. For example, the St. Louis Blues made Erik Johnson the #1 overall pick in 2006. He spent the next season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers before signing a pro contract. This would eliminate the players going straight from high school into the pros. A players’ rights would be held by a pro team while he plays in college. I don’t know the specifics of how the NHL does this, but on a basic level, it makes a whole lot of sense and I don’t know why the other leagues couldn’t follow this model.
So that’s my problem with the MLB Draft. The best talent doesn’t go to the worst teams and then the commissioner’s office gets involved when it shouldn’t. The draft is enough of a crapshoot already, teams shouldn’t have to be looking for bargains in the first round. Just ask the Padres how that turned out in 2004.