By Jared Stanger
It was confirmed earlier this month that the 2020 MLB Draft will only consist of five rounds, and then this week we received notice that the draft will be held over two days: June 10th-11th. While the short nature of the draft is pretty disappointing (especially in light that running a mere 5 rounds more would only cost MLB owners about $900k more), it does create some pretty interesting dynamics in terms of game theorizing the draft.
With only five rounds (and known competitive balance picks); we’ll end up with exactly 160 players drafted. In a normal draft year we’ll see about 1200 players drafted. What does the world do with those additional 1000 players?? Any of them that choose to are free to sign to a team of their choosing as undrafted players. BUT…MLB has determined UDFA can’t sign for more than $20,000. In a normal year, any player drafted after the 10th round can still be signed for up to $125,000 without pulling from the team’s bonus pool.
Additionally, MLB is saying that guys that ARE drafted this year can’t receive more than $100,000 of their bonus money this year. The rest will be paid out across 2021 and 2022. So even if a 1st round pick gets a $4million bonus, his 2020 check will be $100k, and he’ll get $1.95mill in 2021 and $1.95mill in 2022. This will create a situation where players have to wonder, “if I’m not getting paid until 2021, might as well not sign until 2021”. Which means re-entering the draft next year as a college senior or JUCO player.
The downside to re-entering the draft in 2021? A) the market is going to be flush with talent from all of the 2021 HS seniors, this year’s sophomores becoming eligible as 2021 college juniors, and then all of the 2021 college Seniors and any JUCO talent. So the market will be crazy saturated. B) the guys that are Juniors now will lose what is basically their only negotiating chip: the threat of returning to college for their Senior year, and be forced to become a 2021 “senior signing”…the guys that get massively underslot deals because they have no negotiating power.
It’s very much they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
High school players have much more flexibility. They can accept the $100k now with further bonus installments coming in the next two years. They can go the JUCO route where they will be draft-eligible again immediately next year (when the draft will be overloaded). Or, they can honor their college commitments where they’ll need to attend for three years before becoming eligible again in 2024 when things will, presumably, be much more calmed down societally.
While these are all of the questions the players will be facing; these are also the questions personnel departments have to try to figure out in order to come up with the most beneficial draft strategy. And while teams have the advantage of still talking to players and their representation during quarantine to figure out who is willing to sign and at what price; the media basically has lost months of time normally spent sorting out which teams are scouting which players and which players are signable, etc.
The other thing that will be unique to this year: the designated draft bonus pool is use-it-or-lose-it. In normal years, teams are designated a certain pool of bonus money based on each of their picks in the top 10 rounds. If you go underslot for your top 10 rounds, you can move any of that leftover money to any of your picks rounds 11-40 and offer them an overslot deal. None of that this year.
You have X number of picks and X amount of dollars to spend on those picks. In the Mariners’ case, they have $10,265,500 to spend on six draftpicks. This is relevant because, while I think the most-basic strategy these draft circumstances suggest is hard BPA; I do think with proper gauging of the market you can predict points where certain types/positions of players will fall en masse, and then you may be able to draft your 2nd best player with your 3rd or 4th pick.
The following is not only my basic mock draft of players, but also the game-play I’m thinking marks the best strategy to maximize talent acquisition for this unique draft.
My first theory is that, because high school players are really the only group with any kind of negotiating power, the draft will skew really college heavy the entire draft, but especially early on. This could be unfortunate for teams like Seattle that really favor college players early. But I think the counterpoint to that will be that some of the best prep talent will become available relatively later than they normally would. So the broadstroke, for me, will be focus on college in roughly the first two picks, and then start looking for prep upside in the picks round 2c and 3.
#1.6 – 2B Nick Gonzales
I’ve been on Nick Gonzales for a really long time. I’ve watched him climb up into the top 10, then top 5, and now we’re seeing lots of signs of him flattening out directly into this slot as the 6th player off the board. Lots of media are projecting him to Seattle.
I love his bat. He’s hit literally everywhere he’s been, so while the power numbers (12 HR, 36 RBI in 16 games for shortened 2020 season) were likely inflated playing home games in New Mexico; I still think he’s shown enough in the Cape and in road games to project as a 20 HR, high OBP, 2nd baseman of the future.
- Nick Gonzales ranks in the Cape Cod League 2019: Average- 2nd, Doubles- 1st, Triples- 1st, Homeruns- 6th, Runs- 1st, Hits- 1st, RBI- 2nd, BB- 8th, SB- 21st
I think the run and glove tools are both being nitpicked a bit too much. Gonzales can steal a base or two, and he’ll play a very solid 2B. And Seattle really doesn’t have anyone in the system that projects as a major league 2B. It’s a great marriage of need and best player available.
Slot bonus for #6 overall is $5,742,900. In 2018, the Mets drafted Jarred Kelenic at #6 overall and signed him for $1,025,000 under slot. I’m going to try to get Gonzales signed for $5mill and stash $742k so that I can go overslot on later picks.
#2.43 – LHP Jared Shuster
I think the first major run will be on college bats. I think the second major run will be on college arms. From, like, pick #20 to #50 is thick with college pitching. Prep pitching will drop in lieu of “safer” college hurlers.
Shuster is probably my 2nd-favorite college lefty in this draft after Asa Lacy. Reid Detmers is close, but potentially getting Shuster 30 picks after Detmers is such great value.
At 6’3″/210lbs, he’s got good size and I think potential to add velocity to what is already a 95mph fastball. His change is the out-pitch. In his four starts this year, Shuster posted an excellent 10.75 SO/BB rate. Other rates included 0.95 WHIP, 14.70 SO/9, and only 1 HR allowed over 27 innings.
I’m signing Shuster for underslot (but still sizeable) $1.4mill, saving $329,800 of bonus money. We now have over $1million in surplus for the next four picks.
#2.64 – SS Harold Coll
Jerry Dipoto talked on a recent podcast about looking for up-the-middle defenders early in this draft. I don’t like the value of OF here. I think this is actually a nice class of catchers, but one can be found later. I don’t see a ton of middle-infielders. If you can secure a 2B and a SS in the first two rounds; I think you’re doing very well.
For prep players…obviously there are basically zero 2020 performance stats to look at (not that those are of much use vs other HS players), but really you’re drafting them based on tools. In the research I’ve done on Coll I’ve found testing numbers that include 100mph infield velocity, 100mph exit velocity at the plate, and pretty solid 60-yard dash time. The glove is one of the best I’ve seen in the class.
Coll is committed to North Carolina, so to get him to turn pro I’m offering an overslot deal at $1.25mill.
#3.78 – RHP Alejandro Rosario
This pick is the most speculative. I’m projecting that the best value in this draft will come from high school righthanded pitching taking the biggest collective fall. Prep RHP is notoriously the most volatile group to draft. Add in this year’s complications…it feels like something to watch for.
I think Rosario and Justin Lange are the two most desirable prep righties, and I think in a normal year they get drafted well earlier than this spot (a la Sam Carlson drafted at #55 in 2017). But this year they may drop.
Lange looks more like a Mariner type with his 6’4″/185lbs build, but that (and his 100mph velo) will make him more of everyone’s type. Rosario is more undersized at 6’1″/170lbs which may make him the more plausible name to fall this far.
Rosario rocks a very good 97mph fastball with armside run, and the outpitch is listed as a splitter but looks like a diving change, to me.
I believe Rosario is committed to Miami, so we’ll be going overslot again here and trying to get him in the system for $1.1mill.
#4.107 – UT Nate Clow
This pick is the one I struggled with the most. I considered going “senior signing” and moving that money to targeting a tough-sign high schooler in the 5th round, but that just seems like such a generally terrible strategy. Shouldn’t you draft the more talented guy here while he’s still on the board and then the senior signing in the 5th??
Clow is a current shortstop out of Federal Way with a college commitment to USC. Most draft boards have him outside of the top 160 draft slots and moving to center, but I like him enough as an infielder to pick him here. Wherever he ends up defensively; it seems it will be up the middle.
The swing is beautiful with a great feel to barrel balls. He’s a smooth athlete, too, both in the field and on the base-paths.
In order to keep him from going to USC it’s gonna cost, but I think the format of this draft will allow you to bookmark an even $1mill for him ($450k overslot), and the ability for him to play 30 minutes from home should help.
#5.137 – C Michael Rothenberg
I mentioned earlier that I like this catching class and I think it’s gonna allow you to wait until your last pick in the draft to take one. I’ve got college Senior Kale Emshoff, Kent, WA product via U of San Diego Shane McGuire, VTech’s Carson Taylor, and Rothenberg all still on the board at this point. From that group you’ve got one righty, one lefty, and two switch hitters. All were having stellar starts to their 2020 seasons with great OBP rates.
I never looked into Taylor’s caught-stealing rate, but the other three were all over 33%, with Rothenberg nailing an even 50% of would-be stealers to start the year. I’m giving his overall offensive/defensive balance the edge over some of the better bats from the group.
In 2019, Seattle went overslot on 11th round catcher Carter Bins (slot $125k, paid $350k). With the savings banked from going underslot on the first two picks; we’ve still got a little extra to offer Rothenberg as well. I’m offering him $109k over slot and pushing his bonus to just over a half-mill: $515,500.
2B Nick Gonzales
LHP Jared Shuster
SS Harold Coll
RHP Alejandro Rosario
SS Nate Clow
C Michael Rothenberg
4 Bats, 2 Arms. 4 athletic, up-the-middle defenders. 1 Righty, 1 Lefty. 3 college, 3 high school.
After the draft, who knows if any underclassmen will take only $20k to give up their senior years; but I did do some digging on some Seniors that might have to. The only question is where they’d prefer to sign.
With only two pitchers drafted, and no outfielders; I went pitching and outfield heavy in UDFA.
RHP Christian Peters – a starting pitcher for University of Portland and originally from Olympia, WA. Posted a 0.63 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 10.99 SO/9, 11.67 SO/BB season in 4 starts this year.
RHP Mac McCarty – a junkballer from UAB with a funky delivery and a ton of energy that originally came out of Port Orchard. Mccarty finished 2020 without giving up any runs over 10 relief appearances and 16.0 innings. 5 saves, 8.00 SO/BB.
LHP AJ Block – a 6’5″/220lb lefty starter out of WSU via Newport HS in Bellevue. Block posted 1.19 WHIP, 11.06 SO/9, 6.80 SO/BB in his four starts this year.
LHP Antonio Velez – a senior southpaw reliever with a 0.58 WHIP, 10.90 SO/9, 7.00 SO/BB in 6 appearances, 5 out of the pen.
RHP Brandon Young – another big-bodied pitcher at 6’6″/210lbs used mostly as a starter for Louisiana-Lafayette. 0.89 WHIP, 13.50 SO/9, 4.11 SO/BB in 24 innings. Nice 3-pitch mix.
RHP Brian Van Belle – a guy I was strongly considering using a draftpick on, but with 8 of first 9 picks in 2019 draft being pitchers for the M’s; I figure we should try to get a couple more bats this year. Van Belle isn’t the biggest guy, nor the hardest thrower (only tops out at 92mph), but he locates well and demonstrates a nasty changeup. 0.68 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 12.99 SO/9, 9.50 SO/BB as Miami’s Friday starter.
RHP Luke Boyd – reliever with closing experience (6 saves in 2020), 0.73 WHIP, 13.09 SO/9, 16.00 SO/BB. Not overpowering, but well located fastball and nasty slider.
OF Brandon Henson – .370/.564/1.416 with 4 HR, 5×6 stolen bases in only 9 games.
OF Parker Bates – Decent sized guy with good pop and a solid glove in center. Doesn’t strike out much and hit 6 homers in only 15 games this year. Kinda reminds me of Jim Edmonds.
UT Brett Auerbach – I’ve seen him play C, 2B, and OF. Posted .506 OBP and stole 12 bases in 17 games this year.
OF Braden Zarbnisky – Not only an interesting 4th OF option with great basestealing, but a decent relief pitcher.