Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Tonight, the 2009 MLB Draft gets under way starting at 6 pm, with the Washington Nationals on the clock. The first three rounds of the 50 round draft will be tonight. The remaining 47 rounds will be split up over the next two days. Though the MLB Draft has been growing in acclaim, it still remains behind the more heralded NFL, NBA, and NHL drafts. Since its not as well known, I will give a short summary of what to expect in the draft. I will highlight some of the differences between this draft and other more well known amateur drafts, and give a quick preview of what to expect tonight.
The first major difference in this draft process is the baseball draft is held during the season. The other three major sports hold their amateur drafts after their season, and the order is based on that season's record. Given the way the amateur schedules match up with the MLB's, the baseball draft is held the following June. So this year's draft is based on last year's standings (though for good measure the Nationals still have the worst record). The next major difference is that MLB draft picks can't be traded so you are at your draft spot whether want to pick the best player available or not. Because of this and signability (which we will get to in a minute), a number of players slide in the draft.
The next issue area is signability and the slotting system. Signability is a two-fold issue, one is money and the other is the player's desire to sign right now. In other league's like the NFL and NBA, players must declare their intention to enter the draft process and by doing so they lose their collegiate eligibility. In the NBA and NHL, international players who are drafted that don't sign are still under team control for a set amount of time. In baseball, MLB teams don't have those protections. High School players may choose to go to college no matter how much money is offered to them. College players (who are eligible after their junior season) can go back for their senior year or choose independent baseball rather than signing. The other issue with signability is money. In other major sports the rule is, the higher the draft pick the higher the contract/signing bonus (with a few exceptions). In baseball's draft process, you routinely see players picked in the mid-late first round exceeding the bonuses of the top draft picks. Partly this is due to the MLB's slotting system, which is a recommendation by the league office on what the signing bonus for each player should be. This has led to major issues and fan outrage as teams pass up on more talented players because they want to 'stick with slot'. While there are plenty of cases to be made where a team hurt themselves by 'sticking to the slotting system', its not necessarily a bad thing to do. Every year plenty of players sign for the recommended slot and turn out to be tremendous ballplayers. Matt LaPorta is the perfect example, he was the 7th pick in the 2007 draft and signed just UNDER slot. Already he headlined the deal that brought CC Sabathia (and a playoff appearance) to Milwaukee and is in the big league's with the Indians.
What to Watch For: There is no surprise on who the Washington Nationals will select number 1, as RHP pitcher Stephen Strasburg dominated the college ranks all season. After that things get a bit murky. Its widely considered a good pitching draft, but an extremely weak hitting draft. There could end up being 20 or more pitchers selected in the first round alone. I think we'll see some teams avoid paying out $6-7 million bonuses early. Instead, they will invest that money in signing guys to over slot deals later in the draft. The reason is there doesn't seem to be a lot of sure fire talent in top half of the draft.
Names other than Strasburg that you should know:
-1B/OF Dustin Ackley - he's the top hitter in this draft and will likely go #2
-Zach Wheeler, Jacob Turner, Matt Pruke, Shelby Miller, and Tyler Matzek are the top H.S. arms in this draft and are all Top-15 talents
-Grant Green SS/2B - he's the top college middle infielder but had a bad year this season. He could fall into the middle of the first round.
-Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers - RHP's who were drafted last season but choose to play Indy ball in the hopes of increasing their draft value.
-Finally RHP Kyle Gibson - was considered a Top-5 talent but a recent injury has him sliding down draft boards. Some one could get a major steal by taking him late.
Check back later this week when we look at how teams did with their draft picks.