Some Thoughts on Tonight’s Draft
The first round of the Major League Draft kicks off at 4 pm today, and with the third pick in the draft, the M’s will be selecting probably around 4:15 or so. Marc and Chris Crawford ran through a lot of questions on Friday, but I wanted to weigh in with a couple of thoughts of my own before the first pick is announced tonight.
1. Anything you’ve read about what the M’s are rumored to be doing, forget it.
The Mariners front office doesn’t leak anything to anyone, and the reality is that even the most well connected writers in the industry have no idea what the Mariners plans are. Tom McNamara may have enjoyed the shock on everyone’s face when the team took Danny Hultzen last year as much as he enjoyed anything all year. Other teams may let their intentions be known to outsiders, but the Mariners simply do not, so the reality is that any rumor about what the team may be thinking is based on speculation from someone who isn’t going to be in the draft war room this afternoon. We’ll know what the M’s are doing when they do it and not before.
2. There’s a real chance that the Mariners first round pick tonight could be a pitcher.
The generally accepted top tier of the draft includes a couple of high school hitting prospects (OF Byron Buxton and SS Carlos Correa) who could theoretically both be off the board in the first two selections, and the top college hitting prospect (Mike Zunino) is a catcher who is seen as more of a good bat than a great one. It’s not that hard for me to imagine the Mariners passing on Zunino or Correa in favor of a college arm like Mark Appel, Kevin Gausman, or Kyle Zimmer if they feel that they’re more likely to make an impact in the big leagues. I don’t think they’d pass on Buxton if given the chance, but assuming he does go #1 or #2, I’d say there’s a real chance the M’s take an arm at #3.
If that’s what ends up going down, please don’t freak out. Yes, the Mariners offense is bad, and they have a lot of pitching prospects, but drafting for need is a great way to waste a top draft choice, and the construction of a team’s roster is usually quite different from the time a prospect is drafted to when they actually reach the big leagues. And, you can never have too many pitching prospects – the attrition rate and turnover is so large that every team is always in need of quality arms. Don’t just look at Felix/Hultzen/Walker/Paxton and decide that a pitching prospect would be superfluous. If the team feels that the best prospect on the board is an arm, they should take an arm.
3. Likewise, Jesus Montero’s presence should not stop them from drafting Mike Zunino.
This is the flip side of the “don’t draft based on current talent” philosophy. Yes, the team has Jesus Montero, and while he hasn’t been Disaster Catcher, there’s nothing wrong with taking another catcher and figuring out the best way to utilize your assets in a year or two. The Reds drafted Yasmani Grandal when they already had Devin Mesoraco in the organization, and when both turned into top catching prospects, they simply traded Grandal to get a piece that better fit their needs. No team is ever going to have a quality player waste away because they don’t have an opportunity to use them, either at the big league level or as a valuable trade chip, and it’s not like we know that Montero’s still going to be catching in 18 months. Zunino is probably a bit of a lower upside choice than a guy like Correa, but he’s also a lower risk selection, and it certainly wouldn’t be a waste of a pick to choose a college catcher who has a chance to be a pretty decent big league hitter.
4. If the team makes another shocking pick, that does not mean they went cheap.
One of the new wrinkles in this year’s draft is the existence of a total team spending pool, where organizations are penalized for spending more money than they are allotted based on the selections that they have in the draft. The M’s series of draft picks (11 in the top 10 rounds) have garnered them a total pool of $8.23 million to spend, of which $5.2 million is tied up with the #3 overall pick. Given the perceived similarity in value of many players at the top of the draft, there is some thought that a couple of teams may end up taking a lower value player who will sign for significantly below the recommended price, saving the team enough money to then spend more freely on their later picks. Say, for instance, the Mariners took a guy who would sign for $3 million – that $2.2 million savings could then be used on the #64/98/126 picks if the club wanted to try for a guy who was perceived to be a hard sign at lower price points.
Teams like the Tigers, Yankees, and Red Sox used to scoop up these hard sign types at the end of the first round, but the new allocation limits their ability to pay significant signing bonuses to any one player – the Yankees total pool for their first 10 rounds is just $4.2 million, for instance, so if they tried to give a kid at #30 a $3 million bonus, they’d have just $1.2 million left for their next 10 picks, and would either have to go cheap the rest of the draft or face significant penalties from Major League Baseball for going over the pool allocation.
So, if there’s a guy that the Mariners like in that 20-30 range who might want top 10-15 money, he could very well slide to #64, and if the team had saved enough on the #3 pick, they could get another first round talent with that selection. This isn’t a very likely scenario, but it’s possible that the team decides to try this approach if they don’t have a strong affection for any of the players that are going to be available early. If they do go that route, I guarantee you that there will be people out there using it as evidence that it is part of a vast conspiracy by ownership to reduce costs – don’t listen to those idiots. They don’t know what they’re talking about.
5. Don’t have too strong of an opinion about what the team should do.
I’m not big on appeals to authority, but in this case, the information gap between what the teams know and what the public knows is so vast that having any kind of strong reaction is probably not warranted. You may have a favorite prospect based on what you’ve read or the success of past similar players, but the reality is that none of us really know very much about any of these kids. While Jack Z’s history of Major League acquisitions hasn’t been fantastic, the front office has a very strong track record in the draft, and this is the thing they’re best at. If they’re higher on someone than you are, I’d bet they have a pretty decent reason for why they disagree with you. It doesn’t mean they’re right (Steve Baron, anyone?), but at the very least, we should all acknowledge that we don’t have enough information to make a strong critique one way or another. There are some things about baseball that can easily be seen and evaluated by outsiders – the value of various draft selections is not one of them.