The 2011 MLB draft is just about a week away. As I usually try to, I’ve resisted writing about the draft so far. Other bloggers on the minor league baseball beat have tried to do some guessing and profiling of potential draftees, but I find that these profiles, mock drafts, and other previews tend to miss the mark once we move past the 1st round. Even in the 1st round, the only Yankee pick that we’ve heard predicted accurately in advance was Andrew Brackman in 2007, but that was pretty easy to see coming. At 51st overall, it gets even more difficult. I’ll put my hard work in looking at the Yankee draft class later on.
However, I do think that we can make some educated guesses about the Yankee draft strategy in 2011. Traditionally, the Yankees sign a 1st-round pick to slot-or-a-little-more dollars, then spread their money out among a half dozen or more 500k+ signing bonuses, one or two seven-figure above-slot bonuses, and a total draft budget of around $6-8 million dollars. In 2010, they went even farther to their own strategy: signing Cito Culver to a below-slot signing bonus in the first round, then spreading huge dollars out among a dozen others. It was one of the more impressive displays of aggressive drafting in the later rounds that we’ve seen from any MLB team in recent years. Here is a table of the 2010 draft:
I think we’re in for an even more aggressive draft from the Yankees, for three distinct reasons:
First, CBA negotiations threaten a hard-slotting system. The Yankees, and other big-spending teams, are well aware that the majority of MLB teams want to hold draft choices to defined draft bonuses, preventing the big-spenders from gaining a competitive advantage. They also are well aware that the MLBPA, which represents current, not future, players, is likely to favor it as a CBA negotiating chip with owners. This may be the last time that the Yankees have to bring in a massive haul of talented, young would-be college stars to their farm system. Second, the Yankees lack a 1st-round pick (they pick first at 51st, in the compensation round). Whatever budget the Steinbrenners have given Brian Cashman and Damon Oppenheimer can be stretched much broader without a $2 million-plus 1st round signing bonus to spend. Finally, the Yankees have been relatively reserved in the International Free Agent market in recent years, passing on most high-priced, hyped free agents (Notably rare exceptions: Jesus Montero, Kelvin De Leon, Gary Sanchez) in favor of spreading their picks around and spending on the amateur draft. They seem understandably skeptical of IFA prices.
Now, there are serious diminishing returns to some aspects of expansive above-slot spending. Every once in awhile, you get a chance to draft someone like Dellin Betances, Austin Jackson, or Mason Williams: guys who are high-round talent with strong college commitments to be bought out. More often, you get guys who look more like the 2010 draft class: promising and talented, but flawed enough to scare teams off. These guys wouldn’t be thinking about college if they were drafted in the first few rounds, but aren’t good enough to merit that kind of draft pick. The true assessed talent level of guys like Taylor Morton or Gabe Encinas or even David Robertson is more like 3rd-6th round level, but more money is required to get them to commit to college than your average middle round pick. That’s what the Yankee draft budget will probably buy them: an extra 2nd-or-supplemental round talent for a few million dollars, and a whole bunch of extra middle round picks with upside.
A final thought: two factors should affect Yankee draft strategy beyond what I mentioned above. First, other large-budget draft rooms are going to be following the exact same strategy, competing for high-dollar above-slot signings before the party potentially ends. This will make it harder for the Yankees to find players. At the same time, the 2011 draft is considered one of the strongest drafts in recent memory. A lot of players who are 1st round talent will not be drafted in the first 30 picks. This should push a few guys with high bonus demands downward, giving the Yankees an opportunity to swoop in and grab players who look more like Mason Williams than Ben Gamel. If that kind of player falls to the Yankees at 51st overall, they might pull trigger early, instead of waiting a few rounds.
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