Per Keith Law’s twitter, the Yankees will be signing 5th-round pick Greg Bird to a bonus exceeding $1 million at the August 16th signing deadline, way above the slot recommendation for the selection. Bird was reportedly asking for first-round money (or close to it) around the time of the draft, so this bonus was more or less in line with his pre-draft demands.
Bird, a catcher/first baseman from Grandview High School in Colorado, will be passing up a commitment to Arkansas in order to sign with the Bombers. Bird’s will likely be the highest bonus given out in the 2011 Yankee draft class (bigger than Dante Bichette’s $750,000), unless the Yankees give outfielder Jake Cave more (he’ll likely sign way overslot too, but the amount hasn’t been announced).
Sean posted a writeup on Bird back around the time of the draft, noting his large frame (6’4″ 205) and powerful left-handed swing. While there are questions whether he will stay at catcher (I’ve heard this story before), the bat should play well at a corner. I imagine Bird won’t get to play very much after signing, but it will be interesting to see him along with Bichette and Matt Duran in the GCL, all power-hitting corner guys.
The Bird signing made me curious about the track record for the players that the Yankees have given out million+ bonuses to out of high school, so I decided to take a look back at recent years to see how these expenditures have worked out.
2010′s $1.4 million signee Mason Williams is looking like a bargain at that price, as he has absolutely dominated the New York-Penn League, flashing all five tools. Cito Culver, despite being a first-rounder, signed for less than $1 million. In 2009, the Yanks shelled out a $1.25 million bonus to JR Murphy and $2.2 million to Slade Heathcott. Murphy has had a breakout 2011 after an uneven season last year, and Heathcott showed flashes of tantalizing tools before being sidelined due to injury.
Nobody in the 2008 class broke $1 million with a bonus, though Gerrit Cole certainly would have had he ended up signing (and Brett Marshall was pretty close). 2007 saw the signing of Carmen Angelini to $1 million, and unfortunately he looks like a total bust at this point. In the monumental 2006 draft class, the Yankees inked Dellin Betances to a $1 million bonus, and while Betances still has work to do on his mechanics and command, this is looking like money well spent.
In 2005 and 2004 the Yankees took high schoolers CJ Henry and Phil Hughes in the first round, and both received big bonuses (Henry got $1.6 million, and Hughes got $1.4 million). Henry was a bust and is now out of baseball, though the Yankees were able to get some value from him by including him in a deal to the Phillies for Bobby Abreu. Eric Duncan was a first-round bust in 2003, and got a $1.25 million bonus.
These results are not terribly surprising. High school players, even those talented enough to merit bonuses exceeding $1 million, flame out at high rates. The Yankees have done pretty well with the big bonus high schoolers so far, even guys who were not consensus first round picks.
So far, of the group that I looked at, they have one established major leaguer (Hughes), a likely big leaguer with frontline upside (Betances), 3 guys who have shown major league ability at the lower levels (Heathcott, Murphy, and Williams), and 3 busts (Henry, Duncan, and Angelini). There is a lot of value, both current and potential, in this group, which would seem to validate the Yankees’ strategy of giving out big bonuses to talented high school players (despite the risks). I will be very curious to see where Bird fits into all of this, as his profile is probably closest to Duncan of any of these guys (in the sense that he is likely a corner guy in the future with most of his value in his bat). Hopefully he will have a better outcome than Duncan, though. In any case, it’s great to see the Yankees continue to stockpile impact talent in the minor league system.
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