Adjustments to the Draft have been for the better
Earlier signing deadline helps players, teams and college baseball coaches
Major League Baseball's tinkering with the First-Year Player Draft is working.
With a signing deadline of 5 p.m. ET on Friday, teams are getting players under contract faster than ever. Just as importantly, prospects are assuring themselves of an opportunity to get their first season in pro ball out of the way, expediting their potential development instead of delaying the debut for a year because of prolonged negotiations.
And it's been a bonus for college coaches, who are finally getting some time -- limited as it may be -- to replenish the recruiting classes that fall victim to players giving up college eligibility to sign a pro contract. With limited scholarships allowed by the NCAA, a coach could have a recruiting class decimated if he lost three or four prime players to professional baseball, especially if he didn't have an opportunity to pursue replacements, which often happened in the past.
Here's the bottom line: There is a tendency to draw out negotiations until the deadline is approaching. Nobody wants to blink.
Now the bluff can be called roughly a month after the Draft is held, which gives both sides ample time to negotiate, benefitting not only the professional teams and the players, but also college coaches, who have time to look for replacements to players they lost to pro ball.
In the old days, it was a headache for all sides, because players could sign until the day they attended their first classes in the fall. That provided a skewed signing system, with some schools starting in late August and others not until late September.
In the first adjustment, baseball adopted an Aug. 15 universal signing deadline. Two years ago, 22 of the 33 first-round selections did not sign until Aug. 15, effectively delaying their pro debut a year.
This year? Two days before the deadline, only 13 players among the 316 selected in the first 10 rounds of the Draft remain unsigned -- four of whom were first-round picks. And one of the 13 unsigned -- left-handed pitcher Matt Krook, the 35th player taken overall by the Miami Marlins -- had an agreement in place, but medical issues developed and the deal was voided.
It would be a surprise if any of the remaining unsigned first-rounders -- University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant (No. 2 overall) with the Chicago Cubs; University of North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran (No. 6 overall) with Miami; right-hander Christian Bickford (No. 10 overall) of Oaks Christian High School in Westlake, Calif., with Toronto; and Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge (No. 32 overall) with the Yankees -- failed to agree to terms.
The revised approach, including allotments for signing bonuses at each choice in the first 10 rounds, has kept an ongoing increase in the bonus money, but has not created a regression. The 29 first-round picks who have signed received an average bonus of $2,500,321, second all-time to the $2,653,375 average for the first-round signees in 2011.
And teams have shown an ability to be creative to sign players who slipped in the Draft.
Left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea of Indiana State, who last fall was considered in the mix as the No. 1 pick overall, slipped to Kansas City with the 34th overall pick, but he still received the fourth-highest bonus in the Draft thus far -- $3.55 million, despite an allotment of $1,623,000 for that slot.
Josh Bell, who received $5 million from Pittsburgh as a second-round pick in 2011, is the only player ever taken after the first round since the adoption of the allotment approach to receive a larger bonus than Manaea.
Four other Draft choices received more than $500,000 over the allotted bonus for where they were drafted:
• Outfielder Austin Wilson of Stanford agreed to $1.7 million from Miami, $590,000 over the allotment;
• Right-handed pitcher Cole Wiper of Oregon was a 10th-round pick of Texas, and he signed for $700,000 -- $564,700 over the allotment figure;
• Infielder Dom Nunez of Elk Grove (Calif.) High School signed an $800,000 bonus as a sixth-round selection of the Rockies -- $535,000 over slot money;
• Shortstop Oscar Mercado of Gaither High School in Tampa, Fla., was given $1.5 million bonus as the second-round pick of St. Louis, which was $529,600 over bonus.
The Cardinals also juggled their allotment money so that they could sign their 11th-round pick, right-handed pitcher Steve Farinao of Head Royce High School in Oakland, to a $750,000 deal, even though any amount in excess of $100,000 given to a player selected after the 10th round is counted against the team's bonus pool. It's the largest bonus given a player taken after the 10th round under the new system.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.