Yesterday it was announced that the Pittsburgh Pirates had signed 17th round pick Ryan Hafner, a prep pitcher with a commitment to Missouri State. Today, Baseball America announced that Hafner received a $450,000 bonus, which is about $300,000 over the normal maximum “allowed” by Major League Baseball after the fifth round.
Hafner’s bonus is currently the second highest bonus so far in the draft for the Pirates, falling just $30,000 behind fourth round pick Nick Kingham, and topping third round pick Mel Rojas Jr. by a little more than $25,000. Recently we’ve also heard rumors that the Pirates could also be close to a deal with 15th round pick Drew Maggi, a sophomore shortstop from Arizona State. The reported deal could be in the $460,000 range, according to Keith Law, which would be another “over-slot” deal.
Nothing is official with Maggi, but the sudden increase of attention to the late round players suggests one thing: the Pirates may be moving on from seventh round pick Austin Kubitza and tenth round pick Zach Weiss. I interviewed Kubitza last week, and in the interview he had the following to say about his bonus demands:
What was your asking price before the draft, and has that number changed at all as the signing period gets closer?
My asking price was between $1.5 and $2 million. I am planning on sticking to that range. If I have to wait 3 years to start my road to the majors then so be it. I’ll just be better and stronger, especially with the coaching staff at Rice.
The Pirates have only topped a $1.2 M bonus once after the first round, and that was in 2000 with third round pick Chris Young receiving $1.65 M. The current management group, which has a focus on over-slot deals in the draft, hasn’t topped $1.2 M after the first round, which is what 2009 6th round pick Zach Von Rosenberg received. That’s not really out of the ordinary.
Last year, only three players received $1.5 M or more after the first round. Those players were Wil Myers, a Kansas City third round pick who received $2 M, Max Stassi, an Oakland fourth round pick who received $1.5 M, and Daniel Fields, a Detroit sixth round pick who received $1.625 M. Stassi and Myers were rated the number 30 and 31 prospects in the draft, respectively, by Baseball America. Fields was the number 148 prospect in the draft, according to Baseball America.
Kubitza was rated the 153rd best prospect in the draft by Baseball America. By comparison, Von Rosenberg was rated the 41st best prospect in the draft in 2009. Colton Cain, the 109th best prospect in the 2009 draft, got $1.125 M from the Pirates. The main thing that matters is the rankings that the Pirates have, as that determines their value for each player. The last two years the Pirates have gone heavy with the prep pitchers, including backup plans in the later rounds. Last year they didn’t have any issues with the top ten picks, which might be why we didn’t see many later round picks signed.
Kubitza has the high bonus demands this year, and according to his interview, isn’t willing to come off of those demands. Usually that can be viewed as posturing, although it gets a little bit of credibility with the recent moves by the Pirates towards the later round picks. Weiss, on the other hand, has a strong commitment to UCLA, located about five miles from his hometown.
You could view the money given to Hafner as the money which would have normally gone to Dace Kime. However, the rumored Maggi talks suggest that it’s more than just Kime’s money that is being re-allocated. The Pirates will spend the bulk of their draft on Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie. If you estimate $8 M combined for those two (and some may think that’s low), you bring the Pirates up to $10 M. That leaves very little room for other signings, and the budget room only gets smaller for guys like Kubitza and Weiss as the Pirates sign more and more players.
This is the point where the usual question of “why can’t they just spend whatever it takes” gets brought up. The problem with this approach is that it kills the Pirates going forward. If the Pirates were to just give out whatever it takes to sign guys like Kubitza and Weiss, then they have no shot of negotiating with players in future drafts. Those players can take the same approach, until eventually the Pirates have to call someone’s bluff and leave them unsigned. This is why no team in the majors takes the “spend whatever it takes and get everyone signed” approach.
The whole plan of drafting prep players and signing them to over-slot deals has two benefits. First, it allows the Pirates to lock up a player before they have the chance to go to college and break out in to a top round talent. If they’re going to break out, they will break out in the Pirates’ system. Second, it takes a buckshot approach to finding the talent that will break out. There’s no rhyme or reason to finding out which players will take their game to the next level. Stephen Strasburg wasn’t even drafted as a high school senior, while many first round prep pitchers have failed turning pro. Kubitza may be the higher ranked prospect, but he’s no guarantee to have a better career than a lower rated pre-draft player like Hafner.
Obviously you aim for talent and projection, as that gives you some indication of which players will succeed at the higher levels. That’s why Kubitza and Weiss are my top two players to sign after Taillon and Allie. However, the talent levels between a guy like Kubitza and a guy like Hafner are very small. Both are big framed pitchers who throw in the high 80s to low 90s. The main difference between these two is that Kubitza has a good slider, while Hafner needs work on his breaking ball. That’s something that can be developed and worked on in the minors.
There’s no guarantee that the Pirates are passing on Kubitza and Weiss. They could definitely sign both players, along with Taillon and Allie. However, the Pirates will need to make one of two choices. They either need to sign Kubitza and Weiss, or they need to use that money on more later round picks, similar to what they’re doing with Hafner and possibly with Maggi. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if they pass on Kubitza and Weiss, so long as they use the extra money to sign guys like Kent Emanuel, Dale Carey, Jared Lakind, and Brandon Pierce.