First Pitch: The New Draft System is Growing on Me

This is the second year that the MLB draft has operated under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Pirates didn’t really experience the new system last year, mostly because Mark Appel fell to them and didn’t sign. This year was more of a “normal” draft under the new system, if you can say anything is normal after just two years. Because it was a more common draft under the new system, we get a chance to see how the new system would work. I wasn’t a big fan of the changes, but after looking at this year’s results I like the outcome. I don’t know if that’s just a good year for the Pirates, or if it is something that could happen year after year. Below I’ll detail a few of the things I like about the new system.

Under the old system, Austin Meadows would be a month away from signing.

Under the old system, Austin Meadows would be a month away from signing.

Signings happen much earlier

Take a look at the 2010 and the 2011 Draft Pick Signing Trackers. Notice the dates when players sign. The first round picks didn’t sign until the mid-August deadline. The over-slot picks in the middle rounds didn’t sign until the first week of August. Nick Kingham was the first big over-slot guy in 2010, signing August 4th. In 2011 there was Jake Burnette on August 1st and Tyler Glasnow on August 3rd. Because they signed so late, they weren’t able to get much playing time. The first round picks didn’t play at all in the years they were drafted. Neither did Glasnow. Burnette and Kingham combined for three innings of work.

This year Reese McGuire signed almost immediately after his high school graduation, which came about two weeks after the draft. Ten days later Austin Meadows signed. By the end of June the Pirates had both prep picks signed, despite the fact that both guys dropped a few spots from where they were projected to go. Under the old system that would have led to them signing in mid-August. Under the new system they are both playing games in early July, and both could reach Jamestown by the end of the year.

The Pirates also went over-slot on Trae Arbet, Neil Kozikowski, Nick Buckner, and Billy Roth. Rather than having to wait until early-August, they signed all of those guys in June. Arbet and Buckner are already in games, while Kozikowski and Roth should get into games in the next week or two. By comparison, guys like Kingham, Glasnow, and Burnette got next to no work in during their draft years.

As far as promotions, I don’t think this will change much. Meadows and McGuire were probably going to West Virginia next year, no matter how much playing time they got. The prep pitchers could speed up the process with good performance, getting the boost to Jamestown next year instead of the GCL. However, the prep pitchers usually end up in West Virginia in their second full seasons, so that’s also not going to change much. The biggest impact of the early signings could be the prep hitters. Arbet and Buckner could have a chance to prove themselves and get the promotion to West Virginia, rather than Jamestown.

The biggest benefit here is that it starts the instruction early. Meadows and McGuire might have gone to West Virginia no matter what, but now the Pirates have two more months to work with them, including a full schedule of games. The same goes with everyone else. That becomes a situation where you’re not sure how much the extra time actually helps. For example, Jon Sandfort got about a month and a half in the GCL last year. He returned to the GCL this year and has shown a lot of big improvements. Is that because of that extra playing time last year? Or would he have seen the same improvements and would the Pirates have known what to work on without those innings? You may not be able to substantiate the extra playing time, but I think everyone can agree the extra time doesn’t hurt.

Are Over-Slot Signings the Same?

In 2010 the Pirates went over-slot on Nick Kingham, Drew Maggi, Ryan Hafner, and Jared LaKind, not to mention Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie. In 2011 they went over-slot on Glasnow, Burnette, Jason Creasy, and Clay Holmes, plus Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell. The middle rounds were pretty much four prep players each year.

This year the Pirates went over-slot on four guys. They got Trae Arbet, Neil Kozikowski, Nick Buckner, and Billy Roth. They didn’t pay as much for those guys as the guys in the 2011-2012 middle rounds. I don’t know if that’s because the new system is keeping prices down, or if it is because the players this year aren’t as talented. Either way, they’re getting the same amount of prep players to sign over-slot deals. Plus, Blake Taylor is a guy who they probably would have taken in the middle rounds and signed to an over-slot deal for the amount he received. Instead they can take him early in the new system and save money by giving him $750,000.

The one thing the Pirates can’t do is add a Josh Bell or a Stetson Allie in the second round. You’re probably not going to see potential top ten picks fall to the second round anymore, since they don’t have as much negotiation leverage with the new slots. Even if a Bell or an Allie fell to the second round, the Pirates couldn’t give first round money without losing a lot of future draft picks. The Pirates can still add talent in the first round, and they can still add high upside guys in the middle rounds. They just can’t grab those big bonus players in round two anymore, although those guys probably won’t exist.

The Downside Comes in Future Years

The good thing about this year is that the Pirates had the 9th and 14th picks in the draft. They had one of the top draft pools, with the ability to spend the 5th most money. That led to a great group of draft picks, although the Meadows pick makes up for the loss of the first round pick in 2012.

If the Pirates remain competitive this year and in future years, they’re going to see smaller draft pools. For example, the White Sox and Dodgers picked 17th and 18th this year, and had bonus pools of just over $5 M. The Giants picked 25th and had a bonus pool of just under $5 M. By comparison the Pirates had a bonus pool just under $8.9 M, which would have been just under $5.9 M without the Meadows pick.

To put that downside in perspective, you probably would cut Meadows from this draft, plus instead of getting a top ten ranked player like McGuire, you’re getting a guy ranked around the 20 range. You can probably add middle round upside guys, but there might not be room for Buckner and Roth. You want the Pirates to be competitive, but the trade off of lower draft slots is the biggest downside. Under the old system you could still get a top talent late in the first if you were willing to spend. That’s not as likely under the new system. The only hope would be that the new compensation picks would allow the Pirates to get an additional mid-to-late first round talent, making up for the lack of top of the draft talent.

Overall there’s a lot less unnecessary drama with the new system, you get guys in the system earlier, and you get relatively the same amount of talent. The biggest difference is that you can’t get a Josh Bell or a Stetson Allie, and as the Pirates become more successful, their ability to spend will go down which will prevent them from landing top of the draft talent. The competitive balance picks could make up for that last part. It’s not perfect, but it’s also not the horrible system I envisioned when the changes were made.

Links and Notes

**Download the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 12: Prospect Analysis on Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia, and Tyler Glasnow. Also includes an interview with 2013 first round pick Reese McGuire.

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates International Signing Tracker.

**Pirates Prospects is Looking For Writers and an Ad Sales Representative.

**Prospect Watch: Shutout Pitching All Around, Lambo, Barnes and Dickerson Homer.

**Who Is Still Unsigned From the 2013 Draft Class?

**Pedro Alvarez Selected to Home Run Derby as Injury Replacement.

**Minor League Schedule: Kingham and Pimentel Take the Hill Tonight.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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