The Draft Bonus Pools Lead to a College Heavy Approach, But Still Room For Prep Players

The Pirates wrapped up their 2017 draft today, making their final 30 selections in rounds 11-40. The picks on day three were very college-heavy, with 21 of the 30 picks coming from the college ranks, while only six players came from JuCo, and three were prep players.

This has been a trend with the current system, ever since the change in 2012. Teams can only spend so much after the tenth round before the dollars count against their overall bonus pool — the current cap is $125,000.  So they draft college players who are easier to sign, rather than wasting picks on high school players who are more likely to go to college than take a post-10th round bonus.

“It’s the new system,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said. “You’ll see some high school players sprinkled in here and there. Those are players who are motivated to start their professional baseball careers. The system really makes it hard to pay a player $700,000 in the seventh round, unless you are able to negotiate aggressively or save money at the top of the draft.”

Huntington mentioned high school players who are motivated to start their professional careers, and the Pirates have already seen that this year. 19th round pick Jacob Webb, a right-handed pitcher taken out of Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Kansas, has reportedly already agreed to a deal, turning down a commitment to Kansas State.

The Pirates saw the same thing from 16th round pitcher Hunter Stratton, who is from the JuCo ranks, but is turning down a scholarship from Western Carolina.

Sometimes it’s not so instant that the Pirates sign guys later. There have been other cases in the past where they’ve taken prep guys on day three, and signed them late in the process.

“You’ll see some high school players who are taken around the industry in the 11th round or beyond — Max Kranick or Max Moroff,” Huntington said. “Those are some players where motivations changes, and intentions changes and they’re willing to sign, and you’re willing to go into the penalties, which I think we’ve done all but once.”

The penalty that Huntington is referring to is the 75% tax on any overage of 0-5% of the bonus pool. Teams can go up to that amount without losing a draft pick. The Pirates paid the penalty in 2016 while signing Austin Shields and Max Kranick. They paid the penalty in 2014 with Gage Hinsz; 2013 with Erich Weiss, Billy Roth, and Nick Buckner; and 2012 with Max Moroff, Hayden Hurst, and John Kuchno. The only year they didn’t pay the penalty was 2015, although they still signed some day three prep players — Ike Schlabach and Nathan Trevillian.

This year the Pirates have an extra $506,795 to spend on top of their bonus pool, before losing a draft pick. We’ll get an idea of how they will spend that money in the upcoming weeks as their top ten round picks sign, showing what, if anything, is left over for the later round picks.

Day Three Highlights

John Dreker wrote this morning about the importance of the 11th round pick. In recent years, that has been one of the highest paid picks in the draft, almost acting more like a top five round pick than a pick outside of the top ten rounds. The Pirates went with a bit of a different approach this year, drafting JuCo player Alex Manasa in the 11th round.

Manasa is a two-way player who has received more attention for his offense and his play in the outfield. He also hasn’t seen much time off the mound. But the Pirates drafted him as a pitcher, after the recommendation of area scout Adam Bourassa — who also signed Austin Shields last year.

“Adam Bourassa, our area supervisor, had the opportunity to see Alex do both,” Pirates’ scouting director Joe DelliCarri said of the decision to go with Manasa as a pitcher. “Liked the athleticism, the size and frame I think speaks for itself at 6′ 4″, 195. He throws strikes, he’s got a feel for the game, understanding of the game in the field and on the mound. In the limited time he’s been on the mound so far it’s revealed to us that he’s got a lot of good days ahead of him pitching.”

A few picks later, the Pirates went a familiar route, taking right-handed pitcher Gavin Wallace out of Fairfield University. They took Gavin’s brother, Mike, two years ago in the 30th round. Mike has been an organizational reliever, pitching out of the West Virginia bullpen this year, and usually works more off his off-speed stuff. Gavin seems like more of a power pitcher, with the ability to throw 90-94 MPH, pairing that with a wipeout slider.

“We like his fastball,” DelliCarri said. “The fastball plays. He has off-speed, changeup to complement the fastball. Both combination of a little bit of power, a little bit of contrast.”

Another interesting day three pick was Nick Valaika, who is the brother of Rockies infielder Pat Valaika, and who also attended Hart High School (the same as Tyler Glasnow and Bob Walk) and UCLA (Kevin Kramer). He played in the same infield as Kevin Kramer in 2015 at UCLA, and would have been a freshman at Hart High during Glasnow’s senior year. But having an older brother in the majors draws most of the attention, with the question of whether Nick can also reach the big leagues.

“Nick does have some similar traits to his brothers, but each in an individual way,” DelliCarri said. “I wouldn’t put Nick in the range of expectations of his brother. At the same time, starting with us, we have a chance to get him started in a good way out of the chute.”

The Pirates also had some familiar connections late in the draft, taking Keith Osik’s son, Tyler, in the 40th round. They also drafted right-handed pitcher Matt Seelinger out of Farmingdale State in the 28th round. That’s notable because it’s where Keith Osik is currently coaching.

“Our relationship with Keith on the ground, allowing us to see obviously his son over the years, and then run into one of his pitchers there at school,” DelliCarri said. “It’s just no different than any other good connection among scouts and the people in the baseball world.”

I talked earlier today about the importance of area scouts in the current draft system. This is an example of the importance of building relationships with other people in the game, allowing insight into players who the team can draft in the future.

For full coverage of day three, check out our running thread, and for full coverage of all the picks, check out the 2017 Draft Pick Signing Tracker, with links to every player page.

  • One thing for people to keep in mind is that there is less than a 1% chance for a player drafted after Round 29 to ever contribute in the majors. For example, looking at Round 35 draftees from 2005-10 (180 players), only one has a WAR as high as 1.0 for his career. Yes, it is possible for lightning to strike – but very unlikely.
    Even players drafted in Rounds 2-5 don’t have a good chance to become MLB contributors.

    • “After Round 29…” Oh, good, we can still count on Deatherage.

      • Yes, the typical 29th rounder might have a 2% chance to make the majors. Far smaller chance to be productive.

        • With an 80 for footspeed, and CH losing his best Pinch Runner (Hanson), Deatherage could be up by the end of June – DNR (Defense Not Required).

    • Mike Piazza may have contributed every WAR measure for picks after the 30th round.

      • I cheated and pulled it up on SI – Mark Buehrle 38th, Kenny Rogers 39th, Keith Hernandez 42nd, Orlando Hudson 43rd.

  • Following his junior season, Jennings offered up a pledge to the Ole Miss Rebels and later signed a letter of intent, but with his selection in the draft he will now turn pro. ‘I am going to sign with the Pirates. We haven’t really worked out the details of when I am going to Pittsburgh to sign yet but we will probably work that out tomorrow or within the next couple of days for a time I can get up there and get all the paper work done,” Jennings told WJLE.