First Pitch: A Look at the Upcoming Non-Drafted Free Agent Signings

With the 2020 MLB Draft ending on Thursday with only five rounds, that left a lot more amateur players than normal who weren’t picked. When MLB agreed to limit the draft to five rounds this year, they also put in a rule that teams could sign non-drafted free agents for a bonus that doesn’t exceed $20,000. Teams can start signing those players today.

It’s going to be very interesting to see which players sign as non-drafted free agents. College seniors are usually the only players who sign for that type of bonus. They’re done with school, older than the average player getting picked and they have no leverage with negotiations. Teams will often pay those players well under $20,000 to sign and most will tell you that they would have signed for free. You normally won’t find anyone else to sign for that amount, but this isn’t a normal year.

High school players for instance, rarely sign for under $100,000, and even those contracts come with money for college if their pro career should fail. A high school player might not want to go to college, but they can do one year at the JUCO level and just enter next year’s draft. That not only gives them a chance to improve, but it’s a lot better than taking 20% of a normal bonus. It’s also important to remember that those players signing for $100,000 normally are doing so because that’s their value. You’re not going to get potential upside players like Jasiah Dixon taking 1/10th of his asking price.

You might get more college juniors signing than normal for that amount, but “normal” is still almost no one and there are 30 teams trying to sign those players. If you do find a better player willing to accept $20,000, you have 29 other teams that he could also choose for that amount. The low bonus total hurts some college players, but it also gives them the chance to pick their destination. Some might ask if that hurts the Pirates. I’m sure some players will be swayed by their favorite team and/or staying close to home. For the most part though, they want a place that will give them opportunities, which should make the Pirates more appealing than some big market teams. There are good and bad things about teams being able to only offer the same amount.

MLB Pipeline has some of the top players who might be willing to sign and it includes college juniors. The theme here are injured players and future bullpen pieces. It’s not an exciting group, but it gives you some names to watch. As I said, you have ten players here and 30 teams able to give them the same offer.

Baseball America has a list of just college seniors, though they go 25 deep here, looking at the best undrafted options. If you’re looking for upside, they really don’t seem high on the best player on this list (shortstop Cam Shepherd from Georgia), saying he doesn’t have any big tools, which really limits his upside.

** Pipeline has a look at the top drafts for the 30 clubs, listing six teams without mentioning the Pirates. Baseball America had the Pirates among the top five teams. Pipeline also mentioned two other honorable mentions and they had one of my favorite drafts. The Phillies landed Mick Abel 15th overall and then got Casey Martin in the third round. Both players rated higher and have big upside potential.

Keith Law sounds¬†very middle of the road with the Pirates picks, liking Gonzales, though it sounds like he would have went with a riskier upside pick. He also likes the third round pick (Nick Garcia), but doesn’t sell the picks of Mlodzinski (31st overall), Jones (2nd round) and fourth round pick Hartman (he doesn’t mention Hofmann at all). He points out both their upside and flaws equally.




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John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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