Check out the Major League draft results from the past 15 years and you’ll see that the players that don’t sign a contract are about 95 percent of the time high school seniors who have strong college commitments.
The 2011 draft has a bunch of notable names who fit that bill, including No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole who spurned a generous offer from the Yankees three years ago to attend UCLA.
In the same boat were George Springer (Twins), Danny Hultzen (D-Backs) and Alex Meyer (Red Sox), each of whom spurned contract offers back in 2008 to head off to college, where each improved their draft stock.
So it only stands to reason that the players who are going to be the toughest signs this summer are some of the top high schoolers, starting with…
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Everyone expected Lindor to be a relatively tough sign. And that was before he was tabbed in the first round by Cleveland, a franchise notoriously hesitant about drafting high school talent and an organization that doesn’t often go too far over slot to get their guy. I’m very intrigued to see how these negotiations play out.
Lindor has a commitment to Florida State, but considering last year’s No. 7 overall pick, Matt Harvey got $2.53 million as a college junior with very little leverage; Lindor figures to get at least half a million more than that. He has the talent to warrant a bonus in the $3 million territory. He’s as sure-fire a lock as any in this draft to stick at shortstop, and he has elite defensive tools to be one of the best in the game. At the plate he has a very exciting bat and hits from both sides of the plate.
And in case you haven’t heard, prep shortstops with five-tool potential tend to get pretty good bonuses. See, Beckham, Tim ($6.15 million) and Machado, Manny ($5.25 million). All it comes down to now is whether or not Cleveland knows how to negotiate with a guy who has as much leverage as Lindor does.
Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
As good as Bundy has been, and he’s been arguably the most impressive high school pitcher this decade, he’s not worth the kind of money that he was rumored to have demanded before the draft.
Still, Bundy is going to command a pretty hefty bonus thanks to the impressive spring he’s had pitching for one of the top-ranked teams in the country. He made one-hitters a common occurrence and 15-strikeout games an everyday feat.
He also generated some major helium by reportedly touching 100 mph on the radar gun in an April start. Scouts who have seen him pitch this spring say that he’s one of the top high-schoolers to come along in a very long time. His control is excellent, his repertoire filthy. He throws a curveball, changeup and a cutter, all of which he commands like a professional.
Bundy was lucky enough to get snatched up by Baltimore, a team that has shown a willingness to cut through the crap and deal with Scott Boras and his clients, twice going over the $5 million mark to get them on the field. Bundy should get at least that much.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Bradley is just one of several draft prospects who is talented at something other than baseball, and while that rare athleticism aided his cause on draft day, it will likely hurt his cause come the signing deadline.
The burly right-hander has a scholarship offer outstanding to attend Oklahoma, where he would likely backup current starter Landry Jones for the Sooner football squad. Bradley has consistently been rated as one of the top quarterbacks available in the 2011 football recruiting classes, with numerous accolades and honors headed his way.
Fortunately, he’s pretty good on the diamond too, where he churns out 93-97 mph fastballs with ease. He complements his power pitch with a solid curveball that has some knuckle-curve action to it and a decent changeup that has gotten dramatically better over the course of his senior season.
The D-Backs took a major gamble with Bradley, using their compensation pick from last year to select him. The pick isn’t protected, which means if Bradley heads off the college, Arizona is out a pick and a player. Maybe they know something we don’t.
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
If the story of a local Kansas native getting popped by the Kansas City Royals sounds too good to be true, that’s because we haven’t come close to signing day yet. Starling is likely to command one of the biggest bonuses in this entire draft, and there’s no way in heck that we hear anything serious about negotiations until a day or two before the deadline.
Starling not only has the added leverage of a football scholarship to Nebraska, but he also has the enticing offer of playing baseball for the Cornhuskers and their new coach, MLB veteran Darin Erstad, a player who Starling would be wise to pattern his own game after. He features some of the best speed in this draft and also has light-tower power. He’s incredibly agile in the outfield and has a rocket arm that has gotten him some attention in this draft as a pitcher.
Starling’s tools are scary and undeniable, and he is the dictionary-definition of a “five-tool player.” While getting selected by the Royals, who have been one of the draft’s biggest free-spenders during the past five years, makes it more likely that he signs, although it’s still no sure-thing that he’ll sign on the dotted line.
Javier Baez, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Baez doesn’t seem like a particularly hard guy to sign, but I have heard not too pleasant things about his attitude and demeanor. If he doesn’t sign relatively soon, which I’m sure Chicago is expecting, this could be a deal that goes down to the wire and a dark-horse to not get done. There’s no reason, however, that Chicago should have a problem coming up with the coin to shell out, especially for a guy with a bat that has the potential to be as special as Baez’s does. And it shouldn’t take too much money to sway Baez from his commitment to Jacksonville.
Kevin Comer, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
I am literally shocked that Comer went as high as he did, but if any team has the cajones to make that call, and to also get him signed, it’s Toronto…the new Kansas City in terms of drafting daring.
Comer throws in the low 90s, can reach the mid 90s, features a great curveball and a very promising changeup. He also throws a slider. He didn’t have the most impressive senior season, missing some time and showing lessened velocity, but he looked brilliant as a sophomore and junior, setting all sorts of school records in the process.
Baseball America thinks highly enough of Comer to label him as a potential first-round talent for 2014 if he does indeed sign with Vandy, where he would be a part of an amazing class that also includes Tyler Beede (Mass.), Shawon Dunston Jr.(Calif.) and Phil Pfeifer (Tenn.). As with most Vandy commits though, it’s going to take a lot of money to get him to drop that and take up pro ball. If there’s any guy who’s a shoe-in to get a bonus in the neighborhood of $2 million after the first-round, it’s Comer.
I feel a lot more secure in saying that he’s likely to sign because he was drafted by the Blue Jays, but this one is going to be a down-to-the-wire deal as well.
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays obviously came into this draft with a plan.
With 10 of the first 60 picks, they had to think economically about how they drafted. Clearly, they came up with a plan that allowed them to splurge on one big name, which just so happened to be Guerrieri, who somehow slipped all the way to the 24th pick, thanks to concerns about his signability and makeup.
Either the Rays weren’t deterred by either, or they thought the risk was worth the reward, which should be pretty good assuming he can harness the potential four-plus pitches he throws.
Fortunately, the Rays can afford to not sign Guerrieri, pick up the compensation pick and keep on rolling.