As of this writing, 40 players selected in the 2015 MLB draft have been given bonuses of $1 million or more.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the suggested slot of the first 61 picks is over $1 million. Before all is said and done, the number of million-dollar contracts will likely top 61, but to date, only one signing bonus has come as a true shock.
Arkansas high-schooler Gray Fenter came into the 2015 season as one of the most seasoned prep pitchers, and as such, scouts were drawn to each of his starts. Flashing a 96-mph fastball with a ton of sink and a promising curveball, Fenter rocketed up draft boards, all the while exuding confidence that he would honor his commitment to Mississippi State.
Heading into draft day, Fenter ranked high on all draft boards, including 135th on Baseball America’s BA 500.
So it came as a surprise when Fenter was still available when the Orioles’ turn came in the eighth-round. They happily snatched him up with the 223rd overall pick, with Baltimore’s scouting director, Gary Rajsich expressing the sentiment to MASN that a deal would actually be possible. “We realized, talking to their advisor, that we have the funds to do it,” he said of trying to sign the pitcher. “It’s a big arm for us. Maybe a top of the draft, first-day type talent that we were able to get in the seventh round, so we were very excited about that one.”
A possible deal and a done one are two different things, and immediately the O’s got to work negotiating with Fenter and his representatives. Immediately, it became obvious that the team would have to more than triple the MLB recommended signing bonus of $178,300, if it had any chance of swaying the right-hander away from Mississippi State.
Once it became clear that the O’s were willing to make a bigger financial commitment, and that they had the means to do so, the deal came together pretty quickly.
Using money saved by cutting an under-slot deal with first-rounder Ryan Mountcastle and drafting East Carolina senior Reid Love in the 10th-round, the O’s were able to ink Fenter for $1 million, making him the only draftee outside of the first three rounds to earn such a high number.
Such gambles haven’t paid off in recent years for the Orioles, who gave 22nd-round pick Cameron Coffey a $990k bonus back in 2009, and 11th-rounder Michael Ohlman $995k in 2008. Coffey was released by the organization in 2013, after failing to regain mid-90s velocity in 31 appearances in the minor leagues. Ohlman, a career .259 hitter in the minors, was dealt to St. Louis earlier this year.
Rajsich, however, feels that Fenter has the skills to break that streak.
“He’s a very mature kid and is strong. Has a live, loose body, so he is going to be durable. He has a fresh arm and only has been pitching a couple of years. He pitched for Team USA last year. He’s been thrown into the kind of competition we like to see young guys go through. He’s just a baby in terms of pitching. So it’s a fresh arm, and his ceiling is high.”