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Draft-and-follow era comes to an end

Draft-and-follow era comes to an end

The draft-and-follow is dead. Long live the draft-and-follow.

When the clock struck 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday, it marked the end of an era in scouting circles. With the new rules, courtesy of the collective bargaining agreement, teams will no longer be able to select a player late in the Draft, send them off to junior college and then sign them the following season after watching their development closely.

They also won't be able to take a pick in the first round and go through a year-long negotiation that lasts up to the 11th hour, while that player sits out a year and then heads to independent ball so the other 29 teams can watch him at the same time.

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So this was the last hurrah, and the era certainly came to a close with a bang. The biggest name, of course, was Max Scherzer. The Diamondbacks' first pick, No. 11 overall in '06, came to terms with Arizona at the last minute. The deal, believed to be a Major League contract worth between $4 and $4.5 million, kept Scherzer from re-entering the Draft pool like Luke Hochevar did a year ago.

There were two other draft-and-follows to agree to seven-figure terms Wednesday night as well. The Angels, who have been very active in the past with draft-and-follows like Sean O'Sullivan and Stephen Marek, came to terms with 12th-round pick Jordan Walden for a reported $1 million. Walden had turned down his commitment to Texas to instead go to Grayson County Community College and continue negotiating with the Angels. As his performance improved over the spring, so did his price tag, but the Angels decided it was worth paying for rather than lose his arm.

"I'm really excited. I'm glad to be an Angel," said Walden, who will pitch for the Angels' club in the rookie-level Arizona League this summer. "I didn't think it was going to happen because we couldn't agree on anything, but [it worked out].

"I think going to Grayson was very good for me. I developed a lot more feel for pitching and I learned a lot more. I think it's going to help me in the long run."

The Padres feel they'll be better in the long run after signing their top draft-and-follow, Matt Latos. Their 11th-round pick from a year ago headed to Broward (Fla.) Community College instead of Oklahoma and pitched exceptionally well. He had been inconsistent as a high school senior, but he made a large leap forward in junior college and he becomes one of the more exciting arms in the Padres system. After seemingly being too far apart to come to terms, there was movement late and Latos agreed to a bonus reportedly just north of $1 million.

"Give credit to the kid, he's grown up a bit," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "There's been some maturity. I don't think there was any question about his arm. That's why we did what we did a year ago.

"He would have been one of the best, if not the best, pure arms in the draft if he was to go back in. That makes for a unique circumstance when you're dealing with these draft-and-follows. Nobody knows the reality of where he might go if he re-enters the draft. Sometimes you have to overpay a little bit to lock it up. We paid close to where we valued the player, but it's an asset to the organization going forward."

Looking forward to the Draft, the Padres already have much to be excited about with eight picks in the first 100 selections. Add in fellow draft-and-follow Jeremy McBryde (26th round) and the fact 2004 No. 1 overall pick Matt Bush is being converted into a pitcher and San Diego has in some ways already had a good draft before making an official 2007 selection.

"We've added three guys who throw 94-plus [mph]," Fuson said.

Even with the success of inking Latos and McBryde, Fuson isn't worried he won't have the draft-and-follow tool to utilize in the future. He thinks, in the long run, the change in rules will be a positive thing for all 30 organizations.

"The draft-and-follow has always been a 70-30 proposition for me personally," Fuson said. "There have definitely been some good scenarios, but when you think about the outside dynamics that get involved, it's a recipe for tampering. The next thing you know, there's nothing but headaches on your hand. You can't not expect oppositions to not scout the player. You have to scout the player, and tampering is very hard to prove.

"I think, historically, we've overpaid for the process. I think the game's better off not having them. I think the game is better off having the signing deadline. I think you have plenty of time still. If we knew we had a signing deadline [with Latos], our process might have been a little different. I think the game is going to be just fine without it."

Not everyone agrees with Fuson. The Braves have long used the draft-and-follow to take fliers on high school players and then send them to junior colleges to watch their development. This year was no different, as the Braves agreed to terms with seven of their draft-and-follows, including left-handed pitcher Cole Rohrbaugh, a 22nd-round pick a year ago.

"We've had an oustanding system of draft-and-follows in place in years," Braves scouting director Roy Clark said. "That's an area [junior colleges] we've tried to scout heavily and be aggressive with. Now it's taken away from us. I'm not sure how we're going to react, but it has been good for us.

"It takes four to five years to figure out how people are going to approach [the new rules]. We're going to miss the draft-and-follows. We signed seven of our draft-and-follows from last year's Draft, and we're very pleased with it."

While they didn't hand out any million-dollar bonuses, the Brewers were also active on the draft-and-follow front. They signed a pair of fairly high-profile guys in outfielder Lee Haydel and right-hander Chad Robinson. The speedy Haydel had been taken in the 19th round a year ago, and he helped Delgado Community College in Louisiana to the Junior College World Series.

Robinson headed to the Community College of Southern Nevada after being taken in the 12th round in 2006. It's been reported that Robinson got $500,000 and Haydel $624,000 for joining the Brewers organization.

"We, as an organization, feel very good about the signings of Lee Haydel, Chad Robinson and 31st-round pick Robert Bryson," Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik said. "We feel we've had an opportunity to land two very nice arms and one of the fastest players in the country. We are looking forward to watching these kids compete in Helena [Mont.] this summer, as well as helping them begin their development to become future Major Leaguers."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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