NEW YORK -- Back in 2012, the rules governing the First-Year Player Draft changed, giving each team an allotted pool of bonus money, based on the values assigned each pick it has, to spend. In the past, teams could spend freely, with only suggested slots to guide them. Those slots were often ignored, and the pool system was instituted to try to corral Draft spending.
No one was sure how the system would be used. Going over pool totals wasn't an option for most organizations as they didn't want to incur the fees that come with overspending. It quickly became clear what the main answer would be: Taking college seniors early, signing them to well under-value bonuses and diverting that money to other potentially tougher signs.
Day 2 of the 2014 Draft was a veritable senior-palooza, particularly in rounds 6-10 after the remaining higher-end talent had come off the board. Counting red-shirted juniors and sophomores in this group of players who have been in college for four years in the total, there were 69 college "seniors" taken on Friday, a bit of an uptick following the two that were taken on Thursday night. That total doesn't even count the red-shirted juniors, who, while having a year of eligibility left, will also serve as money-savers for the teams that took them.
This obviously wasn't just a couple of teams trying to manipulate their pools creatively. When an average of more than two seniors per team was taken, that's an epidemic, one that no one was immune to. Invariably, it was fairly obvious to see which picks early may have led to the senior selections late.
"Your plan is to get the highest-end players you can," Brewers scouting director Bruce Seid said. "Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. In this system, you have to address the amount of dollars allotted. You try to be as conscious as possible about who you picked up front, how much it's going to take to pay him and what you can do with the dollars from that point on."
Seid and the Brewers aggressively went after some high-end high school talent on Day 1, getting Jacob Gatewood and Monte Harrison. Both were thought to be first-round talents, but were around for Milwaukee at picks 41 and 50. What it will take to get both high school bats signed remains to be seen, but the Brewers likely have a good idea. They took four seniors on Day 2 to help divert funds for the Day 1 selections.
"Not speaking for everyone, but of course, based on the new rules, you have to be a little more cognizant of the senior players," Seid said. "They're a big part of the Draft now.
"That's one of the boards you set up, who are your senior guys that have the most potential to help you down the road. That is something that we key on throughout the year, not just in the Draft room."
Milwaukee was far from alone. The Cubs, who will likely save money from their first-round pick, Kyle Schwarber at No. 4 overall, took perhaps the best senior talent-wise in Maryland's Jake Stinnett in the second round, then two more in rounds nine and 10. The reason? Carson Sands (fourth round) and Dylan Cease (sixth round) will likely require deals far greater than pick value to sign. The Cardinals took supposed tough sign Jack Flaherty at the end of the first round on Thursday, then took a senior, Irvine's Andrew Morales before Day 1 was over. Like the Cubs, they, too, nabbed two more seniors in the final two rounds of action on Friday.
Don't mistake the strategy as some kind of money-saving pick dump. Yes, there will be substantial savings, especially the deeper into the second day of the Draft things went. But this is still the top 10 rounds of the Draft. The Cubs don't take Stinnett, the Cardinals don't take Morales that early if their scouting staffs didn't think they had a chance to contribute to the organization beyond a Draft bonus discount. Even as the Draft wore on, many of the later seniors taken had been very good performers in competitive Division I conferences.
"We didn't just close our eyes and take a senior," said Seid, who started with Indiana's Dustin DeMuth in the fifth round. "We took seniors we think can be pretty good players."
That's the balance most teams tried to find in senior value on Day 2. Were some of them little more than discount picks? Quite possibly. But there's no question that teams tried to find a mix of talent with value while employing this strategy. Seid points to Michael Ratterree, a senior sign out of Rice from last year's Draft as an example. The outfielder will have to prove himself every step and might be a touch old for his level thus far, but he did win Pioneer League MVP honors during his summer debut and is currently tied for the Midwest League lead in home runs. Not bad for a 10th-round pick who signed for $25,000.
"We see him as a prospect," Seid said. "You're trying to get those types of guys down the road in the Major Leagues. That would be the main focus. You want to feel like you're getting value, but it's still a top 10 pick, someone who can come into the organization and help the Major League team."