The Rule 4 Draft begins on Monday, which is quietly one of the most important events of the baseball year, and, less quietly, my favorite baseball event of the year. With a strong scouting department married to a strong player development department, a team has the ability to tap into one of the most cost-effective talent pools available. This year, the Mets have four picks in the draft's first two rounds: numbers 12, 35, 71, and 75 overall. While it was disappointing not to receive a first-round pick from the Marlins for Jose Reyes, the Mets did receive a sandwich-round pick and a second rounder as a result. While there are teams with more picks, it's a pretty good place to be in from a selection standpoint, especially in a draft where the top-tier talent isn't outstanding.
This draft is also noteworthy for a couple of other reasons. First, the last Collective Bargaining Agreement significantly altered the rules the draft follows, and there may be some drastic changes to how teams draft. Or there might not. I'll outline those rule changes and the fallout we might be able to expect below. But in addition to the new CBA, the Mets have a new man calling the shots for the second year in a row. We'll start there.
Chad MacDonald departs, Tommy Tanous arrives
One of the first things Sandy Alderson did upon arrival was attempt to fix the Mets' scouting philosophies across the board. He brought in longtime ally J.P. Ricciardi to revamp the professional scouting department, while another ally, Paul DePodesta, was given dominion over the team's amateur scouting and player development departments. The scouting department, in particular, needed an overhaul. Even considering the fact that he was hamstrung by tiny draft budgets, former scouting director Rudy Terrasas drew low grades for his drafting of underperforming (if talented) college players who were supposed to suddenly figure out how to play baseball. A couple learned to varying degrees. Most did not.
So Alderson and DePodesta tabbed Diamondbacks scout Chad MacDonald to take over the department, and I, at least, was thrilled with the results of last year's draft. There was a mix of raw talent (Brandon Nimmo, Michael Fullmer, Joe Tuschak) and polished college performers (Cory Mazzoni, Logan Verrett, Danny Muno). Best of all, there was a startling willingness to spend money on the draft--the Mets drafted and inked tough signs Phillip Evans, Christian Montgomery, and Brad Marquez. Regardless of the way it turns out, I am impressed with the overall philosophy guiding the draft.
Unfortunately, MacDonald's old boss Josh Byrnes became General Manager of the Padres, and he hired MacDonald to be his new assistant. The Mets filled the new scouting director opening with an internal candidate, Tommy Tanous. While MacDonald had no connection to Alderson or his two lieutenants, Tanous has known Ricciardi since Ricciardi's days as a scout and Tanous's days as the pitching coach for the Community College of Rhode Island, where he worked for current Mets scout Art Pontrarelli. One day, Tanous asked Ricciardi for some help preparing for a job interview for a Devil Rays scouting gig in 1998, which he never landed. A couple weeks later, Ken Califano, the Brewers' scouting director, asked Ricciardi for his thoughts on a couple candidates for one of their own scouting vacancies, and Ricciardi told Califano that he knew someone better, recommending Tanous for the job. When Tanous asked where he should send his resume, Ricciardi replied, "I am your resume."
Tanous stayed in Milwaukee as an area scout before moving on to Texas for a season, but when Ricciardi was named Blue Jays GM, Tanous signed on as a national crosschecker (guys who coordinate scouting reports and review players the area scouts recommend). He stayed there in that capacity through 2010, after which he departed to join Ricciardi once again, this time in the Mets' professional scouting department.
This is Tanous's first time calling the shots in the draft, so we can't know what to expect for sure. That said, I wouldn't expect a dramatic shift in philosophy; DePodesta is still overseeing the department, after all, and I doubt Tanous would have been hired if he championed a different sort of philosophy. It may skew a little more toward polish, judging from the Toronto drafts, but that really is just a guess.
Changes to the Draft
As I mentioned before, MLB overhauled the draft when it reached a new agreement with the Union during the offseason. Easiest to understand, the draft is now just 40 rounds instead of 50. Baseball has long been attempting to cut down on the number of guys drafted, first by eliminating the supplemental drafts, and then by reducing the draft to 50 rounds in 1992. A further reduction will mean teams have fewer opportunities to draft players it cannot sign. (However, this may not be true. Teams might continue to draft just as many guys who won't sign while waiting to sign organizational players until after the draft. There is no lack of players without big league futures who want to further their baseball careers by any means necessary, and I'm not so sure there needs to be a rush to draft them.)
The biggest difference is the enactment of bonus pools that each team is permitted to dip into. Prior to each draft, MLB estimates how much each team is permitted to spend on its first 10 rounds' worth of picks. If a team spends 5% or less than that estimate, MLB charges them a tax of 75% of the difference. If a team spends more than 5% of the difference, they will be taxed at 100% and will lose a first-round draft pick in the future. If a team goes 15% over, it will lose two first-round picks. In other words, teams are being strongly discouraged from spending money, and there are stiff penalties. The forfeited draft picks will be awarded to low-revenue teams and, interestingly, can be traded. The draft bonus threshold does not apply to picks after round 10, unless they are given more than $100,000, in which case the amount will be applied.
As a result, I'd expect teams to go cheap in the early going, so that they have the financial freedom to spend a little more on players later on. Which would you rather have: One player for $5 million, or four players, one earning $3.5 million, another earning $1 million, a third earning $350,000, and a fourth earning $150,000? In some cases you might prefer the one, but most of the time, and certainly this year, you'd prefer to put your eggs in as many different baskets as possible. I would not expect any team to go beyond the 5% threshold at all.
Finally, teams are no longer permitted to award signees with major league contracts. All players must take the same minor league deal with the sole exception of two-sport athletes.
It's unfortunate that MLB neutered draft bonuses right as the Mets made a commitment to spend on the draft. Now the draft is all about budget management and having an accurate feel for how much each guy will sign for. There's a lot more strategy involved, and it will be interesting how the Mets draft. Go all-out with your first prospect, praying that he pans out? Or grab a bunch of higher ceiling talent in the middle rounds, hoping there's enough money to sign them? Save a few dollars for a bunch of longshots late in the draft? It's a tough call, and your strategy may vary year-to-year.
Who Should The Mets Take at 12?
In the past I've written detailed scouting reports I thought the Mets would draft. This year I'm not for two reasons: One, I'm short on time. And, two, the Mets seem to find guys to take who I haven't written about anyway. Instead, I'm going to throw a bunch of names out there that the Mets have been linked to, and let you know what I think.
Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe H.S. (LA): A shortstop with a strong chance of sticking at the position and some offensive ability. Cecchini's older brother, Garin, was drafted by the Red Sox in 2010, so there are relevant bloodlines here. The Mets have been linked to Cecchini forever now, and it's obvious why. He brings an attractive skillset to short with a large degree of polish. He's a good kid, a team leader, and he has a smooth swing at the plate. It's a simple, line drive swing with enough batspeed and hip rotation to drive the ball into gaps. There's not much homerun power, but he should hit his share of doubles. He does have a couple of small balance issues that I think are being caused by an overly busy lower half, but that might be able to be streamlined. At short, he has agility, good hands, and smooth actions, and the arm is above average. I think he'll stick, but some scouts worry about his lack of footspeed, suggesting his ultimate destination might be second.
David Dahl, OF, Oak Mountain H.S. (AL): An outfield prospect with a sweet lefthanded swing and a track record of success on the wood bat showcase circuit. Dahl has plus speed in the outfield that should play well in center. Unfortunately, scouts knock his instincts out there, and he'll more than likely knock him over to right, where he should be an above average defender with a strong arm. In the batter's box, he has a nice swing with a deep hand load that bars his arm a little, hurting his ability to make adjustments with the pitch, but enabling him to really drive the barrel of the bat through the strike zone. The power should be average. He frequently draws comparisons to Colby Rasmus and Jeremy Hermida, both of whom were stellar prospects but less than stellar big leaguers (at least thus far). It should be noted that Dahl's enthusiasm for the game has been questioned, but I don't think he's ever been a problem. My primary concern is that he might end up without a good enough glove for center and nor enough of a bat for right.
Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M: Wacha is a relatively polished college pitcher who lives in the low-90s but has touched 96. He might still add some velocity; he has a tall, lean frame (6-6, 195 lbs.) with the room to fill out some. His best weapon, however, is a plus changeup with some late bite to it. It's a very good pitch that will get some swings and misses. Unfortunately, Wacha lacks a good breaking ball, and he's tinkered with both a slider and a curve. His arm slot would be better suited for a curve, but the one he throws is pretty soft and actually lags behind the slider. He'll need to figure something out to give righties, at least, a different look. For the most part his command is pretty good, but he will need to watch the location of his fastball, as it's very hittable when left up in the zone. Wacha's no ace, but he's a good bet for a number three starter,
Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake H.S. (CA): I think Fried is probably off the board before the Mets pick (he might go as high as fifth), but some mocks have suggest he could fall here. Fried has a nice fastball with armside run at 91-93 and has touched 96, above average velocity for a southpaw. And his 6-4, 180-pound frame suggests more could be on the way. He also brings a 12-to-6 curve that is above average right now and could be a plus pitch if he can learn to throw it a little harder with the same snap. I also like his changeup; he disguises his armspeed well and it has a little bit of late sink to it. It could be an above average pitch also. Mechanically, he's clean, though he needs to repeat his delivery a little better than he does. The only other negative is that his velocity's been down lately, but I don't see him falling as a result.
Lance McCullers, Jr, RHP, Jesuit H.S. (FL): A very strong arm with athleticism and bloodlines on his side (his father was a reliever). McCullers is a shorter guy, just 6-1, so you can't expect him to add any velocity. The good news is he really doesn't need it; he's hit 100 and throws regularly in the mid-90s. The slider is outstanding, showing good tilt and depth. It's a great one-two combo, and one that should have plenty of guys swinging and missing. The negatives are an arm action that's too long (if vastly improved from last year), causing timing issues in his delivery, the lack of size, and a very strong commitment to Florida which will force whoever drafts him to spend more than they'd like. The former two could keep him in the bullpen as a pro. He's a guy I could see freefalling tonight.
Luc Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake, H.S. (CA): Giolito seemed like a near lock to go first overall a few weeks before the draft, but a UCL sprain knocked him out of the top spot. He didn't need surgery, but teams are still worried about future injury. The stuff warrants that top spot. He throws in the mid-90s, touching 100, with a outstanding 11-to-5 curve that can get as hard as 85. And I was surprised by his changeup, a pitch with both drop and fade when it's on. Like Fried, there's a chance for three above average pitches here, and Giolito's more physical and pro-ready. Mechanically, he's mostly fine. I do expect him to need Tommy John surgery, and also like Fried, he has some timing issues in his delivery. Finally, there's price. Giolito wants a boatload to forego UCLA, and teams under the new rules have been scared off. Giolito's a wonderful prospect, but he's not worth losing a first-round choice over.
Courtney Hawkins, OF, Carroll H.S. (TX): Hawkins is an outfielder with legitimate star potential, possessing athleticism in a mature, 6-2, 210-pound body. He has incredible batspeed, raw power, and a big time arm that enable him to throw 92 from a mound. He can handle center right now, but I wouldn't count on it in the future, because he's just too big. The big question scouts have is whether Hawkins will hit for enough contact to make it. The swing is very busy with a big weight transfer (he rocks back violently and taps his front toe before striding forward) that more often than not ends with his weight forward before he swings. That forces him to commit too early, which, compounded with some poor pitch recognition, really hampers his ability to square up on the ball. There's potential for a 30-homerun hitter in right field, but there's also potential for a guy who struggles to hit .240 in A ball.
Corey Seager, 3B, Northwest Cabarrus H.S. (NC): Kyle Seager's little brother provides an interesting comparison for Cecchini, who is pretty similar. Both men currently play shortstop well, and both have polished line drive bats and advanced approaches at the plate. Seager's bat is a little stronger and he's larger, so it seems likely that his future is at third as he continues to fill out his frame. Cecchini has a better chance at sticking at short. Seager has the better swing, but it's almost a little too simple, so I can't envision Seager with anything more than average power at the plate. The question is: will you take the better hitter at a less premium position, or will you take the player with a fringier bat but a better chance (but no slam dunk) at playing the premium position?
Anybody else? There's a chance the Mets could surprise by taking Clemson's Richie Shaffer, a third baseman who offers power and patience but might not stick at third base. If Florida catcher Mike Zunino falls this far, the Mets could be tempted to take him also. Zunino doesn't really have superstar potential, but he'll stick behind the plate, offering a great arm and above average offense with pop. And if the Mets take a college pitcher not named Wacha, it could be Mississippi State's Chris Stratton or Oklahoma State's Andrew Heaney. Stratton throws in the low 90s with a plus slider and an average changeup and curve, the velocity coming easy from a clean delivery. Heaney's velocity is even more effortless, and though he lacks a secondary offering as good as Stratton's slider, he has a longer track record, better pitchability, and better command.