LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers, like every other major league team, have much smaller MLB Draft boards than they are used to at this time of year.
The draft is only five rounds, thanks to MLB cutting off its nose to spite its face. The league trimmed the draft down from 40 rounds, and deferred 90 percent of signing bonuses in the name of saving money — on average, the bonus pools declined by just under $1 million per team, so relative chump change — and setting the stage for potentially dropping roughly a quarter of minor league affiliates by 2021.
MLB ignored the immense long-term benefits of acquiring dirt cheap young talent that the draft offers — the normal draft, not this stripped-down gaunt version — to save a buck in the short term.
“It’s probably the deepest draft in the last five years, especially in the first round,” Dodgers vice president of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino said on a conference call. “The college pitching group and the high school hitting group are really strong. It’s a strong draft overall.”
With such a sparse draft comes revised rules. Normally a team’s bonus pool, derived from the total of slot bonus values for their picks in the first 10 rounds, was partially used for later picks, with any signing bonus above $125,000 counting against the pool. Maybe a high schooler a team tries to lure away from college with a sizable bonus. In 2015 the Dodgers paid 11th-round pick Imani Abdullah, a high school pitcher out of San Diego, a $647,500 bonus, roughly the equivalent of a third-round selection, for instance.
This year, however, the bonus pool can only be used for the picks in the first five rounds. The Dodgers have six picks, adding a Competitive Balance Round B selection just after the second round in the Kenta Maeda trade, and their total bonus pool is $5,928,400.
“It’s going to eliminate a lot of the creativity. It’s going to be a challenge,” Gasparino explained. “There’s just those six picks, and if you don’t spend the money, it doesn’t get spent.”
Any undrafted free agents signed can only receive a maximum bonus of $20,000.
“The rest of the rules are still in place, so your top three round picks are still protected,” Gasparino said. “My best guess is what’s going to happen is there could be some sort of a free-for-all. You’re going to have a lot of college players jockeying to get taken in that fourth and fifth round. The alternative of not getting taken and getting $20,000 is much less, so I think there’s going to be quite a big pile up of players trying to get taken in those two rounds.”
The slot bonus values for the Dodgers fourth-round pick, No. 130 overall, is $434,300, for instance, and their fifth-rounder (No. 159) has a slot value of $327,200.
There’s a ton of value in the later rounds. The Dodgers got 16 home runs and 25 doubles in 377 combined plate appearances last year from a trio of 2015 draftees picked after the fifth round — Matt Beaty (12th round), Edwin Rios (sixth), and Kyle Garlick (28th).
A drafted player doesn’t have to play for the team that drafted him to provide value. They can also be dealt for major leaguers. Eight players picked after the fifth round, and with a bonus over $20,000, by Gasparino since 2015 have been traded by the Dodgers.
Dodgers later draftees used in trades
|2015||Andrew Sopko||RHP||7||$147,500||Russell Martin (2019)|
|2016||Luke Raley||OF||7||$147,500||Brian Dozier (2018)|
|2016||Andre Scrubb||RHP||8||$122,500||Tyler White (2019)|
|2016||A.J. Alexy||RHP||11||$597,500||Yu Darvish (2017)|
|2016||Dean Kremer||RHP||14||$147,500||Manny Machado (2018)|
|2017||Zach Pop||RHP||7||$147,500||Manny Machado (2018)|
|2017||Rylan Bannon||3B||8||$122,500||Manny Machado (2018)|
|2018||Niko Hulsizer||OF||18||$125,000||Adam Kolarek (2019)|
“It was disappointing to us and I think most of the scouting community. There’s a lot of good players that get taken in those top 10 rounds, and we feel limited not having all 10,” Gasparino said. “I don’t think it will impact us much, but we’re disappointed we can’t create the volume we usually do.”
What the Dodgers do with their six new draftees — plus any undrafted free agents they sign — remains to be seen.
The Dodgers have signed 93 draftees in the last three years. Forty-two of them played in the year they were drafted for rookie-level Ogden, one of the rumored teams on the MiLB chopping block, along with the entire Pioneer League. Twenty-seven played for Class-A Great Lakes, a group that includes several who were at both levels in that first year.
But now it’s unclear whether there will even be a minor league season in 2020.
“They are extending the signing deadline to August 1, giving us more time to work through the physicals in case there are circumstances that make it harder to do an in-person physical,” Gasparino said. “My guess is [drafted players] would end up in Glendale. Besides that I have no idea.”
So you have one of the deepest drafts in years, but a league that artificially limits the ability of its teams to add talent into the sport, all for saving a little money. This will be unlike any MLB Draft we’ve ever seen.