Since the Kansas City Athletics took Rick Monday with the first pick in the very first MLB draft in 1965, the rules have, unsurprisingly, undergone some changes. How the selections were divvied up before now might make for a great article, but I'm not writing that one today. The Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed through the years. What we have now isn't necessarily a good system, but it's the one we have. And I expect it to change in the not-so-distant future. And not necessarily for the better. This article is about how the draft will work this week.
Thursday night, the first two rounds will take place. Each team begins with one pick in each round, but some are forfeited or added due to free agent signings. Also, after the first and second rounds, six "competitive balance picks" are added to allow small market teams, like the Cardinals, to remain competitive. (Yeah, I'm sold on that idea. Bleccch.) These picks, and only these picks, can be traded, and they can only be traded once.
Friday sees rounds 3 through 10. The first 10 rounds are what determines a team's "slot value." In the past, teams could, generally, spend whatever they wanted on whoever they wanted, now the amount a team can spend is strictly limited. You could easily kill a few hours reading Baseball America's draft coverage which go into rather specific detail.
However, what you need to know is the Cubs will be on the clock for overall picks four (1.4), 45 (2.4), and 78 (3.4), as well as the fourth pick in all succeeding rounds. Rounds 11-40 will take place in rapid-fire succession on Saturday.
While the temptation is to say it would be wise to grab the "best available" each round, that really no longer applies. Many of the best available are probably high school graduates who will be heading to college. While a team is certainly welcome to draft them, if the team doesn't sign a pick, they lose their "slot value." Which reminds me...
The assigned slot values are listed here. With the understanding that the Cubs will be severely punished if they go over five percent higher than their assigned amount ($8.3 million), or roughly $8.7 million, expect them to spend right about that amount. Overshooting by too far now costs draft picks. Which (rightly or wrongly) tamped down severely on the amount many free agents received this off-season.
This will likely change soon.
Here's a bit on how I think things probably go, but then I'm probably wrong anyway. Teams have priority lists, dossiers, and area scouts organized to the hilt for the June draft. Scouts have been pitching to their superiors (and up the organizational ladder) based on projected ability at baseball, likelihood of signing (signability), and character issues (makeup).
The Cubs, selecting fourth, hopefully have it down to a few names by now. They have been having informal discussions (because formal discussions on finances are somehow perceived as evil, though all teams are all pariahs in this crime) with many players. Though 40 rounds sounds a bit excessive, it is the method by which short season teams (Boise and Mesa) have rosters. Not all players drafted have a logical direct line to the major leagues. Many will be fortunate to reach or escape A-Ball.
I'd presume that after 1.4, the discussions will quickly turn to 2.4 on Thursday night as well. It's foolish drafting in baseball on need, because you want the best possible portfolio of prospects, as almost all will have to develop over a matter of years to get to the parent club. Despite that, a team may have a preference on how it wishes to approach a draft based on the draft's perceived strengths. As it happens, prep pitching is one of this draft's strong points.
Once perceived as really risky, prep arms are considered less a danger now than before. Yeah, they'll still get hurt. But then, so do veteran pitchers. To put together a solid major-league rotation with in-house options, those options, and others, will have bumps, bruises, and major surgeries along the way. Teams are now monitoring (babying?) young arms, and that seems to be working better than having 19-year-olds throwing near complete games every five days. Who knew physics applied in sports?
Getting a balance of prep and college/hitters and pitchers/righties and lefties is important, and that will get more play tomorrow. But expect that teams that do the better detective work are probably going to be paid well for their efforts. Eventually.
Feel free to ask away, but I plan on looking at the oddity of guessing draft winners in this year's draft in tomorrow's preview article. Wednesday's will be about some names the Cubs might call. And why. Thursday, I will handicap who might get called at 1.4. The list is longer than it should be. Thursday evening, I will be around until they quit calling names.