As the de-facto draft writer at Bleed Cubbie Blue, I'm arguably a bit slow on the draw this time around. That has precious little to do with the Cubs' later draft status (they select ninth in the first round, and a bit sooner in rounds thereafter). As new fans are visiting here after the Jon Lester signing, it's about time I write something. But it's still too early to get excited about specific players yet, since college games are still about two months away. However, something timely caused me to look at my task in a bit of a different fashion, and the article wrote itself.
Among the big bits of news recently is the movie "The Interview." As this is a baseball blog, and not a place for political/theatrical commentary, I'll leave the analysis of the movie (which I haven't seen) to others. However, I love the idea of starting my baseball draft discussion in a way that nobody else will.
The pre-draft interview. Or, if the team likes the player, interviews.
Major league baseball would like to minimize the importance of prep work done by teams. After all, the league has done as much as possible to 'equalize' the game through the draft. The teams that are not successful get to spend more money in the draft, and the good teams are limited severely in how much they can invest on amateur players. And, after all, money is all a team can offer, right?
Consider for a moment the fictitious case of Deven Laurenti. (I did a Google search to make sure the name wasn't 'in play', so my apologies if I just made you famous.) While Laurenti can be of any position or experience level in general, for this exercise he's a right-handed starting pitcher in his senior season of high school, playing somewhere in the southeastern USA. He has a number of solid college scholarship offers, and is expected to accept the offer from Arkansas. In the process of doing their job of scouting, the Cubs send a younger scout to watch one of Laurenti's first couple of starts, and the talent judge is largely impressed. He works quickly, changes speeds, and challenged the other team's best hitters. In his report to HQ, he noted a high-80s fastball that should clean up (with a few basic tweaks) to the low-90s before nutrition and strength training kick in.
He probably will belong in the Southeastern Conference, and should be a valid piece in three years. A few years ago, an organization (such as Theo Epstein's Red Sox) might throw a couple million at Laurenti to get him to skip college entirely. However, his pedigree isn't enough to cinch an early enough pick for that to make sense from the club's perspective. Especially with the CBA's spending limits being considered.
The report is sent with the assumption that he is college-bound. However, something struck the upper-level scout's inner-eye, and he sent a more experienced scout for another look. In the second go-around, Laurenti was still solid, but still looked college-bound. Nonetheless, the invisible arm of scouting was kicking in. Laurenti's past was being looked into, through whatever means necessary.
Is he a good student? Does he cause trouble? Does he treat women with respect? Is he a safe driver? Does he run up disturbing amounts of unexplained debt? These things matter. Eventually, he checks all the boxes, and they set up an interview with an experienced scout. He's seen footage, read the reports, and makes it to a game.
The interview initially seems like a waste of effort. He's going to Arkansas, right? He might well be. That said, despite the rightful desire of a student-athlete to set up a proper "go-to-college" scenario, there can be other circumstances. It could be that Laurenti wants to go to school above all else.
However, sometimes the scholarship offer is an "if nothing better comes along" situation. At some point in the interview, after talking about Arkansas, Laurenti's classes, and what he might do if his arm blows out, the discussion gets real. The scout requests, and receives permission to, run a power-point presentation on the Cubs.
He shows off pictures of the weight room and the rest of the facilities. It turns out a friend of Laurenti's is in the Cubs system, and he might have a preference to play for the Cubs, more so than other teams. The scout asks a question, specifically not requesting an answer that night. Laurenti is told the Cubs are intersted in drafting him in June, but one important piece of information needs to be known before that could happen. "How much of a bonus will it take?"
If, eventually, Laurenti's answer is the standard $1.2 or 1.3 million, he will probably be a 38th-round selection and go unsigned. Which is all good. The same sort of thing happened last year with 1B/OF Isiah Gilliam. The Cubs knew what it would take to sign him. They spent a 23rd-round selection on Gilliam, and he went unsigned. Had Dylan Cease, Carson Sands, or Justin Steele not come to terms, Gilliam might have been the consolation prize.
However, if Laurenti (and his parents) likes what he's heard, he might lower the figure the Cubs would have to pay. If the pitcher really wants to pitch for the Cubs, he wields all the power he needs. If the Padres ask, $1.3 million. If the Dodgers ask, $1.3 million. If the Brewers ask, $2.4 million. (Cuz it's the Brewers.) If Laurenti says $250,000 to the scout, he will be a Cubs selection between rounds 11 and 20.
That scares other teams away, and allows a player to create his own scenario, regardless what the league wants. Somewhat like veteran free agents, only with youngsters.
"Nice hypothesizing, but none of it matters."
Except that the Cubs were in on Kyle Schwarber by February or March, and doubtless discussed numbers along the line. Nick Gordon should have gone at four, and Schwarber came at a huge discount, setting up the whole late-prep-arm-overslot scenario that ensued.
"Okay. One. Kind of, maybe."
Looking on down the list, I'm very confident the Sands/Steele/Cease numbers were within a few hundred thousand by draft day. 18th-round selection Austyn Willis was pretty much the Laurenti situation played out in full. He had a scholarship to UC Santa Barbara, but signed with the Cubs. I'm not finding how much he received as a bonus, which indicates it was $100,000 or less. For a guy on scholarship to UCSB, that is a pittance.
Joey Martarano and Kevonte Mitchell were both known quantities, and the $200,000 for Mitchell (half went against the cap) looks really agreeable, as he was playing center field in the Arizona Rookie League and OPSing .745 against guys a year and a half older.
Teams that work the numbers, and get players signed for less than expected are doing their jobs well. The Cubs aren't the only team doing this. That they are better at it than before makes the system better than before.
In conclusion, yeah. I pay more attention to the draft than I should. I probably imagine some things happening that don't. However, I'm comfortable being in the 90-plus percentile of paying attention to who the Cubs might draft in June. My next draft prep article will go there much more than this one. But since a few of you are likely wondering, today, I'm leaning California prep lefty Kolby Allard.