The Brewers' draft coup
Feb 18, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin speaks to the media during MLB media day at Chase Field. Image by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
On Thursday night, the Milwaukee Brewers broke with recent precedent when they drafted three high-schoolers with their first day picks.
First off the board was Hawaiian left hander Kodi Medieros with the 12th overall pick.
The consensus among draft-niks was this was a bit of a reach for a very talented player with some legitimate question marks.
Then, with the 41st and 50th picks of the draft, the Brewers selected two very athletic and raw position players, shortstop Jacob Gatewood and outfielder Monte Harrison.
Interestingly, some of the top minds in draft analysis, including both ESPN.com’s Keith Law and staff of Baseball America actually ranked Medieros below where they had both Gatewood and Harrison. In the case of Law, he was significantly below either of the other two, whom he had in his top 25 overall talents in the draft.
How does something like this happen?
It’s because the MLB Draft isn’t like the drafts for the other major American sports.
Besides taking place in-season, it also involves both high schoolers and collegians. Guys are free to go to (or back to) school if they don’t get an offer they like. That puts a lot of leverage in the hands of some players.
For these reasons and more, players don’t come off the board just in order of current or even projected future ability level. Instead, one of the larger factors that determine when players get drafted is how much money they’re looking for.
Since 2012, another wrinkle has been added into the equation - teams being forced to spend within a budget set by Major League Baseball instead of one they set themselves. This has sometimes limited the ability of teams to spend freely on talent as they see fit.
In the Brewers’ case, it’s hard to imagine either Harrison or Gatewood falling as far as they did in the draft unless they were putting a substantial asking price on themselves. With teams limited in how much they can spend, how can they afford to pay “over slot” prices for players like this?
It would appear that Harrison has the most leverage of any of the three prospects, because he is a three-sport star who happens to also have a scholarship to play wide receiver at the University of Nebraska waiting for for him should he elect not to sign with the Brewers.
Fortunately, the way the system is set up, all teams are given a total budget for the first 10 rounds based on how many picks they have in those rounds and where they fall. As long as the team is able to sign all those players, they are entitled to distribute that money as they see fit.
That means if they can save money on one player by giving him less than the recommended slot value, they can turn around and give some of that money to another player.
Teams are not officially allowed to make pre-draft deals with players, but in reality many teams do have pretty good understandings for what given players will cost if they take them.
Sometimes teams are able to save on early selections who went higher than they were expecting and thus couldn’t demand their full “slot” value.
Other times, teams will draft players with little leverage in the second half of the top ten rounds with the understanding that they’ll sign for well under the value of their round number.
In the six weeks leading up to the July 18th deadline to sign players, it will be interesting to see what sort of price tag the Brewers’ top three picks have put on themselves.
We should get something of an indicator of how much the players are asking for by looking at how many college seniors the Brewers end up taking while rounding out their top 10 rounds worth of picks.
Regardless of how they have to do it, if the Brewers are able to sign all three of their top draft picks, they’ve gone a very long way towards adding the kind of big talent upside players that the system previously lacked and that had limited their farm system rankings in recent years.
Someday in the future, June 5th, 2014 may be looked back on as one of the more important days in recent franchise history.