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Image  It’s almost draft time for Major League Baseball, as the Rule IV Draft is right around the corner on June 6-8.  The baseball draft has never come close to approaching the level of interest and hype as the NFL draft, mostly because college baseball is not as popular or readily available as college football.  Another reason is that unlike the NFL, players drafted by MLB teams won’t be ready for the big leagues for 2-3 years (if drafted from college) or 4-6 years (if drafted from high school).

The draft is still a very important place to accrue potential talent that may form the core of a future team.  Last year the draft was shrunk to 40 rounds, instead of the typical 50 rounds of recent years, but the old maxim still holds true — If you get 1 starter and 1-2 bench/bullpen guys out of each draft, it’s a good one.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed last year, teams can no longer spend unlimited amounts on draft picks and individual players.  Each team is allotted a draft pool budget, based on their order of finish the previous year plus how many picks they will have in the first 10 rounds.  Teams can get more or less picks in the first 3 rounds (called supplemental picks) if they lost or signed a free agent that was offered an arbitration qualifying offer during the previous year.  An example of this is Kyle Lohse.  Lohse was signed right before the season by the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Brewers lose their 1st round pick and the Cardinals gain a pick between the 1st and 2nd rounds known as a supplemental pick.  Additionally, the Brewers lose the amount of slot money associated with that lost pick and the Cardinals gain an amount equal to the assigned value of the supplemental slot.

In short, MLB gives each team an “allowance” to spend on the first 10 rounds.  Any bonus money over $100,000 in rounds after round 10 counts towards the pool.  In 2013, the Pirates have been assigned $8,884,600 to spend on their 11 picks in the first 10 rounds.

Why 11 picks?  The Pirates get a compensatory pick for failing to reach an agreement with Mark Appel in 2012.  This pick is the 9th overall pick, as the Appel pick was the 8th overall in 2012.  The slot value for the 1-9 pick is $3,029,600 and the slot value for the Pirates’ normal pick at 1-14 is $2,569,600.  The lion’s share of the pool could potentially go to these two picks, unless the Pirates sign a player below slot in an attempt to redistribute money later on in the draft.

Mark Appel spurned the Pirates’ offer of $3,800,000 in 2012 to try his luck at a higher amount in 2013.  That $3.8M was higher than the Pirates’ slot value as they were willing to go 5% above their pool amount to sign Appel, which is the highest a team can go without incurring a tax penalty or loss of draft pick.  So Appel’s gambit is to try to get drafted by a team that is willing to offer him significantly more money than $3,800,000 or else he will have essentially wasted one year of his pro career.

For Appel’s sake, he has had a strong season and is widely considered to be either the 1st or 2nd best talent in the draft, alongside RHP Jonathan Gray from Oklahoma.  However, the draft can be unpredictable as we saw last year.  Players can rise up draft charts very quickly or a team could cut a pre-draft deal with a player at less money to redistribute it later through the draft.  This is what happened to Appel last year — the Astros were universally expected to draft him 1-1, but they selected SS Carlos Correa and signed him for $4.8M, then took the $2.4M savings from that slot and signed two other high-impact prospects in Rio Ruiz and Lance McCullers.

And what team is picking 1-1 again in 2013?  The Houston Astros.  I have a hard time believing that they would select him in 2013 after passing last year.  Gray is considered to be nearly Appel’s equal and has a top-notch fastball sitting 97 and touching 100.  A player like 3B Kris Bryant from the University of San Diego is a dark horse for the 1-1 spot, too, thanks to his prodigious power.

The Cubs, Rockies,and Twins are the next 3 teams after Houston to draft.  All three of these teams desperately need pitching in their systems, especially an impact arm like Appel.  (As a side note, I don’t consider Appel to be an ace and see him more of a decent #2 or even #3 pitcher.  I just feel like the hype doesn’t match the stuff in the long run.)  But what if these teams don’t want to deal with his “advisor” Scott Boras or want to spread out the money throughout the draft?

If Appel were to drop to 1-5 and the Indians select him, guess what their slot amount is?

$3,787,000

So potentially, albeit with a small chance of happening, Appel could have waited an extra year to be right back in the same spot as he was when he turned down the Pirates’ offer of $3.8M.

As for the Pirates and their strategy this year, I see them having a fairly standard draft.  In baseball you never draft for need, due to the developmental time needed for prospects, but their minor league system is skewed heavily towards pitching.  It’s hard to envision them not using one, if not both, of their 1st round picks on college bats.  

A player that the Pirates are linked to most often is University of North Carolina 3B Colin Moran.  As I mentioned in a previous entry, Pedro Alvarez is going to start to get expensive.  Thanks to his agent Scott Boras, it’s unlikely that he would sign any sort of extension prior to free agency, so it’s probably wise to consider post-Pedro life if you are the Pirates.

Moran is sort of the anti-Pedro.  In 2013, Moran’s triple slash line of average/on-base/slugging is .385/.516/.646 (1162 OPS).  Yes, he is getting on base at a 51% rate, thanks to a mind-bending walk/strikeout ratio of 50/13.  Pedro gets 13 K’s in a week sometimes and Moran has that in 51 games.

Moran has 13 HR this year, but is not projected to have the power potential that Pedro possesses.  However, strikeouts infuriate me and I would always prefer a contact hitter with good plate discipline if given the choice.  Moran is also considered a lock to stay at 3B defensively.

If the Pirates were to draft Moran at 1-9, he could develop in time to make it up midway through the 2015 season.  At that point, the Pirates could either consider moving Pedro to 1B or trading him with 1-1/2 years of control left.  I fear that Moran may be gone by the time they draft at 1-9, but if Moran is available he would be my selection.

Kevin Creagh

Steel City Buzz Pirates Blogger 

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