Due to the renewal of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Association this offseason, the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft will inevitably differ from previous years.
Of all the changes to the draft that will be implemented for the first time this June, perhaps the most significant is that each organization will have a monetary cap on their signing bonuses. Basically, every slot through the first 10 rounds of the draft now has a corresponding and non-negotiable bonus value. So, while the No. 1 overall selection is slated to receive $7.2 million, the final selection in the 10th round will receive $125,000.
And even though teams with more draft picks in the first 10 rounds will have a larger Signing Bonus Pool, they still will be penalized for exceeding their specified draft budget. Depending on the severity of the infraction, the punishment may be levied in the form of taxation relative to the amount overspent, or even the loss of future draft picks.
But what about players drafted beyond the 10th round? Well, beginning in the 11th round, every slot—including non-drafted free agents—will be assigned a $100,000 Signing Bonus Value that’s separate from the aforementioned Signing Bonus Pool. Interestingly, organizations are free to spend any leftover money not used in the Signing Bonus Pool on said picks beyond the 10th round.
Two other important changes to this year’s draft are that the number of rounds has been reduced from 50 to 40, and the signing deadline has been moved up a month from August 15th to July 13th.
Having laid out the major changes, here is a look at 10 highly-touted prep prospects that pose as the biggest signability risks in the wake of the new CBA.
High School: Klein Collins (Texas)
College Commitment: Texas
Overview: Although he’s not a physical specimen, Hinojosa has impressive tools that play up due to his high baseball IQ. A patient hitter who has advanced pitch recognition for his age, he has plus bat speed that allows him to jump the yard to all fields; it's especially appealing as a middle infield prospect. He’s only an average runner, but takes a good first step in the field and compensates for any lack of range with slightly above-average arm strength.
After a disappointing start to his senior season, Hinojosa underwent surgery to repair loose and damaged ligaments in his left shoulder. Therefore, given the 3-5 month recovery timetable, his 2012 season was essentially over before it began.
Hinojosa still seems adamant on attending Texas next year, as he even considered graduating high school a semester early to begin his college career this spring. The injury has made it difficult to determine if he could still be selected in rounds 1-3, but if he is, he’ll need considerable money to relinquish his scholarship.
High School: Westview (Ore.)
College Commitment: Oregon
Overview: Headed into the 2012 season, it was difficult to peg Kelly as either a third baseman or a right-handed pitcher. His success this spring at both positions has only made it harder, as it’s still unclear at which position he is more projectable.
At third base, Kelly is extremely agile and able to move swiftly in all directions. He has a plus low-90s arm, as well as a smooth arm stroke and release. As a hitter, he’s rhythmic with his load and weight transfer, which has resulted in power potential—especially to the pull-side.
On the bump, the right-hander has made tremendous strides this season, as his mechanics are clean and repeatable, and involve little effort. His fastball consistently sits in the 89-93 mph rage and he’s demonstrated an ability to locate the pitch to both sides of the plate. His curveball is a late-breaker with depth, and he has a changeup that could one day be an above-average offering.
Committed to Oregon, his potential as a two-way player may cause him to slide in the draft. And if he doesn’t receive a favorable signing bonus, Kelly will become an impact player at both positions in college.
High School: Galveston Ball (Texas)
College Commitment: Texas
Overview: Few players had as much hype headed into this season as Williams, a highly athletic, 6’3” left-handed hitter with plus raw power. He has ridiculous bat speed and loose (yet powerful) wrists that allow him to attack the ball deep in the zone.
Although he plays center field both in high school and on the showcase circuit, Williams doesn’t profile as a big league center fielder. Yes, he has excellent speed, but his instincts are lacking and he routinely takes poor routes to the ball. He has the arm strength for right field, where more and more scouts believe his power will be a cleaner fit.
Williams definitely has a first-round ceiling—albeit it a high-risk one—but his skills aren’t nearly as advanced as some of the other highly regarded prep outfielders. However, there are plenty of teams who will gladly make him an early draft pick, but they’ll still have to sign him away from Texas.
High School: Petal (Miss.)
College Commitment: Southern Mississippi
Overview: One of the best overall athletes in the 2012 draft class, Alford is a two-sport standout who also stars on the football field. A quarterback, Alford was Mississippi’s football Player of the Year in 2011.
Equally as promising on the diamond, Alford possesses 70-grade speed that translates into excellent range in the outfield and makes him a perpetual extra-base threat at the plate. His strong wrists and raw bat speed has led scouts to believe he’ll ultimately hit for some power, as well.
Alford has stated that he plans on attending to Southern Mississippi to pursue both sports, so he’ll need a flattering signing bonus in order to look the other way.
High School: Northwest Cabarrus (North Carolina)
College Commitment: South Carolina
Overview: The younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, Corey is a tall and projectable left-handed hitter who plays top-notch defense at the hot corner. He exhibits natural instincts in the field and possesses surprising speed. He has soft hands and a smooth transfer, and has popped 90 mph across the infield.
At the plate, Seager has impressive raw bat speed and the ball jumps off his bat. However, he has a hitch in his swing that makes him vulnerable to quality velocity, and will likely need some experience to iron it out.
Committed to South Carolina, Seager will likely need first-round money to sign. But scouts are divided on whether he’s advanced enough to warrant such a pick, which may ultimately result in the third baseman falling to the second round.
High School: Camarillo (Calif.)
College Commitment: UCLA
Overview: Since picking up pitching as a sophomore, Virant has continually asserted himself as one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the 2012 draft class. Possessing excellent athleticism and a 6’3” frame that suggests he has room to fill out, the southpaw’s velocity has steadily climbed this spring. He spots his 89-93 mph fastball with conviction on both sides of the plate, while his smooth delivery and clean arm action cater to his deception.
His mechanics also disguise his changeup, which appears to be a pitch that may be equally effective against both right and left-handed hitters. He also has a slider, but hasn’t decided whether it will be a finesse pitch dependent on location or a swing-and-miss offering thrown with velocity.
Given his lack of experience, he may ultimately honor his commitment to UCLA. However, his elite athleticism and early feel for pitching may get him drafted higher than most anticipate. The only question will be whether his future suitor is willing to offer the big bucks that it will take to steer him away from a career as a Bruin.
High School: Bishop Gorman (Nev.)
College Commitment: LSU
Overview: Gallo put himself on every scout’s radar at the Perfect Game All-American Classic last August when he blasted a monster 442-foot home run at Petco Park. Furthermore, his 60-plus career home runs and counting at Bishop Gorman is a Nevada state record. Without a doubt, the left-handed hitter possesses the most power of anyone in the 2012 draft class.
However, like most young power hitters, Gallo’s swing can get long at times and he lands hard on the front side causing him to struggle with quality offspeed offerings. On the infield, Gallo has showcased a low-to-mid-90s arm across the infield, and he moves surprisingly well for his size.
He’s also received consideration as a right-handed pitcher, as his mid-90s fastball is one of the best in the class and his slider has improved with experience. Recently, his fastball was clocked as high as 98 mph.
As expected, his potential as both a position and pitching prospect has hurt his draft stock, as teams seem to be undecided about where he best projects. Signed to play at Louisiana State next season, Gallo will have to be a high draft pick—likely as a position player—to forgo his scholarship.
High School: Hagerty (Fla.)
College Commitment: Central Florida
Overview: Much like Lucas Giolito, Eflin has everything one looks for in a prep right-hander—and he’s just as risky of a draft pick. Prior to the start of the 2012 season, Eflin corrected a flaw in his mechanics that has yielded eye-popping results.
His fastball has been up to 95 mph this spring—he was only flirting with 90 mph last summer—and he’s dominated some of the nation’s premier prep teams. The pitch also has a lot of late life and is consistently thrown on a downward plane to both sides of the plate.
Beyond his plus heater, the right-hander has the makings of a plus breaking ball that generates heavy downer action due to his lightning-quick arm. He’s also shown an increased feel for his changeup, though it still lags behind his curveball.
But much like Giolito (once again), Eflin suffered an arm injury early in the season that has his draft stock in jeopardy. He missed all of April while recovering from triceps tendinitis, but has since returned to the mound seemingly without missing a beat.
Eflin will have to prove he’s healthy in every outing leading up to the draft in order to solidify a favorable first-round selection. But even if that’s ultimately the case, he’ll still be a costly draft pick given the injury history and lack of track record relative to some of the other higher profile arms.
High School: Hueytown (Ala.)
College Commitment: Florida State
Overview: Not only is Winston one of the most toolsy and athletic ballplayers in the 2012 draft class, he’s also arguably the top prep quarterback in the nation. However, if he’s selected early in the draft, it won’t be solely for his athleticism. Winston possesses an unusually strong baseball skillset for a player with such natural talent—especially one who has also dedicated an enormous amount of time to football.
A switch-hitter, the wiry-strong outfielder has sound mechanics from both sides of the plate as well as excellent bat speed and raw power. Not only does he have easy plus speed, but he’s an aggressive baserunner. He gets good reads in the outfield—he actually plays shortstop for his high school team—and his speed allows him to get to every ball that’s not hit over the fence. Topping out at 92 mph off the mound, Winston’s plus arm plays just as strong in the outfield.
Considering the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that prevents teams from frivolously paying well over slot value to sign their top draft picks, Winston may be the most difficult sign in the draft class. Committed to Florida State to play both sports, a team will have to pay him a healthy portion of their allotted spending pool to sway him away from a surely illustrious two-sport career in college.
High School: Harvard Westlake (Calif.)
College Commitment: UCLA
Overview: One of the nation’s top pitching prospects headed into the 2012 season, Giolito affirmed his potential as No. 1 overall draft pick by pumping 95-99 mph fastballs and dominating top-notch competition earlier this spring. However, the right-hander has been sidelined since early March after spraining his UCL and has become one of the biggest gambles in the 2012 draft class. He’s begun throwing flat ground sessions, though he’ll need to be able to throw for scouts to be a top pick.
A UCLA commit, Giolito’s injury will inevitably scare some teams enough to avoid drafting him. At the same time, his arm and arsenal—including a double-plus breaking and solid-average changeup—will surely be viewed as a gamble worth taking.
He’ll need big-time money to pass on his college commitment, which means he’ll likely have to be a top 10 selection come draft day.