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Checking in on the Top Unsigned MLB Draft Picks

Zachary BallAnalyst IAugust 14, 2011

Checking in on the Top Unsigned MLB Draft Picks

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    With a little more than 24 hours remaining until the 2011 MLB draft signing deadline, only 10 of 33 first-round picks have come to an agreement with the teams that drafted them.

    With the exception of Arizona's Trevor Bauer, nine of the top 10 are still unsigned.

    Fortunately, this kind of thing is rather common. Major League Baseball's rules for signing drafted players is archaic at best, and most teams have actually come to agreements with their first-rounders. The only thing preventing them from announcing their signings is MLB's iron-fist policy of waiting until the last possible minute, so as to not drive up any other player's price tags.

    Formidable experts, such as Baseball America's Jim Callis, are still of the belief that every single player drafted in the first round will come to an agreement, even if it takes until the final seconds before midnight tomorrow.

    This could be the final year that teams are basically allowed to spend however much they want on their picks. A new CBA could usher in a new era in the draft, one that has a bonus scale, meaning there really is no incentive not to get a deal done this year.

    So without further ado, let's check in on the top unsigned players from the first round and I'll give my say.

1) Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Deals with No. 1 picks don't usually get announced until just before the midnight signing deadline anyways, so there really isn't any reason to think Pittsburgh won't get a deal done with No. 1 overall selection Gerrit Cole.

    Cole doesn't really have any leverage. If he goes back to school there's absolutely no way he can improve his draft stock, so he's very likely to sign.

    Recent talks have put forth the rumor that Cole is demanding close to $15 million, but would settle for just a bit less than Stephen Strasburg signed for back in 2009. Considering that Scott Boras also advises Cole, it's likely just a bargaining ploy to scare a few extra million out of the Pirates.

    Cole will sign, likely for somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-14 million.

    And according to Jim Callis, he's likely to be one of a number of Top 10 picks to ink a Major League deal.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

2) Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners

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    Like Cole, Hultzen is also demanding some serious coin.

    Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman recently reported that the Virginia lefty was looking for $13 million from Seattle. It doesn't seem very likely that he'll take home that much cash, but he could end up looking at a bonus north of $10 million.

    Like Cole, he's also likely to receive a big-league deal.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

4) Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles

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    The O's began formal talks with Bundy, the fourth-overall pick this past June, on August 2nd, according to MASN Sports' Steve Melewski.

    Discussions began with Bundy, his father and the player's representation in Lakeland, Florida, although they obviously progressed enough that the team, and player, felt comfortable enough to allow Bundy to take his physical in Baltimore three days later.

    With the physical, and a mandatory tour of the O's weight-room facilities (deemed a must by Bundy), out of the way, the two sides can now focus on finding a number that suits both parties. That number is likely to be in the $5-8 million range and could include a big-league deal—something not normally on the table when negotiating with a high school player.

    Bundy, obviously, isn't your normal high schooler. In fact, most draft experts considered him on par with most of the top college talent in terms of development.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

5) Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals

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    Starling has added intrigue to his complicated signing situation.

    Not only does he have to worry about the deadline, but he also has Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini breathing down his neck, wondering when his top recruit will set foot on the practice field in Lincoln.

    Starling has attended workouts with the football squad this summer, but has been ruled out of participating in preseason workouts that began last week until his business with the Royals is concluded, one way or another.

    Since he was drafted by his home-state Royals, expect the urge to sign to be very strong for Starling. Don't expect him, however, to be fooled into taking a home-town discount. He's likely to command at least $7.5 million, according to NBC Sports.

    Baseball America's John Manuel thinks the number will definitely be north of $6 million.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

6) Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals

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    It's also no surprise that Rendon hasn't signed yet. After all, once upon a time he was considered the hands-down favorite to go No. 1 overall. 

    Even with his slip to Washington at pick No. 6, he's still the top offensive player from the 2011 draft, and will likely be one of the first position players from his class to reach the Majors.

    As such, Rendon is likely looking at a big-league deal. Heck, if the Nats had a spot open at third base, Rendon could probably sign and join up with the big-league club right now. The Nationals do have a talented guy manning the hot-corner (Ryan Zimmerman), however, which means Rendon will require some seasoning in the Minors at a new position, most likely second base.

    On a Nationals-related note, general manager Mike Rizzo traveled to Houston specifically to meet with representation for third-round pick Matt Purke this weekend. There's still no word on how great the chances are that the Nats get a deal done with Purke, but there's no doubt that if he returns to TCU he could emerge as one of the top choices in next year's draft. 

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

7) Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The D-Backs got their business with No. 3 overall pick Trevor Bauer out of the way early so they could put their undivided attention towards signing No. 7 overall pick Archie Bradley.

    Bradley was selected with the compensation pick that the team got for failing to sign last year's first-rounder, Barrett Loux. Unfortunately, that means that if they fail to ink Bradley, they'll get no compensation whatsoever in next year's event.

    Like Starling, Bradley also has football ties. He has a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, where he is expected to compete for the backup QB spot, assuming he doesn't sign, although he hasn't been able to set foot on the field at OU's preseason practice due to an issue with his NCAA certification.

    The issue will be a moot point if the two sides can agree to a deal before the midnight deadline tomorrow, but according to Bradley, the two sides have only talked once. Last time I checked, that's not exactly the most encouraging precursor to a deal getting done.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

8) Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    Like the rest of the Top 10 picks, negotiations with Lindor are expected to go down to the wire.

    According to Brad Grant, the team's director of amateur scouting, the two sides have at least had some discussions about the process. "We've had positive initial conversations with Francisco and his family," Grant said. "We're hopeful that he takes advantage of the opportunity that we have here. We'll obviously know one way or another on Monday night."

    Lindor will likely garner a bonus that surpasses that of each of the Tribes' two previous first-rounders, Alex White ($2.25 million) and Drew Pomeranz ($2.65 million). Coincidentally, both of those players are no longer with the organization after being packaged and sent to Colorado in exchange for Ubaldo Jimenez.

    Losing both White and Pomeranz should put some extra pressure on the front office to get a deal done with Lindor, seeing as how their farm system has been dramatically weakened.

    If he doesn't sign, Lindor has a scholarship to Florida State.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

9) Javier Baez, 3B, Chicago Cubs

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    Baez has always been my dark horse to not sign. The day after he was selected with the ninth-overall pick, I tabbed him as one of the most likely first-rounders to not sign.

    It seems as if the rest of the world is finally starting to pick up on that same scent. Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune refuted a report by Perfect Game that Baez and the Cubs had in fact come to an agreement, saying that the sides are no closer than they were last month.

    On paper, there's no way a deal with Baez shouldn't get done. He has a scholarship to Jacksonville University, which shouldn't be too hard to pry him away from, and it doesn't seem like he's going to demand an outrageous bonus.

    Still, there's just something about him that makes me think he's going to be the one that gets away from this year's first round.

    Prediction: WON'T SIGN

11) George Springer, OF, Houston Astros

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    Unlike Baez, most everyone expects Springer to come to terms with the Astros.

    The toolsy outfielder was in Houston last week to take his physical (which he passed) and visit the baseball grounds. Springer seemingly came away impressed, not only with the team's facilities, but also with the city of Houston itself.

    Springer isn't resting on his laurels, however, and has already engaged in talks with the general manager of the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, just in case talks with the Astros go south. 

    Springer appears to be a pretty smart guy, though, so I think the chance that he passes up pro ball to go the independent route, which hasn't really improved any players draft status the past few years, is pretty small.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

12) Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    You'd think that after the Brewers pillaged their farm system in order to acquire Shaun Marcum and Zack Grienke before the season began that they would be doing everything in their power to lock up their top picks from the 2011 draft.

    Yet Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, the team's top two selections, remain unsigned.

    As of yesterday, Brewers assistant GM Gordon Ash had "absolutely nothing" to report in regards to negotiations with the right-hander.

    Ash knows how the game works, though, and gets why Jungmann would wait until the last minute before signing. "The problem is there's no advantage to signing at this point," Ash said. "They might as well wait until the end and see what happens.

    "If you get out and play—especially players of this caliber—you can be in the big leagues a year, year-and-a-half sooner. You're just waiting to start your own clock."

    The team has, however, made considerable efforts to lock up most of the other players who were picked after Jungmann and Bradley, agreeing to deals with their second- and fifth-round picks just days ago.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

13) Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets

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    No doubt there were some nervous fans and front-office members when Nimmo's camp reportedly floated a number of around $3 million a few weeks ago.

    Since then, talks have heated up and gotten decidedly more serious. Things appear to be going very well, with the team's general manager, the esteemed Sandy Alderson, reiterating that signing Nimmo won't be a problem.

    Amateur scouting director Paul DePodesta echoed Alderson's sentiment, telling MLB.com, "We weren't interested in making the safest pick, we were interested in the pick that could have the most impact."

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

14) Jose Fernandez, RHP, Florida Marlins

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    Two days ago, Matt Garrioch of MLB Bonus Baby stated that the Marlins and first-round pick Jose Fernandez were very far apart in talks, although it was in the best interest of both parties to come to an agreement.

    A couple of days before that, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran a story about the Marlins' courtship of Fernandez, which, according to the player, wasn't exactly what he was expecting.

    “It’s not a secret,” said Fernandez, at Ruben Dario Park (he was in Miami to throw out the first pitch before a Cuban old timers’ softball game). “They came to my house for a meeting and it was like they didn’t give it any importance, like they weren’t that interested. It’s something I didn’t understand because they picked me No. 14 in the first round."

    Luckily, Fernandez's advisor, Richard Arena, was more optimistic, saying “I don’t have any reservations about this thing getting done, it’s definitely going to get done. There’s no question.”

    The only question that remains is whether or not Fernandez will garner a bonus that surpasses the MLB-recommended $1.602 million.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

15) Jed Bradley, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Negotiations with Bradley should be a bit more intense than with the Brewers' other first-rounder, Taylor Jungmann. The team will receive no compensation for Bradley if they can't agree to a deal since the pick they used on him was a comp-pick from last year's failure to sign Dylan Covey.

    As of yesterday, however, there was nothing to report other than that the team was still engaged in negotiations with Bradley and his advisers.

    Amateur scouting director Bruce Seid didn't sound too concerned with all the last-minute theatrics of the process, telling the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, "These things usually go down to the last day. We continue to talk to both guys. There's nothing really to report right now."

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

19) Matt Barnes, RHP, Boston Red Sox

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    There has been little news in the Barnes-Red Sox negotiations, but that doesn't mean much. The Sox have more money than just about anyone and have shown no hesitancy in locking down players they want—and Barnes is pretty signable.

    The two sides will likely announce their agreement, which has probably been decided upon already, hours before the midnight deadline tomorrow.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

20) Tyler Anderson, LHP, Colorado Rockies

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    The Rockies haven't come to an agreement with first-rounder Tyler Anderson, but according to his former coach, George Horton, don't expect him to head back to Oregon's campus.

    Anderson's adviser has placed a call to Horton, however, wanting to know if a scholarship offer would still be waiting for the lefty should he end negotiations with the Rockies, something nobody expects to happen.

    In the end, Anderson will likely sign, but for less than most of the other pitchers in the first round.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

21) Tyler Beede, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Beede was expected to be one of the tougher signs from the 2011 high school class, which made it such a shock when the Blue Jays went all in on the right-hander with their first-round pick.

    Beede has a very strong commitment to Vanderbilt, where players tend to honor their commitments. It's no surprise then, that the most recent reports have Beede heavily favoring heading off to college to join a stacked Commodores program. 

    “We’ll see if we come to an agreement, but right now it looks like school is going to be the choice,” said Beede, who would then start classes next week in Nashville, Tenn. “Obviously, we’re not that close on agreeing, it’s just tough to say right now.”

    Beede also acknowledged that like Josh Bell, the talented outfielder who asked not to be drafted, he too sent a letter to MLB asking that teams respect his wishes to not be drafted due to his desire to attend Vanderbilt and compete for a CWS title.

    Not signing Beede would be a major roadblock for Toronto, who is also working on securing deals with two players who are just as keen to head off to college: right-hander Kevin Comer and left-hander Daniel Norris.

    Prediction: WON'T SIGN

23) Alex Meyer, RHP, Washington Nationals

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    Meyer already turned down a pretty lucrative deal once, spurning a $2 million offer from Boston back in 2008, when the team selected him in the 20th round.

    Meyer instead went to Kentucky, where he attempted to generate enough momentum to catapult himself into top-ten consideration in 2011. He slipped to 23rd overall, where the Nationals scooped him up. He stands to earn about the same bonus three years later, if not slightly more.

    The chances that the Nats get a deal done with Meyer are much greater than witnessing an agreement between the team and third-rounder Matt Purke.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

24) Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Last week, Guerrieri was about as undecided about signing as any of the first-rounders.

    That's even after meeting with top team officials in South Carolina, Guerrieri's home state. The right-hander, who garnered some top-five attention earlier in the year, eventually slipped to the end of the first round, but with his potential, he's likely still going to be looking for top-15 money.

    And if the money isn't there, he has no hesitations about heading off to the University of South Carolina, winner of back-to-back College World Series trophies.

    "It's a great opportunity at South Carolina, it's a great school with a great tradition and it's a great program, no doubt," Taylor's father, Chris, told the St. Petersburg Times. "The Rays are the same thing, a great program with a great history of development."

    Rays GM Andrew Friedman seems confident a deal will get done. "We remain very optimistic about reaching an agreement with all of our unsigned picks assuming playing professionally is a priority," he said. "My expectations based on conversations to date is that things will go down to the Monday deadline."

    Further complicating things are recent reports that have stated that Guerrieri might spurn the Rays offer, drop his commitment to USC and attend a junior college in hopes of being eligible for next year's draft, where he could be a top-five talent.

    Prediction: WON'T SIGN

25) Joe Ross, RHP, San Diego Padres

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    Word is starting to spread that Ross might be one of the only players selected in the first round to forgo signing with a professional team, spurning the Padres offer and heading off to UCLA, with fellow Padre selection Austin Hedges, who appears to be practically unsignable.

    According to the North County Times, the number being floated around by the Ross camp is $2 million for his services. That's about $750K north of the MLB recommendation for that draft spot.

    He might be tainted by the Padres' inability to sign last year's first-rounder Karsten Whitson, but Baseball America's John Manuel doesn't seem too enthusiastic about the team's chances to sign Ross, stating that the Padres have run into some serious difficulties with the right-hander.

26) Blake Swihart, C, Boston Red Sox

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    Swihart was the top catcher in the 2011 draft class regardless of status (college or high school) and he cemented his status by getting popped with the 26th-overall pick by Boston, who is one of just a few teams that are likely willing to shell out the kind of money it's going to take to sign him.

    One team took Swihart off their draft board altogether after his camp floated a $4 million bonus number prior to the draft.

    The Sox had him in Boston a couple of weeks ago and Swihart looked like a natural, hitting batting-practice bombs off of the Green Monster. He passed his physical while he was there, getting that routine item out of the way, leaving nothing but the numbers to be discussed.

    Kirk Bohls of the Statesman, Austin's leading newspaper, thinks that a deal will get done for about $2.5 million—more than double the slot number for Swihart's draft spot, swaying him away from a commitment to Texas.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

27) Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

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    Stephenson was in Cincinnati this weekend to take his physical (he passed) and check out the facilities of the team he's likely to sign with late Monday evening.

    The right-hander, who famously tossed back-to-back no-hitters to start the 2011 season, has a commitment to the University of Washington, although it shouldn't take too much money to convince him to turn pro.

    Baseball America's John Manuel thinks a deal will get done—as does Red GM Walt Jocketty, who opined that a deal could get done as early as today.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

30) Levi Michael, SS, Minnesota Twins

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    It's not like the Twins to leave their first-round pick for last. In years past they have made a priority out of getting their top choice signed and on the field wherever they could.

    This year they went a different route, spurning the nationwide consensus that saw them going after more pitching in favor of North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael. Talks between the two sides haven't gotten much attention anywhere, although TwinCities.com has reported that his bonus is likely to be in the neighborhood of $1 million.

    With a seasoned hitting approach and great defensive prowess at multiple positions, Michael could start the 2012 season in High-A.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

31) Mikie Mahtook, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Like Guerrieri, Mahtook appears willing to take the Rays down to the wire.

    The former LSU speed and power threat was once considered to be the second-best college hitter in the draft, behind only Anthony Rendon. Somehow, he slipped all the way to one of the final selections of the first round, where Tampa happily scooped him up.

    Some reports have surfaced that Mahtook would have no qualms about heading back to LSU for his senior campaign. He could be the top collegiate hitter coming out in 2012 if that was the case.

    He would also greatly improve LSU's chances of returning to the NCAA tournament and potentially the College World Series.

    Prediction: WILL SIGN

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