The chaos of draft day is upon baseball, and one of the tried-and-true traditions is how the parties involved more or less completely ignore the rules in place meant to keep the proceedings orderly.
Over the past week, team officials and agents have engaged in the annual dance of awkwardness to gauge the expected cost of each particular player and the interest of each particular team in drafting him. Cognizant of this, Major League Baseball on May 21 sent out a memo to all the teams, which later was forwarded to certified agents, explaining the mutually agreed-upon rules that are followed by pretty much nobody.
Yahoo Sports obtained the memo, which outlines permissible and impermissible approaches in pre-draft conversations. The memo begins by prohibiting pre-draft agreements, which is funny, seeing as executives and agents this week both admitted to seeking that very guarantee in the days leading up to today's first round, which starts at 7 p.m. ET.
Never mind the charade of it all due to the specter of the NCAA busting kids for using agents – referred to in baseball as "advisors" – whose crime is helping kids best understand whether it's right for them to accept offers that climb into the million-dollar-plus range. After last year's draft, the Phillies unconscionably turned in players to the NCAA. Philadelphia's excuse: The players didn't adhere to the gentlemen's agreement that the league and union deem appropriate.
Teams can, according to the memo, ask:
• What signing bonus would the player be willing to accept?
• If we draft the player in Round X and offer him the slot value, is the player signable at that number?
• We value the player at $X million. Is the player signable at that number?
Some teams adhere to such milquetoast lines of questioning. Others, especially those who have long-standing, open, honest and occasionally confrontational relationships with particular agents, tend to adhere more to a more straightforward and brass-tacks approach, which the memo deems "impermissible statements:"
• Say no to the slot value and we won't pick you.
• We are going to draft you and offer you $X. Yes or no? If you say no, or if you hesitate, we are going to move on to another player.
• We're offering this to three players, and whichever player says "yes" first will be selected.
The rules barring agents from trying to leverage their client to one club or away from another are similarly amusing – and constantly broken:
• We have a deal with a team selecting after you in the draft, so don't select the player.
• You must commit now to paying the player a $X signing bonus or we will make a deal with another team.
• The player will not sign with your team after the draft unless we work out an agreement now.
The entire thing is a farce if for no other reason than both parties drawing up these rules ignore them fundamentally. Of all the laughable rules, this one takes the cake: "As a reminder, no Club may contact a player's advisor directly unless the player first has expressly granted the Club permission to do so."
Some of the rules' intentions have no place in reality. It's not like they prevent a player from doing all he can to end up in one place or another. If Joe Ballplayer wants to play for the Yankees, he can tell every team he's not close to signable at $X and tell the Yankees he is. At the same time, the idea of barring teams from using pressure tactics against players strikes against an elementary idea of business: competition creates better value.
Ideal world, all of this would be moot and the draft as currently constituted wouldn't exist. Amateur players are every bit as deserving of the free market as their professional counterparts, and the fact that their rights are bargained for by a union to which they don't even belong makes the draft ripe for potential litigation. Until a brave soul plays crusader, chaos will reign and lip service will do nothing to stop it.
In the meantime, might as well use the opportunity to unveil the draft edition of the Prospect Heat Check, an all-inclusive look at the best of the minor leagues, colleges and high schools.
Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS, San Diego, Calif.: The odds-on favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Houston Astros would be the first left-handed high schooler chosen 1-1 since the Yankees took Brien Taylor in 1991. Aiken is big (6-foot-4), throws hard (97 mph) and, best of all, appeals to the Astros because of his willingness to accept a bonus under the $7.92 million slot, freeing up money for the Astros to spend on other picks.
Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State: The overwhelming favorite to go No. 1 overall before the season began struggled at times. Though a number of people in Houston's front office adore Rodon, he wants every bit of the near-$8 million, and the Astros' strategy as seen in their previous two years picking 1-1 is not to pay slot.
Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd (Texas) HS: A wild card. Sources said at least one high-ranking Houston executive met with him Tuesday (though not Nolan Ryan, who denied a report that said he had talked with Kolek). Whether it was a courtesy meeting or one to gauge his cost, Kolek is a local kid whose fastball regularly hits 100 mph.
Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS, Escondido, Calif.: Big bat and enormous value if he can play at catcher, though advisor Scott Boras has experience with such a player, and Jackson, like Bryce Harper, is expected to end up in the outfield eventually.
Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia HS, Windermere, Fla.: Son of Tom. Brother of Dee. Likely to go top 5, certain to go top 7. Should be the highest pick to attend the draft in New York.
Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State: A pure hitter, the best from the college ranks in what's a fairly thin group of bats all around. Lots of heat linking him to teams in the top 5 as a potential under-slot choice.
Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU: The most polished pitcher in the draft doesn't have the upside of the big three but could reach the majors every bit as quickly as Rodon, if not quicker.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs (Double-A): Bryant was the No. 2 overall pick last season. As the Astros' choice at 1-1, Mark Appel, struggles massively – he gave up 10 runs in his last outing – Bryant has been arguably the best hitter in the minor leagues, dropping a .348/.456/.690 slash line with 19 home runs in 58 games. He's a future All-Star and home run champion.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas (High-A): He's the only one with a better argument than Bryant for the minors' best hitting season. He's better in two of the triple-slash categories (.320/.464/.746), he's got two more home runs and, most miraculous of all, he's striking out almost one-third less than he did last season – in a tolerable 26 percent of plate appearances rather than the 37 percent of 2013. The raw power makes him a star.
Mookie Betts, CF/2B, Boston (Triple-A): Two games at Triple-A, one homer already. The 5-foot-9 sparkplug is trying center with his path to second base blocked by Dustin Pedroia, and he's taking to it well enough to perhaps warrant a call-up should the Red Sox continue to struggle.
Tony Kemp, 2B, Houston (High-A): Speaking of diminutive second basemen, Kemp is like a left-handed version of the Astros' major league spot-holder, Jose Altuve. Kemp stands 5-foot-6 and is hitting .336/.428/.469 with 22 stolen bases, 34 walks to 27 strikeouts, and legitimate major league aspirations if he can move quickly and ensure this isn't some Cal League mirage.
Peter O'Brien, C/OF, New York Yankees (Double-A): Evan Gattis 2.0? O'Brien's power is massive. At his latest stop, he's got 11 home runs in 97 at-bats. He also strikes out a lot and has never met a walk he likes. The power will play somewhere. It would be a lot nicer behind the plate, though he's about as likely to stay there as Gattis.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A): While his older brother Kyle is one of the least-appreciated players in the major leagues – he's been the second-best-hitting third baseman behind Josh Donaldson this year – the same curse is unlikely to befall Seager. Barely 20, he's hitting .338/.390/.586 and angling for a mid-season promotion to Double-A. Should the Dodgers not re-sign Hanley Ramirez, they've got his replacement perhaps just a year away.
Josh Hader, LHP, Houston (High-A): Acquired in the infamous Bud for Hoes deal, Hader was far from a throw-in for the Astros. He was actually an even bigger piece than L.J. Hoes, and his waifish body and slinging left-handed delivery have led to 72 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings with a 5-0 record and 2.31 ERA.
Frank Montas, RHP, Chicago White Sox (High-A): Scouts are blowing Montas up. "Bad body, don't care," one said. "The stuff is that good." Said another: "I never thought he'd throw strikes. He's been incredible." Acquired from Boston in the Jake Peavy trade last July, Montas' fastball sits around 97 mph. And for now he has allayed fear about command and control with 40 strikeouts, five walks and zero home runs allowed in 37 innings.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins (Triple-A): Just another arm to make the rich richer. And he's elite-level, too, another power arm to add to the Marlins' cache already. They could have transitioned him into a bullpen role, especially if they wanted to limit his innings, but the Marlins don't want to mess with success, and succeed he has: Nearly a strikeout an inning, a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a silly amount of ground balls and a spot alongside Jose Fernandez, Nate Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Tom Koehler in one hell of a potential rotation.
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