Archive for the ‘Arizona Diamond Backs’ category

Free Agent Foo and Other Notes

November 3, 2018

mlbtraderumors.com posted its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season.  I was interested to see what they had to say after last year’s paradigm shifting free agent period.

Mlbtraderumors projects Bryce Harper to get 14 years at $420M and Manny Machado to get 13 years at $390M.  My guess would be that Harper gets between $350M and $400M and Machado gets $330M.  I think Machado hurt himself with a poor post-season, and I’m doubtful any team is going to be willing to completely blow out of the water the record-setting 13 year $325M deal that Giancarlo Stanton got a few years ago, at least to the extent that mlbtraderumors is predicting.

However, it will come down to how many teams are in the hunt for both players.  If either player gets three or four teams determined to sign him, then the numbers could be bigger than I’m saying.  For whatever reason, I think the Phillies will sign Harper and Yankees Machado, although the Yankees could pursue Josh Donaldson as a shorter-term, lower commitment alternative.

Patrick Corbin is the only player MLBTR projects to get a $100M contract, in keeping with last year’s off-season”s disappointing returns for all but the very best free agents.

I think somebody will pony up more than $50M for Japan’s Yusei Kikuchi, including the posting fee.  I will be surprised if a team does not allocate at least $60M total for the six years MLBTR is projecting.

If CC Sabathia does not re-sign with the Yankees, I would love to see him sign with either the Giants or the A’s on a short-term deal.  CC is from Vallejo, so you would certainly think he’d be receptive to an offer from one of the two Bay Area teams.

The Dodgers extended Hyun-Jin Ryu a $17.9M qualifying offer, but MLBTR anticipates the Dodgers will bring him back for three years and $33M.  If I had to guess, I would say that Ryu decides to do will have a lot to do with whether or not the Yankees or Mets have any interest in him.

As a Korean, I would imagine the NYC or LA, two cities with large Korean American populations, would be his preferred destinations.  Ryu is also the only player out of seven who might reasonably accept the qualifying offer if he wants to stay in LA but the Dodgers won’t offer him a multi-year deal between now and the decision date and/or he decides to bet that he’ll be healthier in 2019 and be able to set himself for another big contract next off-season.

Clayton Kershaw signed a new deal with the Dodgers that essentially adds a third season at $28M (plus incentives), on the two-year $65M contract he could have opted out of, although the new deal pushes back $3M to the final season so he will now earn $31M per.  For whatever reason, I had imagined a new five-year $125M deal for Kershaw with or without money pushed back to the new seasons.  The actual contract signed may reflect both the Dodgers’ concerns about Kershaw’s back problems and Kershaw’s realization that he may not want to pitch more than three more seasons given his back problems.  Dodger fans can at least rest assured that Kershaw isn’t leaving this off-season.

 

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Best Pitching Prospects in Japan’s NPB 2018/2019

October 20, 2018

With the MLB success of Shohei Ohtani, Miles Mikelos and Yoshihisa Hirano in 2018, I think we’ve reached a point where MLB teams realize they need to look to Japan’s NPB as a source of potential prime talent every off-season.  Without further ado, here’s a list of Japan’s top pitching prospects for MLB purposes, as I see it:

Yusei Kikuchi (28 years old in 2019).  Kikuchi is clearly the top NPB prospect for MLB this off-season.  He’s a left-handed starter with stuff, he’s got an MLB sized body (6’0″, 220 lbs), and his NPB team, the Seibu Lions, have already announced that they are willing to post him this off-season.

After a break out season in 2017, when he was arguably NPB’s best pitcher (he lost the Eiji Sawamura Award to Tomoyuki Sugano, who is listed two spots down), Kikuchi was merely very, very good in 2018.  He finished 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA, which was second best among qualifiers in NPB’s Pacific League.  He struck out 153 batters, good for fourth in his league, in 163.2 IP.

Kikuchi hit 98 mph with his fastball in a regular season game in late July or early August 2017, but I didn’t see any reports of him matching that number in 2018.  MLBtraderumors.com provided a good scouting report on Kikuchi when the Seibu Lions announced they were willing to post him.

Takahiro Norimoto (28; 2020-2021).  Norimoto is a small right-hander (5’10”, 180 lbs) with tremendous strikeout stuff, who could be described as Kenta Maeda with more strikeouts or NPB’s answer to Tim Lincecum.  The problem with Norimoto is whether he can last any longer than Lincecum did.  (In fairness to Maeda, he’s got that harder to define “ability to pitch,” which produced better NPB ERAs than Norimoto without the same strikeout stuff.)

Norimoto had a mixed 2018.  He went 10-11 with a 3.69 ERA, sixth best out of nine Pacific League qualifiers, but he led the league with 187 Ks in 180.1 IP.  His walks and home run rate were up, and his strikeout rate was down (although still excellent).  However, he also became the fifth fastest pitcher to reach 1,000 NPB career strikeouts this year, and three of the four who accomplished the feat faster pitched in MLB.

We will have a better idea a year from now, which may well be when he gets posted, if his 2018 season was just a blip or an indication that he’s been pitched too many innings over too many years at a young age in Japan.

Tomoyuki Sugano (29; 2022).  Sugano is a virtual lock on winning his second consecutive Eiji Sawamura Award (NPB’s Cy Young) in 2018.  He’s a tremendous pitcher who led NPB in ERA (2.14), innings pitched (202) and strikeouts (200).  He threw eight shutouts in the regular season (NPB starters only pitch once a week, so teams let a starter go deeper in the game if he’s pitching well) and a no-hitter in the first round of the play-offs, a game in which he was one walk away from a perfect game.

Alas, his team, the Yomiuri Giants, have never posted a player in their history, and it’s unlikely they will start with Sugano.  That means he won’t come to MLB before his age 32 season.  However, I’ve read reports that Sugano does want to pitch in MLB eventually.  Maybe he can be the next Hiroki Kuroda.  He’s got the talent for it.

Kodei Senga (26; 2023-2024). Senga is not real big (6″1″, 185 lbs), but he’s not real small either.  He’s not one of NPB’s top tier starters, but he’s consistently very good and has the kind of strikeout rates you want to see in an MLB prospect (630 NPB career Ks in 559 IP).

In 2018, Senga went 13-7 with a 3.51 ERA.  He struck out 163 batters in 141 innings pitched.  He’s just good enough every year that, if he stays healthy, at least MLB team will look to him as a low cost, high upside sign when his time comes.

Shintaro Fujinami (25; 2021-2023).  I don’t have enough information to know what’s wrong with Fujinami.  He’s a tremendous talent, who may or may not have been overworked to the point where he is no longer a good NPB pitcher.

Fujinami had his second suck-ass season in a row, but it’s unclear whether the criminal overwork the Hanshin Tigers put him through early in his career has taken it’s tole, or he’s just lost the ability to throw strikes.  On July 29, 2017, he hit 98 mph with a fastball in an NPB minor league game.  This year, he had a major league 5.32 ERA with 70Ks, but 47 walks, in 71 IP.  This was actually an improvement in his command compared to 2017.  In the NPB minors this year, he had a 1.14 ERA with 60Ks and only 23 walks allowed in 63 IP.

Fujinami is still young enough and talented enough that he has to be on this list.  It remains to be seen whether he can regain the success he experienced in 2015, when only Shohei Ohtani’s star shown brighter.

Yuki Matsui (23; 2022).  A small (5’8.5″, 163 lbs) left-hander with electric stuff (457 Ks in 370 career NPB innings pitched), Yuki Matsui was used in a variety of roles by the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2018.  He started the season as the team’s closer, was apparently demoted to a set-up role and then late in the season was used as a starter.  His 3.65 ERA was high, but so were his 91 Ks in 66.2 IP.

As I wrote two years ago, it’s anybody’s guess whether a pitcher this small and this young can hold up to the often high-stress workload of a closer (or however the Golden Eagles elect to use him) long-term.  If his arm holds up, he’ll be young when his time to get posted arrives.

Naoyuki Uwasawa (25, 2022).  A right-handed starter big enough (6’2″, 196 lbs) to interest MLB teams, Uwasawa had his best season so far in 2018.  His 3.16 ERA was third best among Pacific League qualifiers, and he struck out 151 batters in 165.1 IP.  He had a strong rookie season in 2014, but this year was the first time he had the kind of strikeout rate you’d like for an NPB pitcher to be a legitimate MLB prospect.

Yasuaki Yamasaki (26; 2023).  A small right-hander (5’11”, 187 lbs) who has saved 133 games in his four NPB seasons and has a career 2.44 ERA and 274 Ks in 236 IP.  My guess is that he would be a set-up man in MLB.

Pitchers available this off-season include Yuki NIshi, Spencer Patton, Jay Jackson and Geronimo Franzua.  Yuki Nishi will be 28 next season, and he earned his domestic free agent option this season. He reportedly asked his team, the Orix Buffaloes, to post him this off-season, but the Buffaloes reportedly refused.  Nishi is a good pitcher, but he’s a small right-hander (5’11”, 176 lbs) whose strikeout rates don’t match most of the Japanese pitchers who go on to MLB success.  The Buffaloes are reportedly likely to offer him a three or four year deal this off-season, and that might well be his best option financially.

I like Spencer Patton’s chances of returning to MLB as an inexpensive set-up man at the two-year $4M amount that Chris Martin signed for with the Texas Rangers last off-season.  Martin’s 2018 performance was not particularly impressive on paper, but fangraphs says it was worth $4.4M, which means Martin has already paid off his full contract amount with another season to go.

Patton had an ugly 6.26 ERA in 54.2 MLB career innings pitched, but he also struck out 58 batters.  There’s no question that he has major league stuff, but his lack of command hurt him in the past.  His command seems to have improved in Japan, where over two NPB seasons, he struck out 133 batters in 116 IP while walking only 35.  Patton will be 31 next season.

Jay Jackson will also be 31 next year, and he’s put in three strong seasons as a reliever in NPB.  Jackson doesn’t have as strong an MLB system track record as Patton, but MLB teams might be interested in signing Jackson if the price is right.

Geronimo Franzua is a left-hander who washed out of the Dominican Summer League years ago, but caught on with the Hiroshima Carp through a try-out in the Dominican Republic.  (It was a good year for the Carp in this regard: they signed another low minors castoff, Xavier Batista, at a tryout, and he hit 25 HRs for them in only 302 plate appearances this season.)  Franzua had a 1.66 ERA mostly in a relief role and struck out 81 batters in 65 innings of work.  He only just turned 25, so he could well appeal to MLB teams.

It’s possible, however, that the Carp have Franzua signed to long-term, low-salary deal, to take into account that the team would have to develop him at the minor league level when they signed him.  MLB teams might also want to see Franzua do it two years in a row in NPB before shelling out to bring him back to the Americas.

Bookmark “EmShinnosuke Ogasawara (age 21 next season), Naoya Ishikawa (22), Katsuki Azuma (23) and Haruhiro Hamaguchi (24) are some young, talented NPB pitchers who still have many seasons in which to blow out their arms before they might become available to MLB teams.  I’ll be keeping an eye on them going forward.

As a final note, Takayuki Kishi and Hirotoshi Masui are two excellent NPB pitchers we’ll probably never see in MLB.  Both are small right-handers who are well over 30 and in the middle of multi-year contracts with their current NPB teams.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 6, 2018

Starting in 2009 and every couple of years thereafter, I have written a piece handicapping the likelihood of any currently active pitcher winning 300 games in his major league career.  The last such post from about two years ago is here.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

When I first started writing these posts over a decade ago, I thought we’d certainly see another 300 game winner in my life time.  About five years later, I changed my opinion almost completely.  I now think it less likely than not that any current pitcher will win 300 games, but at least it could still happen, as I explain below.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2018 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (37) 246

Justin Verlander (35) 204

Zack Greinke (34) 187

Felix Hernandez (32) 168

John Lester (34) 177

Clayton Kershaw (30) 153

Max Scherzer (33) 159

David Price (32) 143

Rick Porcello (29) 135

Madison Bumgarner (28) 110

It’s worth noting that the list of pitcher contains the same 10 as two years ago, which I think is a good sign in terms of one of them reaching 300 wins.

I like Justin Verlander’s and Max Scherzer’s chances of winning 300 the best.  Both are coming off of terrific seasons at advanced ages at which they still had extremely high strikeout rates.  These are the kinds of pitchers who end up pitching into their early 40’s and thus have the chance to eventually win 300 games.

The 12 pitchers to win 300 games after the end of World War II all pitched into their 40’s as follows:

Phil Neikro 48 (in his last MLB season)

Nolan Ryan 46

Randy Johnson 45

Roger Clemens, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn  44

Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Early Wynn 43

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine 42

Tom Seaver 41

With the exception of knuckleballer Phil Neikro, there is a pretty obvious connection between an ace’s strikeout rate in his respective era and how long he’ll be able to compete at the major league level.  That certainly suggests that Verlander and Scherzer could pitch well into their 40’s.

Verlander has averaged 15.7 wins per season in his first 13 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.7 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 109 or 110 games, which would put him comfortably over 300 career wins.

Scherzer has average 15.9 wins per season in his first 10 full major league seasons.  If he can average 15.9 wins for his remaining seasons through age 42, he would win another 143 games, which would just get him over 300.

Thus, if either can avoid major injury and wants to keep pitching as long as it takes for a shot at winning 300 games, it could certainly be done, particularly when you take into account that MLB teams would be willing to carry them for an extra season or two at the end if either pitcher has a realistic shot at winning 300 game.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw have all won a lot of games at their respective ages, but none of the three seems like a good bet to still be pitching at 40, let alone 42 or 43.  Sabathia is likely coming back for another season with the Yankees in 2019, but it’s hard to imagine his big body holding up for as long as it would take for him to win 300.  King Felix’s arm may be shot — we’ll have a better idea a year from now.  Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but back problems don’t improve with age.

What all current aces need to improve their chances at winning 250 or 300 games is another round of expansion, which I think could easily add two wins per year to a top starter’s career wins total.

San Francisco Giants Show No Love (Yet) for Tyler Rogers

September 5, 2018

Today the Giants called up 3Bman Ryder Jones and newly acquired middle infielder Abiatal Avelino.  Neither deserves the promotion, at least compared to Tyler Rogers.  OK, Rogers turns 28 in December, but he has been really, really good at AAA Sacramento two years in a row now.

Over the last two Pacific Coast League seasons, Rogers has pitched 106 games and 143.2 IP with a 2.26 ERA (2.69 run average) with a line of 115 hits, six HRs and 51 walks allowed while striking out 103.  Rogers throws low side-arm and he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher at the PCL level.

The problem for the Giants, apparently, is that Rogers isn’t on the 40-man roster.  While I wouldn’t knock either the much younger Jones or Avelino off the 40-man roster for Rogers, there is an obvious candidate to be sent through waivers.  Lefty Josh Osich turned 30 yesterday, and it sure looks like he’s lost whatever he had in 2015 and 2016.  Osich has stunk the last two years at both AAA and the majors, and sure isn’t younger than Rogers.

One problem the Brian Sabean Giants have had is that they prefer toolsy/stuff prospects to actually-perform without great skills prospects.  It works a lot of the time for the recent Giants, but it is obviously interfering with their willingness to give Rogers the shot he has clearly earned.

Rogers has to play one more season in the Giants’ system before he becomes a minor league free agent.  If the Giants don’t give him a shot, and he continues to pitch reasonably well next year at Sacramento, a team like the Oakland A’s or Tampa Rays will sign him and give him his shot.

I still think Tyler Rogers could be the next Brad Ziegler.

Arizona Diamondbacks Sign Japanese Amateur Pitcher Shumpei Yoshikawa

August 28, 2018

The Diamondbacks signed 23 year Japanese pitcher Shumpei Yoshikawa to a contract out of Japan’s industrial leagues a couple of days ago.  I wouldn’t bother with a post of this signing, except for the fact that it isn’t often I get to scoop mlbtraderumors.com on a signing.

Yoshikawa was expected to be a high draft pick in Japan’s NPB next year, and he’ the first premier amateur Japanese pitcher to sign with an MLB club rather than an NPB team since Junichi Tazawa back in 2008.

By signing with an MLB team first, Yoshikawa will never be allowed to play on the Japanese National team, and as a practical matter may never be allowed to play in the NPB under NPB rules designed to punish Japanese amateurs who sign with MLB organizations.  In that case, I hope Yoshikawa got a big signing bonus or guaranteed contract, since there’s no guarantee he will be as successful as Tazawa, who has earned close to $24 million in his professional career to date.

The 10 Best Major League Players Who Started Their Pro Careers in the Independent-A Leagues

July 31, 2018

I’ve been following the Independent-A Leagues closely the last few years, and I recently wondered who the best major league players were who started their pro careers in an Indy-A League.  I couldn’t find a decent list, so I decided I’d make one.

One of the things I learned in compiling this list is just how incredibly difficult it is to have a major league career amounting to more than a couple of brief cups of coffee for players who don’t start their professional careers in the MLB-system.  MLB hoovers up just about every player with any shot of ever having a major league career that anyone besides the players themselves would typically remember.  Only a tiny number of players gets overlooked.

That said, it is within the realm of possibility that a player can start his pro career in an Indy-A league and still amount to a successful major league player.  That’s what keeps the dream alive.

Without further ado, here’s the list of the 11 best major league players who started their pro careers in an independent-A league.  Be sure to let me know if I’ve missed anyone who should be included.

1.  J.D. Drew.  J.D. Drew is really an Independent-A league ringer.  He was drafted with the second overall pick of the 1997 Draft by the Phillies.  Before the Draft, Drew and his agent Scott Boras let if be known that Drew was demanding a $10 million signing bonus.  The Phillies called Drew’s bluff, drafted him and offered him $2.6M.

Drew wasn’t bluffing.  When the Phillies refused to come up significantly from their initial offer, Drew refused to sign.  Instead, he spent parts of two seasons thumping the ball for the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League (now the American Association).

I haven’t always been a fan of Boras inspired holdouts, but it sure worked for Drew.  The Cardinals drafted Drew with the 5th overall pick in 1998 and signed him for $7 million.  Refusing to sign in 1997 did not significantly delay Drew’s career, as the Cardinals gave him a cup of coffee at the end of the 1998 season, and he was in the majors for good (except for injury rehab assignments) by 1999.

Drew would not be the last early round draft pick to elect to start his career in the Indy-A’s when he couldn’t reach an agreement with his drafting team, as you will see below.  A couple of Cuban defectors, Ariel Prieto and Eddy Oropesa, used the Indy-A Leagues as a means to boost their draft stock — one can argue whether Cuba’s Serie Nacional is an amateur or pro league, but it is effectively amateur in name only, since the players are essentially professionals who are compensated for their performance, although perhaps not in cash.

2.  Kevin Millar.  Millar is in my opinion the best undrafted, unsigned player independent-A league product in major league history.  Every year, many undrafted players are nevertheless signed by major league organizations.  As I understand it, each major league team makes a list shortly before Draft Day of the 500 or 600 players who the team believes are the best amatuer players available.  Each team’s scouts and front offices grade the nation of prospects differently, and every team has at least a few players who aren’t on any other team’s list.  If any of those players go undrafted, then the team that had the player listed will typically sign them up.

Playing for small college Lamar in Texas, Millar went undrafted and unsigned, and thus started his pro career at age 21 with the St. Paul Saints in 1993, the Northern League’s maiden season.  Millar never made an All-Star team or received an MVP vote, but he was a star on the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that won the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.  Millar was also never allowed to join the MLB Players’ Association, because he crossed the picket line during the 1994-1995 strike.

3-5.  George Sherrill, Joe Thatcher and Kerry Ligtenberg.  A trio of relief pitchers who all pitched in between 386 and 442 major league games.  George Sherrill was the Orioles’ closer in 2008 and the first four months of 2009 before being traded to the Dodgers.  He finished his career with a 3.77 ERA, 56 saves and 320 Ks in 324.1 IP.  He started his pro career with Evansville of the Frontier League in 1999.

Joe Thatcher had a nine year career as a left-handed relief specialist.  He was effective in the role, finishing his major league career with a 3.38 ERA and striking out 270 batters in 260.2 innings pitched.  Thatcher began his pro career with River City in the Frontier League in 2004.

Kerry Ligtenberg was the Braves’ closer in 1998 before hurting his arm.  He came back from it, but never pitched as well as he did in 1998.  He finished his major league career with a 3.82 ERA and 357 Ks in 390.2 IP.  He started his pro career in the short-lived North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1994 and 1995.

6.  David Peralta.∗  David Peralta gets an asterisk because he started his professional career as an 18 year old pitcher in the Cardinals’ organization.  He pitched ineffectively for two seasons in the Rookie Appalachian League and was unceremoniously dumped.  He came back four years later as a 23 year old outfielder for the Rio Grand Valley WhiteWings of the short-lived North American Baseball League, and gradually worked his way up the majors three years later in 2014.  He’s still active and having a solid season at age 30, so he could well move up this list in the future.

7.  Aaron Crow.  Another high first round draft pick who refused to sign a contract with the Nationals, Crow made four appearances (three starts) with the Ft. Worth Cats of the American Association in 2008 and 2009 in order to prove he was still worth a high 1st round draft pick by the Royals in 2009.

Crow had four strong seasons as a set-up man in the Royals bullpen from 2011-2014 before his arm gave out.  He compiled a 3.43 career major league ERA and struct out 208 batters in 233.2 IP while recording six saves.

Crow is attempting a comeback in the Mexican League this summer at age 31.  While he is pitching effectively (2.33 ERA in 19 relief appearances so far), his peripheral numbers don’t suggest he’ll make it back to the majors in the near future.

8.  Daniel Nava.  Nava started his professional career at the advanced age of 24 with the Chico Outlaws of the long since defunct Golden Baseball League.  He hit a grand slam in his first major league game in 2010 (as I recall, the outfielder may have actually tipped the ball over the wall with the end of his glove), and he was a star for the 2013 World Champion Red Sox when he slashed .303/.385/.445 as an every day outfielder who split his time between right field and left field.

Nava has managed to play parts of seven major league seasons, and at age 35 he’s still listed as part of the Pirates’ AAA team, although he has yet to play a game this season because of injury.

9.  Jeff Zimmerman.  Zimmerman finished his three year major league career as the closer for the Rangers before injuries, including two Tommy John surgeries, ruined his career.  He started with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League in 1997.

10T.  Matt Miller and Chris Coste.  Miller was a relief pitcher who pitched in an even 100 major league games with a career 2.72 ERA with 95 Ks in 106 IP.  He was a 31 year old rookie for the Rockies in 2003, but enjoyed most of his major league success starting with the Indians in 2004.  His professional career began with Greenville of the short-lived Big South League in 1996.

Chris Coste was the Phillies’ primary back-up catcher for four seasons starting with his age 33 season in 2006.  He began his pro career in the North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1995 and then spent four seasons with his home town Fargo-Moorehead Red Hawks of the Northern League before being signed by the Indians’ organization.  The North Central and Prairie Leagues may not have lasted long, but in Coste and Kerry Ligtenberg, these leagues gave first shots to two young Minnesota ballplayers who eventually made the big time and proved they belonged there.

Other players who had more than brief major league cups of coffee who began their pro careers in the independent A leagues are Chris Colabello, Brian Tollberg, James Hoyt, Chris Jakubauskas, Scott Richmond, Brian Sweeney, Chris Martin, Trevor Richards and Bobby Hill.  Hoyt, Martin and Richards are all still active and have at least a reasonable shot at adding to their career major league numbers.

Bobby Hill was drafted in the second round in consecutive seasons and presumably started his career in the Atlantic League in 2000 because he refused to sign after the White Sox drafted him the year before.  Scott Richmond started his professional career in the Northern League in 2005 at the age of 25, which makes him the oldest rookie professional baseball player I found to eventually make the majors after starting in the Indy-A leagues (MLB organizations never or almost never sign any amateur over the age of 23).

Two More 1st Round Draft Picks Fail to Sign

July 7, 2018

Two more First Round Draft picks failed to get signed and will instead by pitching in college next year.  The Atlanta Braves failed to sign 8th overall pick Carter Stewart, and the Arizona Diamondbacks failed to sign 25th overall pick Matt McLain.  Add to those two, the Pittsburgh Pirates failed to sign 36th overall pick Gunnar Hogland.  For what it’s worth, all three unsigned 1st rounders and Hogland are high school right handed pitchers.

The 8th overall pick came with a $4.9807M slot value, but medical tests after Stewart was selected raised issues for the Brave, and according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis, the Braves’ final offer came “a lot closer” to the 40% of the slot amount ($1.992M+) the Braves had to offer to get the 9th overall pick in 2019 than the full slot amount.

Assuming that the Braves offered something around $2.5M, Stewart should have signed, but I can at least understand why he elected to attend Mississippi State with J.T. Ginn, the Dodgers’ unsigned first round selection.  It has to be disappointing to be selected this high and not receive an offer close to the slot amount when you have the leverage of being able to elect college.

On the other hand, the D’backs are reported to have offered McLain the full $2.6364M slot amount even though none of Baseball America, MLB.com, ESPN, or fangraphs had him ranked in the top 50 of this year’s prospects.  McLain should have took the money.

Hoglund is another prospect who didn’t make any of the major raters’ top 50 (fangraphs had him at 55th), but didn’t sign.  However, mlbtraderumors.com doesn’t report any rumors as to what the Pirates offered him.

The four unsigned prospects is probably a single season Draft record.  Factors that may be contributing to the failed signings is that a four scholarship at a major university is now worth $200,000+.  College players at major programs get to be campus heroes and probably receive all kinds of perqs like personal tutors.  College athletes also make all kinds of connections that can help them in business after their playing careers are over.

Another factor is that MLB teams have shown that top pitching prospects can blow out their elbow tendons and still be first round draft picks.  Brady Aiken and Jeff Hoffman are two recent prospects who were drafted in the 1st round after having Tommy John surgery.  (It’s worth noting, though, that neither Aiken or Hoffman has done much yet to justify their high draft positions.)  That makes it a lot less risky for high school pitchers to elect to go to college rather than accept a $2M+ signing bonus to start their professional careers.