Every June, I am reminded that the bonus pool concept really is the oddity of the baseball draft. It’s the limiting factor, it’s the broader puzzle that all other pieces have to fit. A team’s strategy can only exist within the confines of 105% of their bonus pool (unless they want to lose future draft picks, which, well, they don’t).
The Mets, for instance, revealed their strategy early yesterday. When they popped Matthew Allan in the third round, considered by many the top high school arm, they showed a decision to spend the vast majority of their bonus pool on three players. For the seven rounds after, they took college players (mostly seniors) with little leverage that will sign for under slot, opening money for 13th overall pick Brett Baty, second round pick Josh Wolf and Allan. Extremely top-heavy.
The Cubs were more interested in spreading the wealth, partially because they were more limited due to the fifth-lowest bonus pool in the Majors. This was likely a guiding decision behind selecting Ryan Jensen in the first round: a pitcher they liked more than consensus, who would also come in under the 26th pick’s $2.57 million slot value. It would allow the Cubs to come in over slot elsewhere, and while they made us wait on Day 2, they did eventually pop some high school upside in the middle rounds.
There are two players from yesterday whose negotiations now become paramount: sixth-round pick Ethan Hearn and eighth rounder D.J. Herz. Both are high school players; Hearn a catcher committed to Mississippi State, Herz a southpaw committed to North Carolina. Both will come in significantly over slot, and 1) getting them signed and 2) developing them into good players will be a large factor in determining the success (or not) of this draft.
It’s hard not to love the video available on Hearn. He’s a very strong kid with good bat speed and the finish of a power hitter. There’s some length in the swing, so strikeouts and southpaws will be an issue, but that’s what the development ladder is for. If signed, Hearn will spend the summer at the Cubs facility in Mesa playing in the AZL. In all likelihood, he would spend Extended Spring Training in Mesa next year, too, playing for Eugene in 2020 and South Bend in 2021. It’s the long haul with the high school kids.
Herz was the selection for Cubs area scout Billy Swoope, a particularly trusted voice in the draft room. Athletic lefty with a loose arm that’s been up to 95, Herz is a project the Cubs will shell out big bucks for. You can bet those conversations have mostly already taken place, though, as the Cubs had Herz work out in Wrigley and presumably know his price.
After Herz, the Cubs also took Homewood-Flossmoor pitcher Tyler Schlaffer and Junior College catcher Wyatt Hendrie, both of whom might come in slightly over slot.
So, where will the Cubs find that money? Besides Jensen and their 5% allotted overage, I see two likely places. One was seventh round pick Brad Deppermann, a redshirt senior that will almost surely sign for a small bonus, providing the Cubs six figure savings. Deppermann had a big season for North Florida and should be able to offer rotation depth for either A-ball team next season. He was a high school draftee of the Cubs five years ago, but did not sign.
The other guy I might bet comes in underslot is Chris Clarke, the Cubs fourth-round pick from USC. Clarke is a big right-hander that had big success as a reliever this year, and if you squint, you want to see another Dakota Mekkes, with the long extension making the velocity play up. But I also wonder if the Cubs will work next spring on giving Clarke another shot as a starter, as his control (career 2.84 BB/9) and build look like good fits for that role.
I saw some also call for third-round pick Michael McAvene to be moved to the rotation, but I don’t see it that way. At least not as a lock. McAvene touched 100 mph on Friday when he came into a 5-3 game with runners on second and third and nobody out. He struck out the side. When I watch McAvene I don’t yet see a second strong pitch, his slider flashes above-average, but also flashes below-average. He’s mostly ditched his change-up since Tommy John in 2017, and has averaged just 1.28 IP per appearance since returning.
To me, McAvene is someone you encourage to have a quick ascent up the minor league ladder in a relief role. Work with him to maintain velocity regardless of adrenaline, and get his slider in the Lab to gain consistency and bite. If upper 90s is his new reality, he could be among the first from this draft class to reach the big leagues, potentially as early as next September, but more likely in 2021. I don’t think you sacrifice that to try starting when so many hurdles seemingly stand in front of it.
On the other hand, we have fifth-round pick Josh Burgmann, who has successfully returned to starting after Tommy John surgery. Looking at Burgmann’s numbers, I can see a comparison to a pick from last year:
Paul Richan, jr year at San Diego: 89.2 IP, 4.62 ERA, 9.94 H/9, 10.14 K/9, 1.30 BB/9.
Josh Burgmann, jr year at Washington: 79 IP, 3.99 ERA, 10.03 H/9, 11.51 K/9, 2.51 BB/9.
Similar ignore-the-BABIP methodology behind those picks, think.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 4, 2019
On video, I’m impressed on Burgmann’s ability to spin a curveball. The scouting reports suggest an over-reliance on the pitch, but I question that logic a bit. Not everyone’s pitch usage needs to fit within one box, and the pitch looks good and has had enough success to be his primary offering. Let it eat. At just 79 innings this spring, the Cubs will likely allow Burgmann to pitch a decent amount this summer for Eugene. We’ll have a better idea of his other offerings then.