Monday, August 17, 2009

Draft Pick Signings and More

Lots going on over the weekend in the minors, including two updates by Bobby Heck on draft pick signings and the Astros adding another undrafted free agent, A.J. Alaniz. Here is a link to Brian McTaggart's blog post about the Alaniz signing. Heck was much more positive there than in this blog post by Zachary Levine. They ultimately didn't get anything done but judging by the performance thus far, had a pretty solid draft. It was the kind of restocking-type draft this farm system needs, as they added durable, dependable and most importantly young players at many different positions.

Still, I'm a little troubled by this article by Baseball America talking about the amount of money all the teams spent on draft picks through Round 10. The Astros clocked in at $3,426,500, which was the sixth-lowest figure in MLB this season. Sure, there were only nine teams that signed as many draft picks as the Astros did, and 14 of the 30 teams spent $4,250,000 or less, so it's not like the Astros were big cheapskates. I just wonder if the Astros went for signability picks instead of the best talent. Since Shelby Miller was picked by the Cardinals right before the Astros had a shot at him, we'll never know whether he would have been the pick over Mier.

Now, I'm also not arguing with the top pick. I like Mier a lot. His glove has been solid and his bat has been a surprise. He's missed some time with injuries to this point, but he is already off to a better start than Jay Austin got off to last season and than third-rounder Telvin Nash is off to this season. Would toolsy outfielder Jared Mitchell have been a better pick, though? Would he have provided an instant impact to the system like Jason Castro has done? I don't have answers. All I can see is that examples like the Colorado Rockies, who portray themselves as a smaller market team. Thus, they rely on prospects to restock their system. This draft, they chose RHP Tyler Matzek despite his very real commitment to Oregon State. It went down to the wire, but Matzek signed and the Rockies got a top-5 talent at the 11th pick in the first round.

This may not even be Bobby Heck's fault. In fact, I'm sure it's not, because he drafted and signed guys last season who commanded big bonuses and got them. So, if it's not Heck, is it Drayton? Did we get one draft class where he spent money to allay the fears that the 2007 draft class brought up, with the top two picks not signing? The consensus is that owners will lobby hard for a slotting system in the next round of collective bargaining, so next year's draft may be entirely different financially. Does Drayton know more than he's letting on and held back the purse strings a little this season, knowing that next year will be different? Publicly, we heard nothing from Heck or Ed Wade which implied they didn't have the money to get deals done.

My gut reaction is this: the Astros are telling us they have changed. They value scouting now. They value their draft picks. That's why lists like the one I linked to above bother me. We're hearing one thing and seeing another. I can come up with plausible explanations, like the payroll being up over 100 million and the Astros needed to trim costs by getting a bunch of slot signings this year in the draft, while next year there will be some more payroll flexibility. It's great the Astros signed 36 of 51 draft picks and I hope they were just thrifty shoppers. I'm just not convinced.

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