15 June 2011
Over the last ten years, more and more players drafted early in the Major League Baseball June Draft have been commanding Major League contracts. The Diamondbacks selected two players in the first seven picks this year, UCLA RHP Trevor Bauer (3rd) and Oklahoma high school RHP Archie Bradley (7th) - is it likely that these two will demand Major League contracts? And what is the significance of signing such a deal? Read more below.
What is the significance of signing a Major League contract instead of a Minor League deal? Most importantly, a player on a Major League contract is placed on the team's 40-Man roster. This makes his path to the Majors quicker for a couple of reasons:
- To be on the MLB 25-Man roster, you must first be on the 40-Man roster. Sometimes, a roster crunch on the 40-Man will prevent a minor leaguer from being called up, because it will require releasing another player from the organization. If a player is already on the 40-Man roster, that will not be an issue.
- Once a player is on the 40-Man roster, he begins using his minor league options the first time he is sent to the minors. Players generally have three option years, although there are circumstances that can lead to a fourth option year*. But in either case, the player's road to the Majors is accelerated.
- A 40-Man roster spot guarantees an invitation to Major League Spring Training, as well as other aspects of being a Major Leaguer, including things like salary, insurance, and Major League drug testing.
Matt Eddy of Baseball America wrote an excellent article yesterday discussing the players who have signed Major League deals coming out of the draft. Over the last 10 years, there have been 31 drafted players signed to Major League deals. Of these 31 players, 19 have been pitchers, and 16 of these 19 have been college pitchers. This makes sense, since college pitchers are generally considered to be closest to the big leagues.
Looking at these college pitchers, we see high profile players such as Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Justin Verlander, Mark Prior, Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow and Brian Matusz. This group all reached the Majors very quickly and used only one or two of their option years before finding Major League success. Some of the others who signed Major League contracts out of the draft were not as successful so quickly - Dewon Brazelton, Craig Hansen, Andrew Miller, Jeff Niemann, Luke Hochevar, Jeremy Guthrie, Andrew Brackman, Phil Humber, Mike Pelfrey. Although many of these players did reach eventually, they needed all three or even four option years before reaching the Majors. Some, like Brazelton, Hansen, and Miller, still have not yet made it.
The 2011 draft saw several college players picked very early - Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer, Anthony Rendon. My guess is that all four of these players will expect to sign Major League deals. Hultzen and Bauer were considered the most "Major League-ready" coming into the draft, so there is not a great risk for their clubs. Cole has the best stuff, but supposedly needs more time to harness it, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he uses most of his option years. Rendon is recovering from a shoulder injury, but if he's healthy, he should be able to contribute at the Major League level pretty quickly. In the Diamondbacks' case, they have openings on the 40-Man roster already, so adding Bauer should not be a problem. Some analysts think Bauer may compete for a starting position next season. I think that may be a little too optimistic, but think he could be a mid-season call-up in 2012 if all goes well.
As for high schooler Archie Bradley, I think it would be in his best interests not to sign a Major League contract. Only three high school pitchers have signed a Major League deal in the last ten years - Adam Loewen (2002), Rick Porcello (2007), and Jacob Turner (2009). For Bradley, it would be too risky to start his option years so soon, and would probably rush him through the minors faster than necessary. Bradley may have the best stuff of any high school pitcher, but it would be no surprise if he needs four or five years in the minors before settling in to the Major Leagues.
* Fourth Option Year - A player may be eligible for a fourth option year if he has been optioned in three seasons but does not yet have five full seasons of professional experience. A full season is defined as being on an active pro roster for at least 90 days in a season. (If a player is put on the disabled list after earning 60 or more days of service in a single season, his time on the DL is counted.) The 90-day requirement means short-season leagues (New-York Penn, Northwest, Pioneer, Appalachian, Gulf Coast, Arizona Rookie, Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues) do not count as full seasons for the purposes of determining eligibility for a fourth option. (From Cot's Baseball Contracts - http://mlbcontracts.blogspot.com/2003/01/transactions-glossary.html)