New draft rules could impact prep prospects

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
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Zach LeeScott Kurtz/ESPNHSZach Lee was a two-sport star at McKinney (Texas), but he ended up signing with the Dodgers out of high school. The new CBA could lead more players in his situation to choose college over the pros.

The Major League Baseball Players Association, the owners and the league recently announced a new collective bargaining agreement, good through the 2016 season. There are varying flavors of opinion on the positives and negatives that may occur over the life of the deal, but the consensus is that the new rules concerning the First-Year Player Draft will have a certain impact on prep athletes.

These restrictions are likely to negatively impact the number of high school players that ultimately choose pro baseball, or baseball altogether.

Limited bonus money

Clubs are now limited on the total bonus money they spend in each draft, with a value being assigned to each particular draft pick through round 10. Bonuses starting in round 11 can’t be higher than $100,000 without that, too, counting against the total allotted pool.

Clubs can spend more than the value assigned to any pick, but can’t exceed their total aggregate cap without steep penalties, starting with a 75 percent tax on any overages and reaching as far as the surrendering of multiple draft choices the following year.

High school draftees will not be able to hold out for as much bonus money as in past years, especially those who may fall further in the draft than their talent warrants due to signability. Those players are likely headed for college, rather than starting their professional careers.

One scouting director of a club that drafts in the top 10 in the 2012 Draft said he agrees that the new rules aren't likely push a significant percentage of the top prospects toward college or other sports, but added that "it'll still take a lot of money to get them signed, leaving a lot less opportunity to sign later picks, even starting with sandwich or second-round choices."

Whether or not clubs will focus more on selecting college players -- who inherently possess far less leverage than a high schooler -- is uncertain, but that could be something that takes place for teams that draft a high-bonus prep prospect and need to go above and beyond to get him signed.

"I could see circumstances like that," the scouting director said. "Every team is different and we still have to go out, pound the trail and do our jobs as best we can. It doesn't change our objective, but the whole dynamic is probably changed now."

No more two-sport bonuses

Prior to the new CBA, clubs could spread out the bonus money paid to draftees who have scholarships from Division I schools in another sport, usually football in the case of many of the recent qualifying selections in recent drafts, including Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Zach Lee, who signed with LSU for football in 2010 but ultimately chose the Dodgers.

One prominent 2012 draft prospect told ESPNHS.com contributor Christopher Crawford last week, "I guess I'm playing football," as if to suggest that this presents a problem for some two-sport stars. When given a choice of millions of dollars versus another two to four years of school, the prep athlete is still going to sign a pro deal and take money in a large number of cases.

The game of baseball, however, is most certainly going to lose more athletes to football, and the pro game is destined to wait longer while other prospects play two or three years of college ball first.

Repercussions

Lee, among the Dodgers' top prospects, isn't the only one that likely would have headed to college to play football. Other possible defectors may have included right-hander Archie Bradley from Broken Arrow (Okla.) and Gardner Edgerton (Gardner, Kan.) outfielder Bubba Starling, both top 10 picks last June who turned down football scholarships to Oklahoma and Nebraska, respectively.

It took a large sum of money to convince each of them to sign, however, and while it's possible they would have signed for less than they did, there is a good chance the clubs that selected them wouldn't have wanted to spend more than half their bonus pool on one player. That would have been the case had the new rules been in effect this past June.

Multi-sports athletes have been passing on football, and even basketball, for baseball for years. Joe Mauer, the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, could have played quarterback at Florida State, but the Minnesota Twins selected him and signed to a deal worth more than $5 million.

But while the new CBA is making decisions easier for the athletes, their families and advisers, it doesn't help them choose baseball.

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB Draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

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