It’s easy to say what you would do in a hypothetical situation.
What you say then might not be what you do when the situation turns real.
Every year on day two of the MLB draft, there are high school players who hold tight to high bonus demands. A lot of those players slip to day three of the draft, where they either get taken by a hopeful team, or they opt to go to college and improve their draft position.
Some of those players end up skipping college and going to pro ball, confirming why they fell so far.
Others will see their circumstances change, and might change their opinion on signing in the process.
Today, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted three prep players on the third and final day of the draft, along with a JuCo player with a commitment to Arkansas for his junior year. All of those players can be assumed to be tough signs.
You would think that the Pirates don’t have money for these guys, based on their first two days. They selected Louisville catcher Henry Davis with their first overall pick, getting assumed savings in the process. That savings, along with the rest that the Pirates created in the top ten rounds, will mostly go to the prep players they drafted with their next three picks.
There might be some money remaining after they sign the top ten round picks. My estimate would be no more than half a million remaining.
In the 14th round this year, the Pirates drafted outfielder Braylon Bishop out of Arkansas High School. Bishop has a seemingly strong commitment to Arkansas since the age of 15. After the Pirates drafted him, he tweeted out a message to the Arkansas Twitter account saying “See you soon”, but later deleted it and posted this:
Thank you pirates for making the only dream I had as a kid come true pic.twitter.com/Y1IwTQ7Omn
— Braylon Bishop (@BraylonBish) July 13, 2021
Bishop’s first tweet, preserved in the replies of the above tweet, came half an hour after he was picked by the Pirates. The above tweet came ten minutes after the deleted tweet.
Who knows what happened in the mean time?
Perhaps Bishop read comments about how the Pirates couldn’t possibly sign him, before hearing from the Pirates themselves.
Maybe he has no intention of signing with any team, but had a change in heart on what an honor it was to hear his name called, regardless of intentions.
Or, maybe his advisor reminded him that nothing is guaranteed.
We’ll find out eventually, as teams have until August 1st to sign all of their picks.
While we talk about how the top ten round picks are almost certain to sign, that’s not always the case. The Pirates have two prime examples in their recent history.
In 2016, second round pick Nick Lodolo didn’t sign. The move paid off for him, as he was taken three years later by the Reds with the seventh overall pick. Lodolo had a strong commitment to Baylor, and there were some rumblings about potential injury issues, which cropped up in college.
The potential injury issues is also the culprit for Gunnar Hoglund, who went to Ole Miss after an issue with his physical as the #36 overall pick in 2018. He improved his stock in college and went 19th overall this year.
The moves paid off for Lodolo and Hoglund in the end. Lodolo received $5.4 million, which was almost $4 million more than his slot price with the Pirates. The slot price for Hoglund in 2018 was shy of $2 million, and the slot price for his pick this year is over $3.3 million.
Their decisions to go to college ultimately paid off for other players the Pirates drafted in those years.
When the Pirates knew they wouldn’t be signing Lodolo, they took the remaining money in their draft pool and offered it to 11th round pick Max Kranick and 33rd round pick Austin Shields. Kranick received most of the remaining money, getting $300,000 to sign. Shields received the remainder, getting $80,000 over slot.
After Kranick signed, I talked with an opposing scout whose team saw Kranick as a 2nd or 3rd round talent, but balked because of high bonus demands. Those demands were strong enough on day two to push Kranick to day three, where the Pirates scooped him up with their first pick.
It’s impossible to say whether Kranick was a backup plan to Lodolo, or if they could have had both players. I don’t think they could have had both, since Lodolo would have likely cost all of the money they had remaining.
In 2018, the same scenario played out again. When Hoglund didn’t sign, the Pirates turned late toward their 11th round pick and offered him the remainder of the money. This time around, the pick was Michael Burrows, who received a $500,000 bonus. The Pirates also gave about $42,000 over slot to 14th round shortstop Zack Kone to wrap up the draft and spend their last dollars.
Obviously you’d like to see Lodolo and Hoglund in this system, but from what we’ve seen, having Kranick and Burrows isn’t a bad consolation. (I’m sorry, I wrote this before he pitched tonight, and probably jinxed him.) The Pirates also got compensation picks for both players, taking Steven Jennings (Lodolo) and Sammy Siani (Hoglund) in the following years.
What does this mean for this year?
The Pirates are optimistic they can sign “most, if not all” of their picks, per Alex Stumpf.
I asked assistant GM Steve Sanders if the shortened, crazier window to sign players will create challenges.
“We're optimistic that we can make a lot, if not all, of these guys Pirates."
— Alex Stumpf (@AlexJStumpf) July 13, 2021
That doesn’t tell us anything for the prep players on day three, especially Bishop. You could guess that if they’re not signing all, then Bishop would be the top candidate not in the lot.
But, you never know what can happen.
Hopefully everyone in the top ten rounds passes their physical, but that’s not a guarantee.
Perhaps the Pirates will have some money left over to offer Bishop, or one of the other prep players taken today.
It’s probably going to be lower than their day two demands.
Those day two demands are the hypothetical, based on the idea of one of 30 teams drafting them on day two.
This would be the real. Where one team actually drafted the player, and at the end of the month, it might come down to a decision:
“Here’s $X. Take it and play pro ball, or go to college and improve your stock.”
At this point, Braylon Bishop, 16th round shortstop Daniel Corona, 18th round shortstop A.J. Graham, and 20th round JuCo shortstop Brenden Dixon only have one team they can negotiate with. (Graham is an interesting case, as we couldn’t find any commitment information on him, or much information at all. It makes you wonder if he might just take the $125,000 that every Round 11-20 player can be paid before it counts against the bonus pool.)
None of these players are in the primary plan for the Pirates’ 2021 draft — the primary plan being the guys taken in the top ten rounds who have them getting either A or A+ ratings everywhere.
The prep guys taken today are all secondary picks, taken as a contingency for the top ten round guys, or taken just to see if they’d want to play ball with whatever the Pirates have remaining to offer them.
The players taken on day three would be an added bonus for this draft. The Pirates got the best college hitter and their top catching prospect in the first round. They followed up with three prep players who were first-round talents this year, and could each individually see jumps over the next few years similar to what Lodolo and Hoglund saw going to college.
The key difference is that those jumps will take place in the Pirates’ system.
As long as they all get signed.
And, if one of them doesn’t, then the Pirates have some interesting contingency plans from day three.