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AngelsWin.com Today: What “If” Arte Went Big on This Year’s Draft

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By @Dave Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

I’ve read the same articles that you have about the Angels cutting scouts prior to the draft, and frankly, have been rather upset by that decision. I think it’s a bit penny wise and dollar foolish.

So, I’d like to present an alternative idea that I would implement if I ran the Angels. If it were my team, I’d see this year’s draft as a major opportunity to boost the team for the long term, and not a financial drain and would invest heavily in this year’s draft.

Throughout this pandemic, I’ve one heard one voice loud and clear. And that was the voice of my dad. His favorite poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling. For those who are not familiar with it. It starts off with “If you can keep your head, when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . . “

Throughout the shutdown and recent wave of violence and protest, too many people and leaders have been losing their heads. This is not the time to do so. Wisdom says that when others are in a panic, take a breath and look for clarity as to what to do.

For the Angels, we should be keeping our eyes on the goal—winning several World Series, especially while we have Mike Trout in his prime. To do that, we need to provide a steady flow of talent to the Major League club from the farm, either directly, or through trades using prospects within our system.

This year, in order to save money, baseball, has cut the draft to just 5 rounds. In a panic, many owners decided to “save” money by not spending it. However, they have allowed teams to sign an unlimited number of players to a maximum of $20,000 each. These signing bonuses do not count against the amount a team can spend on its official picks during the draft, so, they are like undrafted free agents. A team can sign as many of these players as they wish.

While on the surface a $20k signing bonus doesn’t sound like a lot of money to woo a player away from college, either as a high school senior or a college junior who can return as a senior, I disagree. I have taught many high school baseball players who eventually were drafted and signed. While all of them had signed letters of intent, most never intended to honor those commitments. And this year, I think many more will not honor their commitments if a team made a legitimate offer as I will outline below. The simple reason for it is that many colleges are not likely to have a fall baseball program, and may not even have a spring baseball program. California public colleges have shutdown their fall sports programs, especially for baseball. The coronavirus has many colleges in flux regarding sports, and it is not at all certain how that will affect player development.

Athletes have limited shelf lives. Human biology limits the timeline for peak performance. There is no way to regain a lost season or two. Since baseball relies so much on skill development, losing one or two seasons of development could be career ending. And, unlike most other sports, baseball requires team play in order to get the most skill development. Younger athletes, who did not lose out on critical skill development in high school and college will surpass present players who did miss these critical years.

So, what if Arte went big on this year’s draft. I’m not just talking about our allotted draft picks. What if after drafting our top picks, Arte went on to sign 50-100 players for a maximum signing bonus? What if Arte retained the scouts to identify those players who would be likely to sign for the maximum bonus and had the connections with those players to close the deal? That would cost between $1-2 million dollars, or the amount we won’t be spending on the second round because we lost that pick due to signing Anthony Rendon.

What if after signing these players, Arte committed to paying them to workout and play in a state that is open, such as Arizona? With most teams not having Minor League teams play, Arte could easily get a large amount of coaches to provide much more focused instruction for those players. He could easily bring in our other Minor Leaguers to continue to develop them. With that many players signed, those players could not only have focused daily drills, but could easily be divided up into teams to scrimmage against each other for in-game experience. Arte could easily spend about $500k to fill out a very robust coaching staff for these players.

With those kinds of commitments in place, I think that there would be plenty of players who would have to think heavily about signing as an undrafted player with the Angels. Players would have to realize that the real opportunity to grow and develop skills would be much greater than the chance of getting developed next year with the potential for future shutdowns.

Furthermore, most players will realize that drafts for the next few years will be much more competitive as there will be plenty of undrafted and unsigned players swelling the draft class.

That means the road to a higher signing bonus will be much more difficult, and more players are likely to get less. All of a sudden, an offer like what I’m proposing looks much more like a good “bird in the hand” over all the uncertainty in the future.

Finally, any athlete in this year’s pool will have to realize that over the next few years, the drafting philosophy will shift. If MLB returns to a more regular draft in the future (which is not entirely guaranteed, meaning that this year’s draft style could become the “new norm”), most teams will probably overspend on their top five picks on those players who were able to develop and showcase their skills (most likely high school players) and fill out the remaining rounds with underslot bonuses (most likely college seniors who returned for the draft). When looking at that potential, a $20k signing bonus doesn’t look like such a bad deal, especially when coupled with the opportunity to continue to develop this year.

Having taught many athletes over the years, I am willing to bet that there are plenty who would readily take the guaranteed offer to develop as I have outlined. While we might not be able to sign top-tiered talent, we could easily get plenty of Major League potential players. We could easily land players who don’t project to go in the first five rounds or so, but nonetheless still will make the majors. Every team has plenty of players who fit that bill. Some have even blossomed into stars. And, every team needs a steady flow of players like that every season to fill roles, replace an injured player, or who might blossom into something greater to help sustain them.

With the present cost for 1 WAR on the free agent market being somewhere around $8 million, the strategy that I’m outlining does not sound at all financially foolish. Let’s say Arte truly went big on the draft and spent an extra $2 million to sign 100 players and an extra $500k on the scouts to find and sign all of that talent. Let’s say the cost to operate the Tempe Stadium, to hire a robust coaching staff, and to pay all the players would be an addition $1.5 million. That would be a total expenditure of $4 million, or about half the cost of 1 WAR. I would easily bet that spending that money would net the Angels more than 1 extra WAR over the long term.

More important, it would continue our pipeline to develop the players we will need to maintain a championship caliber team. While other players in other organization will lose developmental time, our players would be gaining skills on their peers. The players that we will develop out of such a scenario would be better than their peers from the same time span. They would have more experience and direct coaching. That would give our team a true competitive advantage. And, that’s how teams build championships—taking advantage of the situations that they are given and not losing their heads while all others are.

Again, I’m under no delusion that Arte will do this. I’ve read the same reports that you have. I just want to pose an alternative scenario to show what I would do to take advantage of the current situation. And, I am writing this to ask what “If” Arte went big on this year’s draft because I believe if he did, he would be like the ending of the poem “If”, and would do a lot to elevate this team to a championship level.

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I don't really think this is a feasible strategy. With only 5 rounds and then a ton of uncertainty I think just about everyone signs this year. Now there isn't going to be a lot of room for teams to go way over slot on anyone so a couple of top picks with a ton of leverage may be more likely to consider holding out than in a typical year but everyone else is going to take slot and be happy.

After that no one is signing. $20k is only getting back of the draft talent and everyone else is going to take a shot at next year. There might be a few talented college seniors who might be interested but this won't be a large group of under valued talent.

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Thanks ALF. I disagree. I think many players who might go in the later rounds might realize that they will get squeezed over the next few years, and if we committed to not just drafting, but then developing them, might take that opportunity. Most teams won't do much to develop their players until the fall at best. That's going to leave a lot of players falling behind. It's not just about signing the players, it's the commitment to finding a state that is open and developing our players that is what would make the difference. We will need to sign plenty of players to develop those who will make it, but, if we did, that would pay dividends for years to come.

 

I know that we aren't going to do this, and, I find that rather frustrating as a fan. 

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The Angels will compete with the Dodgers and Padres for So Cal kids that went undrafted. There may be some high school seniors that don’t want to wait several years to get drafted. I’d focus on kids coming off injury that might go the juco route.  They aren’t getting college juniors to sign for $20k.   Not if they have an extra year of eligibility. 

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1 hour ago, Stradling said:

The Angels will compete with the Dodgers and Padres for So Cal kids that went undrafted. There may be some high school seniors that don’t want to wait several years to get drafted. I’d focus on kids coming off injury that might go the juco route.  They aren’t getting college juniors to sign for $20k.   Not if they have an extra year of eligibility. 

Yep.   It's the guys on the fringes.

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7 minutes ago, Lou said:

College seniors can go back for another year, also. 

Yes but at the same time they won’t be guaranteed even $20k and with age being such a crucial aspect of the draft, it would be tough to be a 23-24 year old draftee.  

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15 minutes ago, Stradling said:

Yes but at the same time they won’t be guaranteed even $20k and with age being such a crucial aspect of the draft, it would be tough to be a 23-24 year old draftee.  

I'm thinking more of the guys who would have been drafted before the 20th or so, not in the 40th.  Those guys are getting screwed. 

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This is gona be at least a two year blip on the draft. Every player coming out of high school is gona wait, one or maybe even two years before signing. You might even see a lot of guys go unsigned next year as well. College seniors will be lining up to sign just like they always do. College juniors are officially screwed because they now have de facto senior status, but at $20k how many of them are gona leave school early? Juco and early college players are gona take their chances at a break out in the next two years.

So that said I don't see how much has really changed, except 6th rounders and beyond who are younger than a college junior will be waiting till next year. There may be some opportunities among college juniors. 

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Here's the thing. If Arte hadn't cut the scouting budget, and instead went big on it, we would be in a much better position to identify those who would sign and would bring value. And, if he he went big on committing to pay and develop minor leaguers this summer, he would be in a better position to attract and sign those players.

 

I know that we aren't going to do this, and that he did cut the budget, and I think that we will pay a big price for that down the road. There is talent and opportunity here, and I see us missing out on it. 

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1 hour ago, Dave Saltzer said:

Here's the thing. If Arte hadn't cut the scouting budget, and instead went big on it, we would be in a much better position to identify those who would sign and would bring value. And, if he he went big on committing to pay and develop minor leaguers this summer, he would be in a better position to attract and sign those players.

I know that we aren't going to do this, and that he did cut the budget, and I think that we will pay a big price for that down the road. There is talent and opportunity here, and I see us missing out on it. 

What scouting budget has been cut? 

People have been furloughed, people who were already under contract and pretty much done scouting..  But what cuts are you referring to?  I know of 3 new Latin American scout hires prior to this season and a rumored addition to the analytics department.   I guess it comes as no surprise that the Angels have been attached to more International signs than usual as a result.

I get the reason for worry, I have for a while now been concerned that Arte will cheap out when it comes to signing guys, so I'm on board with those criticisms.... But, let's be clear... the only way the Angels were going to identify guys was to have done that work prior to this season and for the handful of games played this year.  Everyone is in the same boat.  Games have not been played, scouts have not been able to work.

The other thing is that unless teams have been secretly playing games in violation of health department restrictions nobody is developing players outside of having them work out. This is a lost season for most teams when it comes to minor league development, particularly hitters.  This reality is also why it would be in the best interests of all the MLB teams to try to add as many 20k guys as possible because lost development time is death to young hitters.   Thing is, as @Lou and others have said, the competition is gonna be pretty fierce and unless something happens with minor leaguers, it's doubtful anyone signed this year gets any playing time.  IMO, not having people around to court these guys is the big concern... and that mistake has already been made.

Tell you what the other big concern should be...   The loss of service time.  Let's say MLB pulls their heads out and agrees to play baseball.  Any agreement that includes expanded rosters means starting the clock on minor leaguers that might otherwise not seen any game time prior to September call ups....  If you're a team in a full rebuild this might work to your advantage but is it going to be worth it to teams like the Angels to lose a year of control in order to try to get players development time?   This is gonna get really neat maybe 

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Hard to say which players were going to develop into prospects in the High School or College ranks but this is what I see happening, since College has offered another year for seniors. It will be a huge logjam of talent not in this draft but the next. Cutting the draft to 5 rounds leaves a lot of players in the mix for the following year. Having more players at the college level repeating does two things, it stunts those guys that were going to move up and messes with all of the High School kids that were going to get scholarships based on their senior year that never materialized.

The draft usually thins out real quick after the second round. Some years after the first but this year it will be more guesswork than ever determining who actually is a projectable talent as opposed to who, at their age group, plays better than their peers but will cap out early. I think the 2021 draft will be more revealing of talent even thought that group will effectively have a lost year. 

 

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Btw, the other variable....  NPB teams are supposedly in the mix for college players who will go undrafted, and unlike MLB teams, they won't be limited to 20k signing bonuses.

Carter Stewart got the ball rolling last year when he took 7 mil to sign with a Japanese team after the Braves tried to lowball him and he went the Juco route...  

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I truly believe we're going to see a stark contrast between one set of teams and another with regards to the post-5th round UDFAs.  Teams like the Red Sox are going to be in that group that spends & signs a ton of guys.  The other group is going to go cheap & not spend much at all -- especially with lesser scouts and those relationships developed with the players/families.  It's going to be extremely obvious who is in and who is out spending wise. 

The tea leaves sure point to the Angels being in one group right now.  I really hope that's an incorrect reading of the organization's mindset right now.  

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1 minute ago, Lou said:

The scouts were furloughed 9 days ago. It's not as if we haven't had any contact with these kids at all. 

Yep.  And when baseball comes back so will the scouts.  

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