The 2011 draft is fast bearing down on us, with just hours left to go, and in many ways, this could be the last of it's kind.
That's because with the MLB's collective-bargaining agreement nearly up, a strict slot system could be in the works.
As things stand, the league does not dictate signing bonuses, but instead merely suggests them. The result is a system which allows big-market clubs to throw around their financial weight, making up for a lack of premium early picks the likes of which net an Evan Longoria or Joe Mauer by signing strong prospects for big money that other clubs are unable or unwilling to shell out.
In a normal year, this can result in some good drafts. But when it could be one of the team's last years to splurge (though agents would tell you otherwise), well, things have a tendency to get a little out of control. And for evidence, you need look no further that last year, when the Red Sox opened their wallets, and went to town on the system. Let's take a look at their top picks, and the dollar values that came with them.
1: Kolbrin Vitek, $1,359,000
The draft started out, interestingly, with something less than a bang. With their first round pick, the Sox elected to not go overboard, sticking to a slot player like Vitek who just screamed "solid".
So far, he's been just that, putting up decent numbers between Lowell and Greenville in 2010. He came out on fire in 2011, but so far has been showing some streakiness, leading to a mediocre May that has his star shining slightly less brightly. Still, he's ranked no. 14 on Sox Prospects, came in at no. 9 in our preseason poll, and is just one hot streak from being back on top of the world.
2: Bryce Brentz, $889,200
The Sox again stayed reasonably conservative, selecting outfielder Bryce Brentz with their first pick in the supplementary round. While Brentz initially showed a penchant for hacking, swinging at terrible pitches with fair regularity and dragging his numbers down into the cellar, 2011 has seen quite the turnaround. While Bryce still isn't walking too much, he's cut his strikeout rate fairly significantly, turning those whiffs into homers. Despite having missed the last two weeks with a wrist injury, Brentz is still tied for the system lead with 13 long balls, clubbing two in his first two games for the Salem Red Sox.
3: Anthony Ranaudo, $2,550,000
And here's where the wallet starts coming into play.
Once hailed as a possible top-5 pick, an elbow injury lead to poor results in 2010 and a rapidly dropping stock. The story was simple enough: if Ranaudo was his old self, he was worth the world and more. But with questionable health and high demands (not to mention Scott Boras for an agent), the Red Sox were the first team willing to take the risk.
It took them till the last minute (probably in part due to wanting to avoid the ire of a league insistent that its slotting system worked), but after a dominant stint in the Cape Cod League, the Sox paid up.
The good news: he seems to have come as billed. His 3.33 ERA was backed up by big peripherals, themselves suffering because he had a curveball that was reported to be too good for the low minors and the imprecise umpires found there. If he's not on the very top of the prospects list yet, he could be soon.
4: Brandon Workman, $800,000
The Sox picked up first-round talent no. 4 with their first second round pick, nabbing a surprising faller in Brandon Workman. And if the words "plus cutter" aren't enough to dream on these days, then I don't know what two words are.
So far the results aren't quite at Ranaudo's level (though a 4.01 ERA isn't something to scoff at), despite the peripherals being just as solid. It's not clear whether Workman will ever be more than a solid 3-to-5 innings eater sort of guy, but it's also not at all clear that he has to.
5: Sean Coyle, $1,300,000
Make that five first-round talents in five picks. While Coyle drew comparisons to Dustin Pedroia pre-draft, since he's gotten a chance to play for the team, he's looked a bit different. Pedroia never struck out quite as much as Coyle (well, perhaps not until this year), but he also wasn't on pace to hit 17 triples and 17 homers. Coyle might be a different monster altogether, or he might not be, but he's got every sign of being a monster all the same.
6: Garin Cecchini, $1,310,000
The last of the Sox' arguably first-round talents, Cecchini is also the only one who hasn't played for the team with one of the minor league teams just yet as he works his way back from the ACL injury that made teams shy away from such a major bonus. But when he does come back from XST, it should be exciting times. It's not often that you get guys playing shortstop (though he might be bound for a very strong third base) with the possibiltiy for a bat quite so big. Consider him, if you want, to be the batting version of Ranaudo, if with fewer reassurances.
So that's six first rounders the Sox picked up in the first four rounds of 2010. The difference this year: they've got one more first-round pick, and the pool is rather deeper in 2011 than it was in 2010. What will they do this time around with their considerable resources--both in picks and in cash? We'll find out tonight.
(Signing bonuses via the ever-amazing SoxProspects.com)