Commentary

The real draft order

Finding talent in MLB draft is about more than pick order or signing bonus

Updated: June 3, 2010, 12:54 PM ET
By Tom Haberstroh | Special to ESPN Insider

The Major League Baseball draft sets itself apart from the drafts of other major sports in a number of ways. For one, while the NBA draft wraps up after 60 selections, the MLB draft would have more than 1,400 picks to go after that point. But aside from its massive size, the baseball draft is also unique with regard to its drafting strategy: Players in the MLB draft are not selected in order of ability.

Talent drives a player's draft stock in most sports, but baseball organizations follow a different criterion when evaluating the pool of prospects. The deciding factor, especially at the top-end of the draft, has evolved from a purely talent-based assessment -- is he good? -- to one that considers the organization's bottom-line -- will he sign? Concerns over the answer to that question had 26 teams passing on Rick Porcello in the 2007 draft, by many accounts the top talent that year.

There's no denying that a player's "signability," one of the newest entries in the baseball lexicon, has affected every draft board across the league. MLB's slotting system, unlike the NBA's and NFL's, is only loosely enforced, and players often hold out for a lot more money than what the league recommends for their draft slot. This has kept the biggest talents from taking the biggest stage at the top of the draft class, but inevitably, the best players will still get their money from a team willing to spend the extra dollar. Big league younger brothers Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew fell outside of the top 10 in the 2004 draft but that didn't matter; they each netted their class's most lucrative signing bonus of $4 million.

"This finding runs counter to the growing school of thought that teams shouldn't let MLB's slot signing bonus recommendations dictate their spending in the draft."

So, what if we tossed aside the effects of signability and reordered the draft by signing bonus instead? Weaver and Drew have been much wiser investments than their class's No. 1 overall pick, Matt Bush, but do they represent the exception or the rule? Let's find out.


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