Orioles fans can be forgiven if they find themselves looking at the 2012 Rule IV draft and thinking they have done this all before. Not only will the Orioles be making the fourth overall selection yet again, but the 2012 draft class is remarkably similar to the class of 2011. Playing the part of Gerrit Cole, the college starter with the #1 overall stuff but without #1 overall results, is Stanford's Mark Appel. Playing the part of Bubba Starling, the five tool prep center fielder who hasn't faced elite competition, is Georgia prep Byron Buxton. There is a spate of collegiate starters similar in their mix of talent and polish to Trevor Bauer and Danny Hultzen who could see themselves go off the board in the top five - LSUs Kevin Gausman, San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer, and Texas A&M's Michael Wacha. There is a college bat at a premium position similar to Anthony Rendon, Florida catcher Mike Zunino. And there is a prep righthander who could be the best pitcher in the class, similar to O's prospect Dylan Bundy - Harvard Westlake's Lucas Giolito.
The 2012 draft, however, is even less certain than the 2011 draft was, where there was considerable doubt and uncertainty all the way through draft day. Injuries will once again play a role, with Rendon's shoulder issue mirrored by Giolito's elbow and Victor Roache's wrist. Performance will be a major factor, as Appel and Zimmer have at times struggled and fostered doubts about their ability to harness elite stuff for elite results. There is a lot of difficulty in predicting what the Orioles, with a new GM and a new scouting director, will do. And above everything looms the new CBA, which places strict limits on bonus spending throughout the draft, the impact of which can only be suspected.
What we do know about the 2012 draft under the new CBA for the Orioles is that they have a bonus pool of $6,826,900 to spend on their picks in the first ten rounds of the draft, with $4.2 million allotted for them to sign the fourth overall pick - significantly less than they spent on Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy. If the Orioles spend 0-5% more than $4.2 million to sign the fourth overall pick, they will be taxed an additional 75% of the amount above $4.2 million by Major League Baseball. If they spend more than that, they will face escalating penalties beginning with the loss of their next first round pick. It is very hard to imagine the Orioles signing anyone if it means they lose their first round pick in 2013, particularly with their fourth overall pick protected if their selection goes unsigned.
This adds an extra layer of intrigue to the draft. In terms of pure upside, Giolito and Buxton are the best pitcher and position player Oriole fans could hope to select. But is $4,410,000 enough to keep either of them from going to college and hoping they can get a couple million more in three years, supposing that either is still on the board with the fourth pick? The Orioles may have to pass on such elite prep talent even if they have the opportunity to draft them - or may be emboldened to take the chance and collect the fifth overall pick in 2013 should they fail to sign this year's pick.
There is, however, another layer of intrigue the new CBA inserts into the quest for the fourth overall pick - while if the Orioles fail to sign the fourth overall pick, they will lose all of the $4.2 million allotted for that pick from their bonus pool, if they sign a player for less than $4.2 million, they are able to spend the difference on any draft choice of their choosing. If the Orioles give a bonus to the fourth overall pick of $3.2 million, they would have an additional $1 million to spend elsewhere in the draft. This gives the Orioles, as well as the other teams in the top of the draft, an incentive to select with the fourth overall pick a slightly lesser talent who is willing to sign for significantly less than $4.2 million, allowing the Orioles to go overslot later in the draft - something few other teams will be able to do. This means that the Orioles should, and probably will, also consider selecting a prep prospect who projects as more of a mid-round talent, such as Stryker Trahan, Max Fried, Carlos Correa and David Dahl.
With so many variables, this season it will be harder than ever to predict who will end up being the fourth pick, or even who will be off the board when the Orioles make their pick. But over the coming weeks, stay tuned as we will get to know some of the very long list of names the Orioles will be considering on draft day!