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Some Observations About the Orioles' 2012 Draft Signings

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The signing deadline for the 2012 Rule 4 Draft was last Friday, and the big news for Orioles' fans was the signing of first round pick Kevin Gausman. This is quite justified. As many commenters pointed out during last week's All Star Game, over half of the All Stars last week who were subject to the Rule 4 Draft were selected in the first round. Gausman is an elite talent who will likely be named a top 100 overall prospect by every publication before he throws a professional pitch.

That said, it isn't very surprising that the Orioles obtained an elite talent with the fourth overall pick in the draft, nor is it particularly noteworthy that Gausman, like nearly every other first round selection, signed. The fanfare surrounding the signing has obscured a lot of interesting things about the Orioles' first draft under baseball's new Collective Bargaining Agreement and under the leadership of Dan Duquette and Gary Rasjich.

The Orioles bonus pool for the 2012 draft was $6,826,900. The Orioles' total spending against their pool was $6,564,700. This shortfall is almost entirely covered by the slot allotment for the Orioles' unsigned fifth round pick, which was valued at $262,000. Since this money is subtracted from their bonus pool, the Orioles only had an additional $200 they could spend without being taxed by Major League Baseball. The Orioles could have offered fifth round pick Colin Poche his slot value without paying a tax, or offered him as much as $603,500 without losing a first round pick in 2013; money equivalent to the slot value in the middle of the second round. Alternately, they could have offered up to $441,345 to any of their unsigned picks after the 10th round without losing a 2012 pick. That sum is equal in value to the slot value for a pick in the mid third round.

The Orioles picked fourth overall and had ten selections in the top ten rounds for the second consecutive season. Under the new CBA, the Orioles saw their draft spending fall. In 2011, the Orioles spent $7,282,400 on their top ten selections, nearly exactly the maximum amount they were eligible to spend in 2012 without losing a 2013 pick. They saved nearly half a million dollars under the new CBA in bonuses alone, saving even more by not being allowed to sign players to a major league deal, such as Dylan Bundy received in 2011. The Orioles were among 20 teams who did not spend more than their bonus pool; only ten teams spent enough to be subject to the tax under the new CBA. Among those teams are the Red Sox and Blue Jays. Of the teams picking in the top five, only the Twins and Orioles did not spend more than their bonus pool. The Blue Jays incurred a larger fine for overspending than any other team, going $441,200 above their bonus pool.

Of the thirty highest selected unsigned picks, four were Oriole selections. The only other team who failed to sign as many early picks was the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Twins failed to sign three of the thirty highest selected unsigned picks; Oakland, Houston, and Toronto each failed to sign two. No other teams in baseball failed to sign more than one of the top 450 selections.

The Orioles signed nine players selected in the first ten rounds, which were the rounds that counted against teams' bonus pools. Only one team in baseball signed fewer selections in the top ten rounds, the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels signed eight players in the first ten rounds, but only had eight selections in those rounds. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers also signed only nine players in the top ten rounds, although like the Angels, the Tigers did so because they only had nine selections in the first ten rounds due to free agent signings. The Blue Jays led the American League East with fourteen players signed in the top 10 rounds, followed by the Red Sox with 12, the Yankees with 11, and the Rays with 10.

Ninety eight of Baseball America's top 500 draft prospects were selected in the 2012 draft but did not sign, including twelve of the top 100. Of those 98 unsigned selections, five were made by the Orioles, including one of the twelve from the top 100, Derick Velasquez. Velasquez was one of only three Top 100 players who were drafted and did not sign who was not a high school player, one of nine JuCo players in the top 500 who went unsigned, and the only unsigned JuCo player from the top 100. Velasquez was the second highest player on BA's list selected by the Orioles, after Gausman.

The Mets failed to sign eight players they drafted from among BA's top 500, the Twins failed to sign seven and the Indians and Pirates each failed to sign six such selections. The Reds, Yankees and Red Sox, like the O's, failed to sign five; Philadelphia failed to sign four, as did the Braves, Rangers and Astros (although they still could sign Florida's Preston Tucker, who as a college senior is not subject to the signing deadline); the Nationals, Rockies, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Athletics and Cubs each failed to sign three. The other 14 teams failed to sign two or fewer players who they selected from BA's top 500.

Unsigned fifth round pick Colin Poche was the highest selected player from outside Baseball America's top 500 draft prospects not to sign. Poche was the eighth overall player from outside their top 500 selected. He was one of only nine players to go unsigned in the top ten rounds and top 300 picks (and as previously mentioned, Preston Tucker could still sign, reducing that number to eight), and one of only two unsigned selections from the top 10 rounds who was not on BA's top 500 list. Only fourteen unsigned selections not on BA's list were drafted with one of the first 500 picks. The Orioles also failed to sign catcher Wade Wass who was not on BA's top 500 with one of the first 500 selections in the draft, pick 402 overall. 41 players from BA's top 500 list were selected after the first 500 picks and signed, including two by the Orioles - RHP Nick Grim of Cal Poly, selected with the 522nd overall pick (ranked 389th by BA) and OF Lucas Herbst of Santa Clara, selected with the 792nd overall pick (ranked 403rd by BA).

Between the selection of Poche and the Orioles' sixth round pick, twenty five players from BA's top 500 list were selected and signed by other teams, including three of the top 100.

The Orioles signed one player from BA's top 50, two from the top 100, and nine from the top 500. The Rays signed one from the top 50, one from the top 100, and twelve from the top 500. The Yankees signed one from the top 50, two from the top 100, and twelve from the top 500. The Red Sox signed three from the top 50, four from the top 100, and seven from the top 500. The Blue Jays signed five from the top 50, six from the top 100, and eight from the top 500.

Often, I see Orioles' fans complaining at the low rankings of the club's farm system. How can a system with two of the top ten (and now top five) prospects in all of baseball be a bad system? The numbers above suggest that the O's 2012 draft may serve as another object lesson to those who seem so curious.

A note: I know that Baseball America's top 500 draft prospects list is not the be all and end all of draft prospect rankings. That said, uniquely among the mainstream and publicly available draft prospect rankings, the BA list is made by a large number of writers with their rankings aggregated. Because of that, I think that while individuals and individual teams may vary widely on the rankings of draft prospects, BA's list represents something closer to an industry consensus than other lists and should do a better job of eliminating outlier opinions.