New draft rules even field; D-backs prepared

SAN DIEGO — The major league draft that starts Monday ushers in a whole new ballgame.

The draft rules have teeth under the new collective bargaining agreement, with the main thrust to ensure that small-market teams are not priced out of the bidding for the top talent. It has been an issue in the past, when agents/advisers have steered teams away from top players by issuing unreasonably high contract demands.

Each team has a bonus pool, depending on its placement in the draft and its number of picks in the top 10 rounds. Overspending can result in a) a fine, b) the loss of a first-round pick or c) the loss of first- and second-round draft picks. With such penalties, the teams with the most bonus-pool money should get the best players.

“It’s a tradeoff,” one baseball official said. “They came up with ways to have a little bit more cost certainty and also to create a little bit more parity for the have-nots.”

The D-backs have $3,818,300 to spend on their first 10 picks, a figure set on a sliding scale based on the $7.2 million value assigned to the No. 1 overall pick. The D-backs spent more than $3 million on each of their first-round picks last year, Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley, when they were the first team in history to have two picks that high.

The D-backs this year have the 26th pick in the first round, their only pick Monday.

Texas A&M right fielder Tyler Naquin and Lafayette (La.) Acadiana High catcher Stryker Trahan have been named by industry bible Baseball America as possibilities for the D-backs there. Naquin is rated the best hitter and the outfielder with the best arm in the draft by Baseball America. Some scouts feel Trahan, also a high school quarterback, will eventually fit as a corner outfielder, the magazine said.

D-backs scouting director Ray Montgomery — who’s in his second year in charge of the draft — was not about to tip his hand, but like most clubs, the D-backs look first at the middle of the field: catchers, center fielders, shortstops.

“We are trying to provide the best impact anywhere we can get it. There are times when you have to assume a little more risk to be paid off at a higher rate. If that means a position player that might be a high school guy or a little further away (from the majors) but the payoff down the line is a greater overall net, that’s what sometimes you have to look at,” Montgomery said.

“We’re fortunate to have some pitching depth, but that doesn’t mean we are going to walk from what we think is clearly the best arm on the board by any stretch. I don’t think you can ever have enough (arms).”

D-backs special assistant Bob Gebhard likes to remind scouts that about 43 percent of each team is made up of pitchers.  

“And he’s right,” Montgomery said. “You need 10 just to get one or two good ones. There are so many factors and so many stresses in what they are doing. God bless them when they perform.”

Among the other changes to the draft rules, teams cannot offer major league contracts to drafted players. Bauer was one of the three draftees who got one last year.

In the grand scheme of things, the new rules will limit salaries because of the finite dollars available in the bonus pools. A few more high school players might consider the default option of going to college, but from conversations with a number of advisers, Montgomery said he believes the players have a good grasp on the new order.

“It is right out there in black and white, and they have been out front with the clients and their families. So far, so good in that regard,” Montgomery said.