Now that the signing deadline has come and gone, I thought I would take one final pass at this year's draft. Obviously, evaluating how the Diamondbacks actually did in the draft will necessitate waiting a few years and seeing how some of the picks pan out. We can at this point though, make some informed observations about the early returns.
The first thing is, the Diamondbacks managed to sign all but four of their draftees, with only very late round selections Wilkening (28/826), Vizcaino (31/916), Hoeing (32/946), and Salem (39/1156) failing to sign. That is a very healthy addition to the team's farm system. Additionally, this means the team signed all of its first ten round talents, as well as its highest pick for "difficult prep signing" in Wesley Rodriguez (12/346). On the whole, that has to make this, at the very minimum, a "successful draft".
There is, however; a big difference between merely having a successful draft, and having a good one. Therein lies the question. What sort of draft did the Diamondbacks have in 2015?
In the first ten rounds, the Diamondbacks selected:
1. Dansby Swanson SS R / R
2. Alex Young LHP L / L
3. Taylor Clarke RHP R / R
4. Breckin Williams RH RP R / R
5. Ryan Burr RH RP R / R
6. Tyler Mark RH RP R / R
7. Francis Christy C L / R
8. Simmons SS S / R
9. Pierce Romero RH RP R / R
10. Joey Armstrong CF R / R
A few things stand out in this list. First and foremost is that all of these players came from the college ranks. The Diamondbacks did not select any high-round high school talent this year. Second, is that the team selected four relief pitchers in the first ten rounds - none of which hold positive profiles for converting into starting talent. With the seeming lack of quality pitching depth still left in the Diamondbacks' system, this does seem kind of odd, especially as we are now in an era where dominant pitching is becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Looking at those selections, money might initially assume the Diamondbacks were saving some money in the first ten rounds in order to be aggressive in the post-bonus pool rounds. That was not, however, the case, as every player on the list, save Romero signed for the slot bonus. Romero actually signed for a bit over, giving him the seventh-highest bonus in the pool rounds.
Even with rounds two through ten not bringing any savings, the Diamondbacks had a monster slot bonus for the 1-1 pick, Dansby Swanson. The Casey Close advisee waited until the final minutes before the draft signing deadline to commit to the Diamondbacks (a move that had a few people very nervous come 2 pm MST on the 17th). When he finally did sign, he did so for $6.5 million. This is also the same amount that he was expected, industry wide, to get as the 1-1 pick, a full month before the draft even happened. That meant the Diamondbacks, without taking a "cut-rate" player at 1-1, still saved in excess of $2 million with the selection.
With this sort of bonus money to spend freely elsewhere in the draft, the Diamondbacks were in a prime position to be aggressive and to try and grab some additional top-tier talent. Their first real opportunity came with their third round selection, when Alex Rei, Mike Matuella, and Jacob Nix were all still on the boards. Instead, the Diamondbacks chose the 118th ranked Taylor Clarke (who many would argue could/would have still been on the board in the fourth round). Rei, arguable the best college catcher (and ranked above the slot) eventually signed with Boston for slot value. Matuella and Nix required additional slot money, Matuella signing for an even $2 million. That is $1.2 million more than they offered Clarke. This may have been a bit too aggressive for Arizona's blood, but Nix and Rei were certainly affordable at the slot with plenty of money to spare. Still, it seemed the Diamondbacks were poised to make runs at strong prep talents in the post-pool rounds.
The next opportunity came when the Diamondbacks selected first baseman, Austin Byler out of Nevada with the 11/316 pick. He seemed an odd, but safe choice, who was apparently on the radar in 2014. Next, the Diamondbacks selected Wesley Rodriguez with the 12/346 pick. This seemed like the first bold move, and a good sign of things to come. However, the Diamondbacks played the remainder of the draft very conservatively. Showing no inclination to use the financial resources they had available to them.
With Casey Close keeping the Diamondbacks waiting until the final few minutes, it almost slipped by completely unnoticed that Rodriguez agreed to terms at the last moment, signing for $350,000. Sadly, Rodriguez, who was already drawing some skepticism for being somewhat out of shape, will not be contributing for the Diamondbacks until sometime in late 2016, as the team signed him knowing that he is already on the board to undergo Tommy John surgery in the next few weeks. All-in-all, the Diamondbacks still wound up leaving nearly $1.9 million in negotiating muscle on the table. While they may not have foreseen Rodriguez coming in quite as "low" as he did, clearly, there was still plenty of money to be used for more aggressive approaches elsewhere, especially in the 3rd and 11th rounds, where premium talent was available.
The Take: While this may indeed be a successful draft, it would also seem to have been a somewhat poorly managed one. While the Diamondbacks do not need to be spending money "just because it is there", the reality is, they had a decided advantage in the draft over almost every other team (save Houston who made exceptional use of theirs) and they failed to make use of it. Going back to the offseason, the Diamondbacks spent $16 million of Yoan Lopez, a middle of the rotation arm. That signing now excludes the Diamondbacks from taking advantage of their position of having the most money for international signings from now until July of 2017. That's two places where the Diamondbacks were positioned to have significant leverage compared to the rest of the league when it comes to acquiring fresh, young, difference-making talent that the team has now elected not to use.
The draft presented a unique option for the Diamondbacks to be aggressive and make a splash, adding both talent and excitement for the future, two things that would help to energize bot the team and the fan base. The approach taken, combined with the team's inattentiveness to making use of of the two times the league is handing them a clear advantage over other teams, even the big market ones, leads me wondering what the plan is. The Diamondbacks are a team in need of impact-talented youth. They left such talent on the board in the draft, and are now locked out of acquiring any via international signings. The future performances of Swanson (who some still feel was not the best talent), Young, and Clarke will eventually determine the true success level of this draft. All of them are poised to make their way through the system rapidly. The Diamondbacks are going to need those three to live up to expectations for this draft to grade much higher than average, when they were in a position to hit this one out of the park.