The 2019 MLB First-Year Player Draft is set to take place on Monday June 3rd. Through a combination of fortunes, both good and bad, trades, and free agent departures, the Arizona Diamondbacks have amassed seven of the top-75 selections and eight of the first 93 in this years draft. This upcoming draft is, without a doubt, the most significant moment in Mike Hazen’s tenure as General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. When Hazen was brought aboard as GM in October of 2016, he was handed a team with a depleted farm system and a number of question marks on the field. It showed. The Diamondbacks finished their 2016 season 69-93, fourth in the NL West. Since then though, Mike Hazen has repeatedly surprised. His Diamondbacks went to the playoffs in 2017. In 2018, the Diamondbacks spent five months of the season in first place, before fatigue and a lack of depth settled in. They still finished 82-80, giving the team back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2008. This season, despite the decisions to move on from franchise cornerstone, Paul Goldschmidt and all-stars A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin, along with decreasing available payroll, the team is once again in the playoff hunt. By just about any measure not used by the New York Yankees, Mike Hazen’s time in the desert has been a success.
There is, however, one place where Hazen’s tenure has not shined - the first-year player draft. Usually, it takes two or three seasons, if not more, to be able to evaluate just how well any particular season’s draft is going to play out for a team. Unfortunately for Arizona, the early returns on Hazen’s drafts are not good. In 2016, the team was left without a true first round pick, the result of having signed Zack Greinke. The team did have a selection at #39 and selected Anfernee Grier. Grier has not panned out and is unlikely to ever reach the majors. The track record since then is not much better.
Here are the Diamondbacks top-100 picks since 2016:
#39 - Anfernee Grier - OF
#52 - Andy Yerzy - C
#89 - Jon Duplantier - RHP
#7 - Pavin Smith - 1B
#44 - Drew Ellis - 3B/1B
#68 - Daulton Varsho - C
#82 - Matt Tabor - RHP
#25 - Matt McLain - DID NOT SIGN
#39 - Jake McCarthy - OF
#63 - Alek Thomas - OF
#99 - Jackson Goddard - RHP
Two things stand out about those three seasons’ drafts. First, the team appears to have been fortunate with finding some second and third round talent, something that is difficult to do in the MLB draft. Second, the team has floundered badly with it’s first picks, those where the most talent still remains on the board, providing the team with the best opportunity to find an impact player. Granted, the two best players ever drafted by the Diamondbacks, Brandon Webb and Paul Goldschmidt, were both eighth round selections. Clearly, there is stellar talent to be found deep in the draft. Relying on such luck is a recipe for disaster though. A team’s fortunes are largely tied to how well they draft and develop first and second round talent. The last first round selection the Diamondbacks made who reached the majors for Arizona and provided any value is Archie Bradley, from the 2011 draft. That’s right, it has been eight seasons since a first-rounder made it to Arizona’s 25-man squad. It’s no wonder then why Arizona has struggled more often than not over that time or why Arizona’s farm system has fallen so much.
That isn’t to say that the team entirely failed with the draft since 2011. Here are the first picks since 2012:
Stryker Trahan - BUST
Aaron Blair - TRADED
Braden Shipley - Reached the 25-man, but has provided only 100 innings and (-0.1) bWAR
Touki Toussaint - TRADED
Dansby Swanson - TRADED
Anfernee Grier - BUST
Pavin Smith - BUST
Matt McLain - DID NOT SIGN
The return “value” for those trades was Shelby Miller and his (-1.2) bWAR over three seasons for Arizona. Putting it succinctly, Arizona has gone entirely too long without receiving any value from their first selections in the draft, leading to a depleted farm system and a 25-man roster with some significant depth issues.
On June 3rd, Mike Hazen, with input from Deric Ladnier, Amiel Sawdaye, and a plethora of scouts led by Ian Rebhan, could change the team’s fortunes for the next decade. Three of this season’s picks are the direct result of offseason decisions made by the front office to part ways with Corbin, Goldschmidt, and Pollock. Another pick is a mulligan for whiffing with the first pick in 2018.
Where the Diamondbacks Stand
16th overall (first round) - $3,745,500
26th overall (compensation for unsigned 2018 first-rounder Matt McLain) - $2,653,400
33rd overall (compensation for Patrick Corbin) - $2,202,200
34th overall (compensation for A.J. Pollock) - $2,148,100
56th overall (second round) - $1,276,400
74th overall (competitive balance pick) - $844,200
75th overall (competitive balance pick via trade with Cardinals) - $831,100
93rd overall (third round) - $627,900
Total draft bonus pool money: $16,093,700
It is not just the number of picks that is important though. As a result of the number of picks, the Diamondbacks have amassed themselves the largest pool of signing bonus money for this season and the second-largest ever.
The purpose of slot values and bonus pools is to limit the amount of the signing bonuses that drafted players can receive. Every draft pick in the first 10 rounds, plus the supplemental rounds, is assigned a slot value. The higher a player is drafted, the higher the slot value. The slot value is more of a suggestion than a hard number, and teams do have flexibility in determining how much to give to each drafted player as a bonus.
The total slot values for each team amounts to its bonus pool. A team’s pool is based on the positions of its picks as well as the amount spent in last year’s draft. In addition, any amount paid to players drafted in rounds 11-40 above $125,000 are subject to the bonus pool.
If a team exceeds its bonus pool, MLB assess a luxury tax on the excess. For 5% or less, the tax is 75% of the amount above the bonus pool. 5-10% over result in a 100% tax and the loss of next year’s first round pick.
If a team fails to sign a player with any of its selections in the first 10 rounds, the slot value for that player is deducted from the bonus pool. This prevents a team from drafting a really talented prospect and paying him all the money, while ignoring the other picks. If a team signs a player for less than their slot value, the extra money can be used on another pick.
With such a large number of early picks and the extra pool money associated with them, the D-backs are in a position to make a large impact on the 2019 draft class. While it is more difficult to slide players down the board under the current CBA, having the most money in the draft could allow Arizona to more confidently select players who happen to fall due to signability concerns. It could also allow the organization to take a few more risks on players with big tools but less of a demonstrated track record, while not having their draft hinge upon those players panning out thanks to the depth of the class.
The upper echelon of this year’s draft class is an imbalanced one. The top prospects are all position players. High end pitching talent is scarce in general, but especially so when it comes to college arms. College bats will move to the top in this draft, likely followed by prep bats, prep arms, then finally college arms.
Here are the highest-rated tools in each scouting category, courtesy of MLB:
Hit: 60 -- Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State; Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California; Riley Greene, Hagerty (Fla.) HS; Corbin Carroll, Lakeside (Wash.) HS
Power: 60 -- Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California; Rece Hinds, 3B, IMG Academy (Fla.)
Run: 75 -- CJ Abrams, SS, Blessed Trinity Catholic (Ga.) HS; Jerrion Ealy, OF, Jackson Prep (Miss.)
Arm: 70 -- Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor
Field: 60 -- Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State; Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Colleyville Heritage (Texas) HS; Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor; Mike Toglia, 1B/OF, UCLA; Nasim Nunez, SS, Collins Hill (Ga.) HS
Fastball: 70 -- Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy (Fla.); Daniel Espino, RHP, Georgia Premier Academy; Ryne Nelson, RHP, Oregon
Curveball: 65 -- Carter Stewart, RHP, None
Slider: 65 -- Graeme Stinson, LHP, Duke
Changeup: 55 -- Nick Lodolo, LHP, TCU
Control: 55 -- Jack Leiter, RHP, Delbarton (N.J.) HS
With so many pick and so much bonus pool money, along with so many organizational needs, what will Mike Hazen and the Diamondbacks do this upcoming June 3-5?
Next up: Potential and Likely Draft Strategies