One of the more interesting news pieces to come out this weekend is the reported signing bonus demands for Georgia starter Cole Wilcox. Dave O’Brien of The Athletic (subscription required), speculates that Wilcox’s price to sign is top-half of the first round signing bonus. For reference the slot value for the 15th overall pick is $3,885,800, so that means whoever is drafting him could be looking at potentially a $4MM price tag (almost $600K above the slot value at 18). As a draft-eligible sophomore who could gain from a full year of being a reliable starter, he could easily catapult into top-half of the first round in next year’s draft, he has a lot of leverage with MLB teams.
That in itself probably takes Wilcox off the boards for the teams picking after Arizona at 18. The Diamondbacks could take a chance on Wilcox and meet that price tag, but if it takes $4MM to sign, the team will need to sign the other four players of the draft class for about $3.8MM. There is no right or wrong strategy in the draft, the goal is to maximize the amount of talent for the amount of dollars a team can spend in the draft. Teams can either opt to try to stay as balanced as possible or they can front the money on a player they see as a can’t miss talent and go underslot the rest of the way. At the end of the day, it’s about developing players for the big leagues and how they perform at that level is what ultimately matters.
For the D-backs, Wilcox presents a very intriguing profile as a pitcher. Out of high school, he was considered to be up there with Ethan Hankins and Kumar Rocker as the top prep arms out of Georgia. He ended up going to college and after pitching out of the bullpen in 2019 became the Bulldogs’ Saturday starter in 2020. The overall numbers in a small sample size were encouraging with a 1.57 ERA and a 32/2 K/BB ratio in 23 innings. While a small sample, had Wilcox been able to sustain good numbers throughout the year he could have been a Top-15 pick.
The overall profile for Wilcox is very intriguing. He has an ideal frame for a workhorse starter with a 6’5” 232 frame featuring a power fastball that sits in the mid 90s (tops out at 100) with a lot of arm side run and a pair of quality secondary offerings. There is some reliever risk with Wilcox getting hit harder than the stuff suggests, although that can be fixed with quality coaching and better fastball placement in the zone. He doesn’t have the best mechanics, with his delivery featuring a low elbow at the release point and a longer than normal arm stroke that allows hitters to track the ball better, but there aren’t any major red flags that scream injury risks either.
Overall there are some intriguing attributes in Wilcox’s game that project to being a top-half of the rotation pitcher. However I feel that the D-backs should consider other options in the draft if they want to spread the money out more and go to a more balanced draft haul. Balance was one the key word in Deric Ladnier’s conference call last year when the team had an enviable amount of resources to work with a year ago. I think they would pass on Wilcox because it handicaps them for the rest of the draft to try to account for that potentially $4MM price tag. Instead they could opt to land one of the top prep bats or arms have more flexibility for signing another one with the 33rd or 90th pick.
Would you be comfortable with the D-backs drafting Cole Wilcox 18th overall at a price tag of potentially $4MM?
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