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2022 Draft Preview: Draft Strategies

How might Arizona approach the upcoming draft?

Wild Card Press Conference Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images

The Bonus Pool

Total Pool: $15,112,100

Slot Values:
2 - $8,185,100
34 - $2,257,100
43 - $1,817,600
82 - $782,000
108 - $565,500
138 - $422,400
168 - $316,900
198 - $247,000
228 - $195,800
258 - $167,300
288 - $155,400

Each selection in the first 10 rounds comes with an assigned slot value, with the total for a club’s selections equaling what it can spend in those rounds without incurring a penalty. If a player taken in the top 10 rounds doesn’t sign, his pick’s value gets subtracted from his team’s pool. Clubs near the top of the Draft often spend less than the assigned value for those choices and use the savings to offer more money to later selections.

Teams that exceed their bonus pool face a penalty. Clubs that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75% tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75% tax for surpassing their pool by more than 5 and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100% tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100% tax for more than 15 percent. As one can see, the penalties for exceeding the pool allotment by more than five percent quickly escalate to crippling penalties.

The Profiles

Best Player Available: Druw Jones
Highest Ceiling: Elijah Green
Best College Bat: Brooks Lee
Best Prep Bat: Termarr Johnson
Best Prep Arm: Dylan Lesko*, Brock Porter
Best College Arm: Landon Sims*, Gabriel Hughes
*Player is recovering from significant injury

Some Additional Considerations

Best player available vs Highest ceiling: While it is often true that the best player available at any point in the draft will also have the highest ceiling, this is not always the case. Highest ceiling tends to refer to a player maxing out all of their tools at every turn. It is actually quite rare for players with tremendous ceilings to reach them. Justin Upton is a great example of this. Justin Upton had tremendous upside in his potential tool scores. However, Upton never reached his full potential. That said, he was considered the best player available in the draft for a reason. Even failing to reach his absolute ceiling, he was a multi-time all-star.

In this year’s draft, highest ceiling honours still belong to the long-touted Green, but the drop-off from Green to Jones is not a massive gap. Things likely get even closer if one considers how hard it is for a player to reach their true ceiling.

High floor vs High ceiling: Sometimes it makes sense to hedge one’s bets with draft prospects. There is something to be said for surety of performance. On the other hand, a star player that clicks on all cylinders can carry a franchise and alter the fates of entire divisions. The best teams have an assortment of both kinds of players.

Likely floor: Any player selected runs the risk of not making it to the Majors. This reality is why so many harp on “no such things as a floor”. Except, this is not what is being referred to with discussions about a player’s floor. For these draft previews, the concept of a prospect’s floor has been tied to the likely outcome should they only just make the Majors enough to stick.

Bust potential: Players selected in the first three to five rounds who do not get beyond the point of earning an obligatory cup of coffee invite (something less likely to happen these days with the new expanded roster rules for September baseball) are generally considered busts. It is not uncommon for teams to swing big on an unlikely talent in these rounds. When they hit, they get all-stars. The Dodgers took a risk signing the recently injured Walker Buehler. It paid off in spades. However, when a team swings big, there is the chance of missing big. The higher the chance of missing big, the higher the bust potential. Of the top five talents in this year’s draft, Elijah Green has the highest bust potential based on track record and the tools that still need to be developed. However, Green’s ceiling is so high that he may have a MLB-regular floor, even if he fails to tap into more than 70% of his potential talent. This sort of combination is what needs to be weighed when an organization decides to take a gamble on players with high upsides but without high floors.

The Strategies

Best (obtainable) Player Available
This tends to be one of the safest and most wildly contested strategies. The strategy depends on having top-tier talent evaluators and a culture capable of appealing to top talent. It is difficult to go wrong employing this strategy and it is by far the easiest strategy to defend later on once results start to come in.

Two for One
This is a strategy that has been employed more than a few times since the advent of the draft bonus pool. Teams selecting towards the top of the draft (like the Diamondbacks are doing this year selecting second) take a top-10 talent (but not a top-top talent) and sign them for a substantial savings on the slot bonus. Then, the savings are added to a later slot bonus, allowing the team to target a second top-10 caliber talent. There are substantial risks to this. The most obvious is that the first pick may refuse to sign for a figure the organization is happy with. Another pitfall is that this tends to steer teams away from the best player approach at the top of the draft, where the very best odds of landing a franchise-altering talent lie.

Organizational Need
It is usually swimming up stream and sacrificing talent to draft for organizational need. There are exceptions though. Last year, the Angels drafted exclusively pitchers - intentionally. This was to address the fact that the organization has been lacking in pitching depth for years now. While they may have missed out on some position player upside, by reaching for a few arms to satisfy the “only pitchers” mandate, they managed to quickly infuse their system with a number of promising arms with more collective upside than a pure best player approach would allow for.

The Good and the Bad News for Arizona

Good news: There is a 100% chance that the Diamondbacks will have the opportunity to select one of the two best players with one of the two best upsides. No matter what happens, a minimum of one of Green and Jones will be available for the Diamondbacks at 1-2.

Bad news: Both players are likely to cost close to the maximum slot bonus to sign. While neither is likely to get 100% of the slot, the savings expected will be marginal at best.

Good news: Three of the top-five talents, all with tools worthy of 1-2 consideration, will sign for considerably less than the 1-2 slot value, creating a significant war chest for the Diamondbacks to use to sign a second highly-graded talent with their next pick.

Bad news: Unless the team is willing to invest in previously injured goods, this draft is woefully thin on talents worth the extra investment from top-tier savings. Thus, finding a player or players worth taking savings at 1-2 is going to be difficult this year. There is, however, one massive exception to be found in this year’s draft - Noah Schultz. Schultz is widely expected to honour his commitment to Vanderbilt, after which he is a likely top-10 prospect in a few years. The Diamondbacks are in a position where the likely savings from the selections of at lest two (if not three) of the top five talents would be enough to allow them to create a $5 million signing bonus for the #34 pick in the draft. That would be top-10 money to offer to Schultz today, not in three years.

Good news: Only Baltimore matches the Diamondbacks in draft pool flexibility. If the Orioles are potentially targeting Schultz at #33, both Jones and Green will be available for the Diamondbacks to pick from.

Bad news: Drafting the best talent available, especially in the top three rounds, is going to require drafting significant injury concern. This year is showing the fallout of COVID on pitching arms. Up and down the list of pitching prospects, the list is littered with arms that have dynamic stuff, which are currently down due to significant injury, many of them needing Tommy John surgery.

Summary

Because we are talking about the Diamondbacks, the draft must be approached knowing that the team simply is never allowed good things. When they last drafted this high, they had the first overall pick in a rather iffy draft. Their 1-1 selection of Dansby Swanson would not be a first overall pick most year. He’d likely be no better than fourth or fifth this year. Despite sucking at historic levels last season, because Baltimore intentionally punted the 2020 COVID season, Arizona wound up with the second pick this year instead of the first, meaning they still do not get to determine their own fate. The highest Mike Hazen has ever selected in the draft was his first draft, when he selected Pavin Smith with the seventh overall pick from what was one of the worst drafts ever. Now, the Diamondbacks are selecting in a draft where there is plenty of talent, but signing bonuses are liable to be all over the place due to an overwhelming number of injured prospects. Beyond the first seven to ten selections in this draft, the board is filled with intriguing, but injured talent. Yes, there is still plenty of uninjured talent to be found, but nearly all of it comes with a substantial drop-off in ceiling.

This season, Arizona’s area scouts and cross-checkers need to earn their paychecks in a big way. These are the people that will be putting the dollar signs next to various prospects that indicate how much it will cost the organization to sign them. Combining the Diamondbacks sizeable bonus pool with the fact that this is a very shallow draft with regard to healthy talent means, the team needs to have a very clear picture of just how the dollars can be allocated to get the best bang for the buck. Will they find more value by selecting Jones or Green at 1-2 and then taking players that fall to them the rest of the way, not fearing that the fallen players will fail to sign so long as they get full slot? Or, will they find more value by drafting Jackson Holliday 1-2 and then also selecting Noah Schultz (or some other top-10 talent player) with their second pick at #34? Can they afford to do that, they won’t know until cross-checkers can confirm the bonus demands of the various players.

Unfortunately, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Mike Hazen will still be running the show for the Diamondbacks long enough to reap the benefits (or take the blame) for the performance of this year’s draftees. Since that is the case, does Hazen go as big as possible at each pick, hoping to win big? Or does he cultivate an organizational approach, trying to maximize the total value of the draft, as opposed to the total upside?