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Notebook: Money matters change landscape of this year's baseball draft

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Thu. May 31, 2012 | Laura Keeley | Email

Notebook: Money matters change landscape of this year's baseball draft

When Major League Baseball ratified a new collective bargaining agreement in November, some of the most significant changes involved the impending first-year player draft, which starts Monday.

“It’s going to change things, certainly,” said Jason A. Churchill, who covers scouting and player development for ESPN. “How it actually goes, I’m not sure anybody really knows.”

The most significant change is the introduction of a yearly signing bonus pool each team will receive for its picks in the first 10 rounds. All 300 of those picks have a slotted value — think suggested bonus value — ranging from $7.2 million (No. 1) to $125,000 (No. 300).

The Houston Astros, who hold the first overall pick and 10 additional picks in the first 10 rounds, have the largest pool with $11.2 million to spend. The smallest pool, $1.65 million, belongs to the Los Angeles Angels, who have a league-low eight picks and none until the third round.

Picks in rounds 11-40 (down from up to 50 rounds) can receive up to a $100,000 bonus that is separate from the bonus pool. There is no rule preventing teams from spending bonus pool money on these picks. Penalties for a team spending more than its bonus pool, though, are stiff, ranging from a 75 percent tax on the additional money spent (exceeding bonus pool by 5 percent or less) to a 100 percent tax and loss of two first-round picks in the next draft (exceeding bonus pool by more than 15 percent).

“More than ever, signability is extremely important,” said Nathan Rode, who covers high schools for Baseball America. “You better know if you can sign a kid or not. It’s not like in years past. If you don’t sign one of your first 10 round guys, you can’t move that money around, you lose that money in your pool.”

The signing deadline has also been moved up by about a month to July 13. One unintended consequence of the rule changes, Churchill said, could be a rise in pre-draft deals, causing some players to be picked higher than in the old system. Another could be a higher percentage of high school players choosing to go to college.

“Why on earth would a high schooler be drafted in the 11th round or later if you can’t spend more than 100 grand?” Rode said. “I would be shocked if any high schoolers get picked there, unless it’s one of these kids that’s committed to a junior college and doesn’t really have any interest in school or just wants to play pro ball and doesn’t care about the money. Beyond that, why would you waste your pick?”

That Eric Striker?

At the bottom of Perfect Game’s list of Group 2 prospects (players who could be taken in the four- to 10-round range) is none other than Armwood’s Eric Striker (it’s misspelled as “Stryker”).

“His raw tools are so significant that he got mentioned in scout circles on a regular basis this spring,” reads Striker’s scouting report, written in April, “as his athleticism and potential are more indicative of his talents than his stats.”

For the year, Striker finished .262 with three triples, a double and six RBIs. He also has accepted a football scholarship to Oklahoma. When asked about Striker, David Rawnsley, national director of scouting for Perfect Game, laughed.

“It’s like a yearly ritual in California, Texas, Georgia and Florida to at the last moment find a great athlete like Striker, who plays baseball,” he said. “I understand he’s way, way far away with his baseball skills. I can’t imagine someone signing him away from Oklahoma football.”

Bautista on the bubble

In August, Steinbrenner coach John Crumbley was told his starting third baseman, Gerald Bautista, coming off a .382 hitting season, was signed to an international pro free agent contract with the Cleveland Indians in the Dominican Republic.

As the son of Dominican-born former major-league outfielder Danny Bautista, who played with the Tigers, Braves, Marlins and Diamondbacks over a 11-year career, Gerald holds dual American-Dominican citizenship, which would have allowed him to sign a pro deal before finishing school. He did not end up signing with the Indians and returned to Steinbrenner for his senior year.

This spring, Bautista, who has signed to play with Florida, hit .274 with 20 runs scored, 20 RBIs, eight doubles and a home run. Neither Perfect Game nor Baseball America had heard any scouting buzz on him this spring, and he is not on Perfect Game’s list of 70 prospects from the state.

“He’s a guy that has a lot of tools. When you profile him as a draft prospect, he’s 5-foot-11, 190, so it’s a mature build, and he doesn’t have that one tool that stands out,” Rawnsley said. “When scouts look at that on his type of frame, they tend to think college player. But he’s the kind of guy that just wants to go out and play and tells scouts, ‘Hey, I’ll sign for $125,000.’ He’ll definitely get picked somewhere.”

Photo: Armwood's Eric Striker after signing with Oklahoma

Laura Keeley can be reached at lkeeley@tampabay.com

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