Do you recognize this man?
If the answer is no, you are disqualified from the rest of the article. It’s been a pleasure, thanks for your delectable clicks.
Alright, now that they’re gone, we can talk about our dear friend, Alex Wilson, depicted above in the midst of his decent career as a relief pitcher. Besides being part of the Yoenis Cespedes-Rick Porcello trade and developing into a capable set-up man for the Tigers, Wilson holds another distinct honor. At 5.6 bWAR through 2018, Wilson is the most successful player ever selected with the 77th pick in the MLB draft. Only 18 of the 54 players taken at No. 77 have even made the majors, and Wilson stands head and shoulders above them all. His 5.6 bWAR makes up 81.1% of the 6.9 total bWAR generated by 54 careers of 77th overall picks, and despite being non-tendered after 2018, Wilson seems liable to add to his totals somewhere. Still, the rest of the list is unimpressive at best.
This isn’t a ringing endorsement of the promise in the Comp Round B pick Seattle recently acquired from Cleveland along with Edwin Encarnación, but it’s a somewhat myopic lens to view it through. There are many Matt Wagner’s out there, but that same range can bring plenty of production if we widen our gaze. Freddie Freeman was selected 78th overall in 2007. DJ LaMahieu, Zack Cozart, and John Olerud were all great finds at pick No. 79. Curtis Granderson looks good at pick No. 80, as do Giancarlo Stanton and Chase Utley at No. 76.
Like almost every slot in the draft, players are more likely to fail to reach the majors than become strong contributors, but every extra pick matters, whether Seattle picks someone stellar in that spot or not. If you’re familiar with the MLB draft’s slot value system already, feel free to gloss over this, but it can be arcane even for experts. Teams are required to allot their own money to sign their signees, however there are limitations on how much each team can spend on draft picks. Those limitations are determined by adding up the value of each pick in the first 10 rounds of the draft, which creates a pool teams can draw from. Each spot in the draft’s first 10 rounds is assigned a dollar value, ranging from ~$8 million for the No. 1 overall pick to ~$130k for the 10th round (the ~310-315th pick). The drop-off is steepest early on. In the 2018 draft, the Tigers’ No. 1 pick gave them $8.09 million to work with, while the 30th pick went to the Dodgers, and with it, $2.28 million - a difference of over $5.8 million. The difference between the start of the 2nd round, for comparison, was $1.63 million to $917k - just $700k of separation.
And yet, $700k is still significant. Last year, the No. 77 overall pick went to the Cubs, who took HS OF Cole Roederer. Roederer was viewed as a toolsy, risky pick, with the skillset to be a real asset but a strong commitment to UCLA and injury issues. From where we sit today, the Cubs are sitting pretty, with a now-19-year-old center fielder who just tore up the rookie leagues and has drawn Andrew Benintendi comparisons. To sign Roederer, the Cubs went over slot, spending $1.2 million to lure him away from college, going more than $400k over the $775k assigned as a value for the 77th overall pick. If Seattle sees a serious talent at this spot, it could behoove them to go a similar route, picking a talent passed over by teams with fewer picks or less money available, then pulling money from other picks to sway a talented prep or junior to sign.
To see the alternative they need look no further than their recent transaction log. In 2016, the 77th pick belonged to the Tampa Bay Rays and was worth a value of $826k. They chose a 6’0 lefty outfielder as well: a junior from LSU named Jake Fraley. Fraley was talented but appeared to scouts to be tapped out physically. A capable defender in center field with good plate discipline and contact skills is not nothing, but Fraley was convinced to sign under the value of the slot he was taken at: just shy of $800k. Along with a few other picks, signing Fraley under slot allowed the Rays to lure a number of prep players to sign by reallocating money to their bonuses.
There’s no bad choice for Seattle, as their farm could do with improved depth as well as upside, but it’s worth remembering this when we watch the draft in June. The difference between the value of the 20th pick (where the Mariners pick first this year) and around the 14th-15th pick will be the extra flexibility granted by their new, extra pick. What they do with it could be directly related to that slot, or dispersed all throughout the top-10 rounds.