15 July 2012

2012 Draft Coverage: Orioles draft recap

We will run a post-draft series here, starting with a recap of the Baltimore haul and concluding with closer looks at the major signings and non-signings.  The first step to understanding, and formulating an opinion about, Baltimore's draft class is assessing the class in the aggregate -- that is, what was the sum of the talent acquired in comparison to the amount of money invested.

In reading the below analysis, keep in mind that player evaluation is subjective, so the opinions expressed should only carry as much weight as you put into our ability to evaluate amateur talent. Further, even if you respect our opinions on the matter, a difference in opinion between what we would do and what the Orioles in fact did, is just that -- a difference in opinion. Time will tell if Baltimore's more traditional approach bears more fruit than our more highly-leveraged strategy.

Let's take a look at Baltimore's "allotment" picks -- the picks whose signing amounts counted towards their total amount of permitted draft spend. As a recap, here is what Baltimore had to spend (remember, each slot in the top 10 rounds is assigned a value, and you need to sign that pick to gain permission to use the amount designated by that slot value -- signings for under slot allotment can be used elsewhere to make up for overages in bonus paid compared to slot allotment value):

Total slot allotment: $6,826,900
Allotment pool not available (failure to sign 5th round pick): $262,000
Total allotment pool: $6,564,900
Taxable overage (amount that can be spent at a 75% taxable rate): $341,345
Total available for allotment signings: $6,906,246
Total cost to team (including taxes on overages): $7,162,235 

Anything over the "total available for signings" would trigger a penalty of loss of first round pick in 2013.

Actual spent on allotment picks:  $6,564,700

Baltimore left $200 of non-taxable allotment pool on the table. The Orioles had $341,345 of taxable money available to them.  Each pick after Round 10 was permitted $100,000 worth of bonus spending that would not count towards allotment.  Baltimore could, therefore, have given as much as $441,545 to any single pick without losing next year's first round pick.  Including the taxes assessed, that would mean Baltimore would need to spend a total of $697,534 in order to give that player the $441,545.

The picks and the price tags
The hardest concept to drive home to players and their family members is that your value is not determined by you, it is determined by your draft slot.  That is not to say that you cannot demand any amount you want -- you can, and you should if that amount is what it takes to persuade you to begin your pro career.  But you are not entitled to the amount decided upon through your own personal valuation.

From the team's perspective, it is important to tactfully convey this to players prior to signing, and to do your best to determine whether a player is signable at or close to the target amount (within the negotiating sweetspot) that you have internally set. If a player changes his number post-selection, all you can do is shrug and decide whether you should move on or cave to the new demands. Either way, you take note of the player's advisor and avoid working with that advisor in the future. 

1:4 Kevin Gausman (rhp, Louisiana State Univ.)
Depot valuation:  1st Round ($3.5 - $4.2 MM)
Target amount:  $3.8 MM
Slot allotment: $4.2 MM
Baltimore spend:  $4.32 MM
Summary:  Gausman was viewed as the top player on our board, but the target amount for recommended bonus reflects the draft slot for the Orioles. This is important in that each signing serves as a data point for future negotiations.  That is, Brian Matusz's total package value of $3.5 MM serves as an approximation for how Baltimore values the 4th overall pick when spent on the top college arm in the draft. Signing Gausman for over allotment is confusing on two levels.

First, it sets a precedent for future negotiations with first-round selections.  Second, it took away money from the aggregate allotment afforded Baltimore for their selections.  As we discuss below, it probably had no practical effect on the O's ability to sign fifth-rounder Colin Poche or fifteenth-rounder Derick Velasquez -- in fact, it is likely Baltimore decide against signing those two prior to aggreeing to Gausman's figure.  Still, it is an indication that the overarching draft strategy for Baltimore, including back-up plans for Poche and Velasquez, was lacking.  A last second decision to give Gausman "the leftovers", while not a big deal financially, represents a curious strategic decision as far as future negotiations are concerned.

Gausman had little leverage as a 21.5-year old sophomore.  In order to earn $4.2 MM in next year's draft, Gausman would need to re-enter after another year at LSU (or a year of independent baseball) while meeting or exceeding his solid 2012 performance. Further, he would be as old or older than the other draft-eligible juniors and would need to avoid even minor injuries in order to maintain elite tier value. To not only permit Gausman to negotiate the full draft allotment for slot, but to spend over that allotment (and over 40% more than the bonus received by any other pitcher in the draft) is a significant market overpay. 

It is great that Baltimore got their man, and they got the best man in the draft as far as the Depot is concerned.  But the process for getting him was, at least on the surface, less than optimal.

2:4 Branden Kline (rhp, Univ. of Virginia)
Depot valuation:  2nd - 3rd Round ($450,000 - $700,000)
Target amount:  $600,000
Slot allotment: $793,700
Baltimore spend:  $793,700
Summary:  Kline would be submitted to our hypothetical scouting director as a future reliever or project starter (meaning he will need not insignificant developmental work in order to play as a starter at the professional ranks).  Ultimately, that means he would not have been a second-round selection for us unless he was willing to sign for less than slot.  As a third-rounder, we would be willing to pay over slot-allotment.  The Orioles selected Kline and paid full slot allotment for him, which is completely defensible and likely commensurate with the Overall Future Potential (scouting grade) their department could reasonably have assigned to him.  We view this as a slight market overpay for Kline.

3:4 Adrian Marin (2b/ss, Gulliver Prep., Miami, Fla.)
Depot valuation:  4th - 8th Round ($250,000 - $400,000)
Target range:  $325,000 - $375,000
Slot allotment: $481,100
Baltimore spend:  $481,100
Summary:  Marin profiled as a fringe-regular for us, fitting into the fourth- to eighth-round.  We would be willing to spend over-allotment for Marin in those rounds, focusing on a $325,000 to $375,000 negotiating window.  Absent evidence that Marin were signable in this range (and no higher than $400,000) we would probably have passed on selecting him in the third round.  He would be a target fourth round or fifth round selection, representing good value for those rounds.  We view this as a slight market overpay for Marin, but mostly based upon subjective valuation of the draft profile of this player.

4:4 Christian Walker (1b, Univ. of South Carolina)
Depot valuation:  4th - 8th Round ($250,000 - $350,000)
Target range:  $300,000 - $350,000
Slot allotment: $349,900
Baltimore spend:  $349,900
Summary:  Walker profiled as a fringe-regular for us, fitting into the fourth- to eighth-round.  Our target pricing for Walker would be fourth- to fifth-round money, making him a slot allotment signing in those rounds, or a potential over-allotment signing in rounds six through eight.  We view this as a good market value for this player and appropriate draft spend.

5:4 Colin Poche (lhp, Marcus HS, Flower Mound, Texas)
Depot valuation:  9th - 15th Round ($100,000 - $150,000)
Target range:  $100,000 - $150,000 (over-allotment candidate up to $300,000)
Slot allotment: $262,000
Baltimore spend:  Unsigned
Summary:  Poche falls into a tough spot for evaluators in that his current profile is that of a third tier draft prospect, but the projection remaining makes him a candidate for over-allotment spending if the right organization drafts him.  Baltimore's popping of Poche in the fifth-round was not a bad move, and the slot allotment amount of $262,000 was a reasonable target amount for negotiations if Baltimore viewed him and his potential for growth in a positive light.

Our position would have been to pass on Poche in the fifth-round, and the fact that he was selected means that it is likely he conveyed he would be signable for an amount not significantly more than the allotted $262,000.  Further, the fact that Baltimore had an ability to give him over $500,000 without losing a pick next year and chose not to do so indicates that the player upped his requested bonus amount after being selected. We view this decision not to sign as a good decision, with the player not being worth more than a $300,000 investment at this time.  Because we view Poche as a bad investment past $300,000, the decision to overpay Gausman (and limit allotment spending elsewhere) does not come into play.

6:4 Lex Rutledge (lhp, Samford Univ.)
Depot valuation:  4th - 8th Round ($150,000 - $250,000)
Target range:  $175,000 - $225,000
Slot allotment: $196,200
Baltimore spend:  $196,200
Summary:  Rutledge profiles as a future relief arm with late-inning potential, or a project starter with longish odds to stick in a rotation.  He fits in as an under-allotment signing in the fourth round, a full allotment signing in the fifth round, and a potential over-allotment signing thereafter.  We view this selection and signing as good value for a player of Rutledge's draft profile.

7:4 Matt Price (rhp, Univ. of South Carolina)
Depot valuation:  4th - 8th Round ($125,000 - $225,000)
Target range:  $150,000 - $200,000
Slot allotment: $149,300
Baltimore spend:  $149,300
Summary:  Price  profiles as a future relief arm, despite some history of starting at South Carolina.  He fits in as an under-allotment signing in the fifth round, a full allotment signing in the sixth or seventh round, and a potential over-allotment signing thereafter.  We view this selection and signing as good value for a player of Price's draft profile.

8:4 Torsten Boss (of, Michigan St. Univ.)
Depot valuation:  4th - 8th Round ($125,000 - $250,000)
Target range:  $175,000 - $225,000
Slot allotment: $139,500
Baltimore spend:  $139,500
Summary:  Boss has a pinch-hitter/fourth outfielder profile, fitting in as an under-allotment signing in the fifth round and a full allotment or over-allotment signing in rounds six and higher.  Though Baltimore announced him as a third basemen, we do not feel he profiles there, defensively.  We view this acquisition as good value and a below-market signing for the Orioles.

9:4 Brady Wager (rhp, Grand Canyon Coll. (Ariz.))
Depot valuation:  9th - 15th Round ($100,000 - $175,000)
Target range:  $100,000 - $125,000
Slot allotment: $130,200
Baltimore spend:  $125,000
Summary:  Wager profiles as a middle-reliever with a moderate chance to find his way to a Major League bullpen.  Risk associated with his draft profile pushes him down the draft board, but upside, arm strength and build give him above-allotment bonus potential in the ninth to fifteenth rounds.  We view this acquisition as a solid value for a player of Wager's draft profile.  Going with a allotment-saving selection here (as they did with Joel Hutter in round ten) would have potentially freed up more money to sign an over-allotment selection, such as fifteenth rounder Derick Velasquez.

10:4 Joel Hutter (ss, Dallas Baptist Univ.)
Depot valuation:  15th+ Round (<$25,000)
Target range:  $5,000 - $15,000
Slot allotment: $125,000
Baltimore spend:  $10,000
Summary:  This was a pick and signing meant to give Baltimore flexibility under their allotment pool -- most likely to free up some cash to sign Poche.  We view this as a solid investment in order to allow for the signing of more valuable players already selected. Baltimore could have done this with the previous pick, as well, but because they stayed close to full allotment signings in rounds two through five, not taking stabs at significant over-allotment signings, they did not need to build in more cushion.

15:4 Derick Velasquez (rhp, Merced Coll. (Calif.))
Depot valuation:  4th - 8th Round ($300,000-$400,000)
Target range:  $300,000 - $325,000 (over-allotment candidate up to $525,000)
Slot allotment: First $100,000 not attributable to allotment pool
Baltimore spend: Unsigned
Summary:  Velasquez's young age, projection and commitment to Fresno State give him solid leverage.  He could see substantive growth in his draft value as he gets stronger and continues to refine as a pitcher over the next twelve months.  Were he signable in our target range, he certainly would have come off the board in the third or fourth round to some organization.  The easy inference is that his asking price was at minimum $500,000, and potentially as high as around $625,000.  We would consider an investment of up to $525,000 a reasonable price to pay, albeit above-market.

Because Baltimore had only taxable money remaining to give to Velasquez, they would have needed to spend $697,534 in order to give Velasquez $441,545 (which was clearly not enough to entice him away from Fresno State).  This is the largest casualty of the Gausman signing, if we are to assume that Velasquez remained signable up until this past Friday.  Either Velasquez changed his asking price post-selection or Baltimore simply got scared they couldn't close the deal with both Gausman and Velasquez.  We view the non-signing of Velasquez as a missed opportunity if he were signable for $525,000 or less, but not necessarily a bad decision.  If Velasquez were asking for more than $525,000, we view the non-signing as a good decision.

The Orioles took a general draft approach of finding players signable for full allotment and selecting them.  So far as we can tell, there was one allotment selection they viewed as likely to require an over-allotment bonus to sign (Colin Poche, 5th Rd) and there was one selection made with the intent of freeing up room in the aggregate allotment pool (Joel Hutter, 10th Rd).

Baltimore appeared to select one potential impact over-allotment signing after the tenth round (Derick Velasquez, 15th Rd), but did not have room in their allotment pool to sign him.  Overall, Baltimore did fine, landing the top player in the draft and generally paying market values for their players.

It can be argued that they did not fully leverage their pool allotment, as we saw no real effort to take some stabs at tier one talent that slipped.  Because Baltimore, in our mind, paid over market for each of Branden Kline and Adrian Marin, it seems like they may have missed an opportunity to get a higher-ceilinged player in one of those slots, or to get (in our subjective opinion) a better overall talent for full allotment price.  In order to land one of the tier one players that dropped, the Orioles would have had to value those players at an amount commensurate with their asking price, and of course would have had to likely get more savings out of at least the ninth round selection.  They likely would also have needed to take a harder line in negotiating with Gausman.

As noted above, the bonus Baltimore arrived at for first-rounder Kevin Gausman is confusing in that it appears a college arm with little leverage was able to force a team to pay 44% more for him than any other team paid for an arm, and about 20% more than the Orioles have paid a college arm of same draft slot in the past.  True, the first arm selected should be expected to get more than any of the other arms, but the delta between Gausman's bonus and the bonus for the next highest paid arm ($3 MM for sixth overall selection Kyle Zimmer) is much larger than it probably should be.  That said, we can't know for sure it was possible to sign Gausman for less than the $4.32 he agreed to, though we maintain it is highly unlikely he would have walked away from, say, $4 million, given the multitude of things that would have to go right for him to land in the top four picks again next year (a likely necessity given the allotment flexibility needed for a team to give him more than $4 million).

There were ten MLB teams that spent such that they will incur some degree of tax on over-allotment bonus amounts.  Of the teams that wished to avoid paying a tax, it would appear Baltimore utilized their full pool allotment more effectively than any other team, with just $200 left over (closest to full use without being taxed -- the Brewers were next best with just $5,600 under full allotment spent).  The extent to which Gausman was overpaid, however, takes some of the fun out of that stat, as he should have been reasonably signable for $3.7 MM to $4.0 MM, which would have left $200,000 to $500,000 on the table.  The salt in that wound is that the further savings may have easily provided enough room to sign Vasquez, assuming he was open to starting his pro career. 

Overall, from an outside perspective, there is little to be angry about with respect to the Orioles' draft haul.  They landed Gausman, they avoided any gross overspends, and they found some good value in the mid- to late-single digit rounds (particularly Rutledge and Boss).  There is also little to be overly excited about, as there was little creativity or forward thinking evidenced in the cross-section of players selected, and the rounds in which they were selected. It was a vanilla draft strategy under the new collective bargaining rules, but a solid implementation of that strategy.

New scouting director Gary Rajsich did a solid job bringing in talent and landed the best in the class with Gausman.  Also, keep in mind he did so while working with a scouting department in flux, and will have the opportunity this off-season to bring in more, or different, scouts and to better mold the department as he and Dan Duquette see fit.  Finally, while we write here that Gausman appears to be a significant overpay, the only true casualty of that overpay is the ability to sign Velasquez, and even there the decision not to sign Velasquez was most likely one made prior to inking Gausman for $4.32 million.  You can wish for a more creative overarching strategy, but there is little evidence here that fans should be disappointed with the job the O's did between early June and early July.

14 July 2012

Uh Oh, Here Comes Gravity: the Orioles and the Playoffs

Before the season began, I saw the Orioles as a .420 winning percentage team.  Based on their fWAR, they are performing at a .450 clip while they have actually played at a .523 rate through the first half of the season.  There is some argument of whether or not they are truly a .523 team.  Metrics suggest otherwise, but it is undeniable that they have outperformed their metrics.

With that thought...let's just run through some simple numbers.  We will start with fWAR.  A replacement level team is expected to win 29% of the games that they play.  A reminder, a replacement level team is defined as the quality of play freely available to teams (it is a somewhat generic, abstract number, but it seems to work well).  If the Orioles were compiled of replacement level players, then they would have been expected to win 25 of their 86 games. 

However, they are not replacement level.  Their position players have a cumulative fWAR of 5.4 (14th of 14 in AL).  That position player value comes from their fielding level (-0.9 wins; 11th of 14 in AL), base running (-0.3; 7th of 14 in AL), and offense (6.6; 12th of 14 in AL).  Somewhat sobering is that the average mark in base running is a bit of an outlier when you compare that value to other grades of base running ability.

Where can the Orioles improve?

Po. Primary ~WAR Rank
C Wieters 1.8 5th
1B Reynolds 0.1 10th
2B Andino -0.8 13th
3B Betemit 0.9 10th
SS Hardy 0.8 11th
LF Davis -0.3 13th
CF Jones 3.1 4th
RF Markakis -0.3 12th
DH Thome 0.5 12th

You will notice that the WAR does not exactly add up the same way as the team cumulative fWAR is presented.  There is some double counting when you go through fWAR by position on Fangraphs.  It serves us well enough though to let us know what this offense has largely been: Wieters and Jones.  They have had a great deal of underperforming at other positions.  It would be difficult not to improve the production from individuals in this lineup.  However, the Thome deal is unlikely to greatly improve things.  As much as people complain about the pitching, this simply is not that good of a group of position players.

The pitching has been largely middle rung.  An 8.4 fWAR yields them the 8th best performance in the AL.  The starters are at 5.9 fWAR (9th of 14 in AL) and the relievers are at 2.4 fWAR (6th of 14 in AL).   None of this is remarkable.  None of it.  The relievers are adequate, but the starters need improvement.  Again, it should not be difficult to improve upon the 4th and 5th slot guys on the team.  The team has to hope that Jason Hammel's knee comes out OK.  So much of this team depends on Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen.

Here is the basic rotation from the first half:

Slot Player fWAR xFIP
1 Hammel 2.8 3.43
2 Chen 1.1 4.45
3 Arrieta 1.6 4.01
4 Matusz 0.3 5.1
5 Hunter -0.2 5.73
That major surprise here is to what extent fWAR values Arrieta and how conventional wisdom sees him (as he throws in Norfolk).  I consider him to be a strong late inning arm, but peripherals suggest he should be capable of being a mid rotation to backend arm.  Peripherals like these indicate that Arrieta should bounce back if given the chance.  What is known to pretty much everyone is that Matusz and Hunter were not helping things.  The Orioles plan appears to try out Chris Tillman, trade for an arm, and hope that Arrieta, Matusz, or Hunter redeems themselves.

With 77 games left to play, this is what we have to think about:

Wins PCT Final Tally Need
Based on fWAR 35 .455 80 ---
Wild Card 43 .558 88 8
Wild Card (home) 47 .610 92 12
AL East 50 .649 95 15
It is sobering to think that if fWAR is an accurate representation of the level of talent on this team that they need to find 8 wins.  The Orioles need three to four improvements in play while everyone else maintains their level.  If Thome can bring two wins, the team finds two wins internally, and then acquiring two more pieces to make up another four wins.  That is a tall order. 

It also seems somewhat similar to the 1996 Baltimore Orioles who were floundering about in July.  Pat Gillick wanted to deal Bobby Bonilla to the Indians for a package that included Jeromy Burnitz and Alan Embree while David Wells was set to go to the Mariners for Chris Widger and a minor prospect.  In August, the Orioles added Pete Incaviglia to add some pop to the bench.  Bonilla wound up increasing his OPS from .797 to .930, Wells lowered his ERA by 0.30, and Incaviglia brought a .860 OPS to the bench.  As a team, they maintained there level of play and won the Wild Card with a three game buffer.

That said, the Orioles in 1996 were a very good team.  They had a couple holes, but they were good.  There additions and refusal to subtract helped them maintain the same level of play they had in the first half.  That is a major difference between that team and the current one.  The current squad simply is not a very good team.  They are a below average team that has been able to take advantage of the situations they have been handed.  It is uncertain, though unlikely, that this is an actual skill.

In light of that assessment, I think it is plausible to say that the Orioles have a chance to take the second wild card, but that to do so would be to leverage most, if not all, of their minor league talent in order to acquire the players needed to raise the overall level of skill on the team.  Even if you believe that the current winning percentage is an accurate portrayal of the Orioles skill, then they are in line to win 40 more games.  That would mean they are a Zack Greinke away from the second Wild Card.  I do not believe that they are that close.  I have little reason therefore to even consider letting go of Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy.

13 July 2012

2012 Draft Coverage: Analysis of Gausman negotiations

Just some quick thoughts on the status of the Kevin Gausman negotiations. First, my take on draft negotiations in general; second, some misconceptions I have seen floated by readers via email and on Twitter (as a reminder, you can email Jon and I both here and I can be contacted directly here; Twitter @CamdenDepot and @NickJFaleris).

Closing the deal on draftees; finding the negotiating sweetspot
I have officially completed my duties for my MLB org as relates to the 2012 draft class.  We signed some kids from my area, I had one last look-in on a "draft and follow" along with the area scout with whom I'm working, and the two remaining players drafted out of my region appear to be set in their course -- in each case likely honoring their commitment to large four-year programs.

Having completed this process, primarily as an observer, for the second year with an MLB org my views on these negotiations has evolved, to be sure.  Too often these negotiations are painted as black-and-white propositions where a failure for the parties involved to reach a speedy accord is a result of either "the player having no leverage and getting bad advice from his advisor" or "the organization being cheap or not doing their homework before drafting the player."

The reality is that, depending on the situation, there is a varying degree of information an organization might have before electing to draft a player -- particularly at the top of the draft.  Likewise, even when both sides are completely clear as to what they expect a signing to look like, it sometimes takes work to iron out the final details.  Often times, working out those final details comes down to two things: 1) the team properly conveying to the draftee the reasoning for their suggested signing amount, and 2) the draftee (and particularly the dratee's family and advisor) having reasonable expectations for their signing amount (particularly taking their draft slot into consideration).

The player and his family need to understand that, while this is one negotiation for a player, the team is negotiating with this player while setting a data point to be used in future negotiations.  That means the "it's a small amount of money for a team in the grand scheme" argument is ultimately faulty.  It is a supporting argument to help argue for exceptions, but as a guiding principal it is naive.

A detailed discussion of setting draft value for a signing could fill a book, but the issues to keep in mind are:

  1. The team is tied to past and future drafts, so decisions that have been made are fair game for negotiating leverage, as is the fact that the team will have to operate in the future with this negotiation as a data point;
  2. Except in rare instances, the player will almost always have diminished leverage in future drafts, meaning he will likely have to exceed his current draft slot by a fair amount in order to see improvements in signing offers.

Using those simplified guidelines provides for a fairly accurate lens through which to view a negotiation.  The Gausman negotiation is no exception.

Gausman details
Baltimore has an important data point for Gausman negotiations -- the Brian Matusz drafting and signing in 2008.  To refresh your memory, Matusz was selected fourth overall by Baltimore, and was the first college pitcher picked (behind two high schoolers and a collegiate position player, as well).  His signing bonus was $3.2 million, with a Major League deal bringing the full value up to just under $3.5 million.

Here is a comparison of Matusz and Gausman in their drafting year of college ball:

Matusz (Gausman)
Draft Age:  21y4m (21y6m)
Ht/Wt:      6-4/190 (6-4/185)
IP:           105 (123.2)
SO/9:      12.1 (9.8)
BB/9:      1.9 (2.0)
H/9:        7.1 (7.7)
HR/9:     0.3 (0.2)

Teams building a signing bonus profile for a playerwould obviously go deeper than this level of comparison, but it is instructive nonetheless.  Gausman is generally comparable to Matusz on the surface.  His status as a sophomore (Matusz was a junior) ends-up irrelevant to the discussion due to the fact that Gausman is older than was Matusz on the day of drafting. 

The soft slotting system in place makes going overslot problematic, and certainly not a reasonable ask by a player in Gausman's position.  In order to add money to Gausman's slot, Baltimore would need to take large percentages off of picks signed later in the draft (for example, signing a player with an assigned slot allotment of $500,000 for $300,000 represents a player signing for 40% under allotment, and adds just under a 5% increase to a player sharing Gausman's slot allotment).  In order to push for over-allotment this high in a draft, the player needs special leverage -- Gausman does not have it.

The ceiling, and it should absolutely be a ceiling, for Gausman negotiations should be $4.2 million.  A reasonable floor should be Matusz's total package of $3.5 million (with Matusz's handedness and slighlty better collegiate performance essentially cancelling out the fact that we are four years removed from the signing).  $3.7 to 4.0 million is the reasonable negotiating sweetspot.

Baltimore has reason to fight hard at $3.7 million.  The only two potentially significant players unsigned at this point are Colin Poche (5th Round, $262,000 allotment) and Derick Velasquez (15th Round, $100,000 allotment). There is currently $120,000 in allotment available to add to the $362,000 currently available for Poche/Velsaquez (around $480,000 total for the two).  A reasonable target for those bonuses to finish-up would be around $325,000 for Poche and $650,000 for Velasquez (that is setting aside whether I personally feel those players are worth those bonuses -- those are estimates for what they can reasonably fight for).

$975,000 to sign those two, $100,000 of Velasquez's bonus would not count against the cap (as a post-10th Round selection), so $875,000 needed in allotment.  $382,000 currently available between Poche's allotment and the current "leftovers".  Baltimore would need to save an estimated $490,000 on Gausman (or, a signing of about $3.71 million) to make those numbers work.

As detailed earlier on this site, Baltimore has wiggle room whereby they can spend up to around $340,000 above their aggregate alloted amount without being penalized a draft pick next year.  If they were to spend that money, it would be taxed at a rate of 75%, bringing the total team cost to just under $600,000.

Assuming my estimates are close on the asking prices for Poche and Velasquez, every $100,000 Baltimore goes past the $3.7 million to sign Gausman, will cost them $175,000 (with $100,000 going to players and $75,000 paid in taxes).  Baltimore could go up to the top of the reasonable negotiating sweetspot and give Gausman $4.0 million and still have the money to sign Poche/Velasquez for a combined $975,000, but it will cost the team over $1.5 million when taxes are included.  That is the equivalent of Baltimore signing a supplemental-1st Round pick and an early-3rd Round pick (which Poche/Velasquez certainly are not).

Keep in mind this all assumes the estimated bonus requests for Poche/Velasquez.  If they are higher or lower than that, it obviously affects the analysis.  But this is the sort of planning a team needs to run through. It looks like Baltimore did a solid job potentially lining up the signing of all three players. 

Even if Baltimore decides not to pursue Poche/Velasquez, it is important to try and stay within the negotiating sweetspot as it sets a data point for future negotiations (broken record alert).  Giving Gausman $4.2 million means the next time Baltimore drafts a Gausman-esque talent fourth overall, the Matusz negotiations become essentially irrelevant, and the starting point is much closer to the full allotment.  This means less flexibility in use of the aggregate draft allotment, and more importantly a higher investment than should be required based on the talent level and slot of selection for the amateur player.

Misconceptions -- quick hits
A couple of bad misconceptions have been presented to me over the past seven days or so -- here are my rebuts:

1. It can be argued that there is perceived leverage on Gausman's side because he has two more years of draft eligibility as a collegian if he decides to go back to school.
No.  His age is a more important factor in determining leverage than is his year in school and he is the draft age of a typical junior. After all, you could make a similar argument that a senior could just go play in an independent league and re-enter the draft next year.  A 22.5-year old Gausman is less valueable than a 21.5-year old Gausman, and there are only three slots higher than the position he was drafted this year. Going back to school means you better stay healthy and go first or second next year, and that is a tall order for someone of any talent level.

2.  Baltimore would be better off not signing Gausman because next year's class is much better.
This is borderline silly talk, but I understand there are a lot of "draft experts" that like to make sweeping statements like this as page grabs.  The class, as a whole, is still forming, and evaluators actually watching these kids are still forming opinions and gathering info to make the determination if players are worth keeping tabs on next spring.  A loose estimation is that the 2013 class, up top, will be about what the 2012 class was.  A reasonable statement is that the top of the class is expected not to be significantly better, or significantly worse, than 2012, and there are no players currently seperating themselves as likely top 5 picks.

3.  Gausman isn't an elite talent, so Baltimore fans shouldn't get too hung up on whether he signs or not.
I don't understand where this idea originally sprouted.  Show professional evaluators a projectable 6-foot-4, 185-pound body that throws mid-90s into the late innigns on a hard downward plane and with an easy motion, a current off-speed that can be plus and two separate breaking balls that have, at different times, shown plus potential, and tell them it's not an elite talent.  The industry would be grateful for your contribution.

4.  Baltimore should be spending right up to the 5% overage in slot allotment their are permitted to spend without losing a draft pick.
No.  Determining the utility of outspending aggregate slot allotment pools is important for organizations, and it ties directly to the players requiring the overspend.  Houston makes perfect sense as a team that should be willing to take a tax hit.  Applying that hit to Lance McCullers' bonus of $2.5 million (on a slot alloted $1.2 millioin) would be the equivalent of making signing a late-1st rounder for fring top 10 money.  Put another way, and probably a more useful framing for analysis,  McCullers would be receiving about a 30-slot bump between slot of selection and bonus received.  Poche and Velasquez, using the analysis above, would be receiving around a 60-slot and a 390-slot bump between slot of selection and bonus received.  It may be "just money", but that would indicate that the money was probably not utilized as best it could be.

The Depot is looking forward to seeing how the rest of these negotiations play out.  For our Shadow Draft we still have Gausman and Avery Romero (Marlins 3rd Rounder) unsigned.  The Marlins just signed their 1st-Rouner Andrew Heaney (lhp, Oklahoma State) at a savings of $200,000 below slot allotment.  They have up to just under $1 million to give to Romero without losing a draft pick next year, and up to around $750,000 to give to him without incurring taxes.  From speaking with those familiar with Miami's stance this year, they are not willing to incur taxes on their signings, so the key figure is the latter.

After signing day has concluded (about four hours from now) we'll have quick thoughts on where the O's ended-up.  Monday will be a release of a mid-season top prospect list for Baltimore, and we will start rolling out our full draft recap, including scouting reports and some video.

Pelotero aka Os Almost Signed Sano for 5 Million

A little over two years ago, I posted an interview with Jon Paley on the documentary he was working on called Pelotero.  What drove me to seek out the makers of this film was that they were in an excellent position to ask questions about the inflow of baseball talent from the Dominican Republic.  I had thought, and still think, that this aspect of the talent market is grossly neglected and poorly understood here in the States. 

There have been a few attempts to bring to light how talent arrives from foreign countries.  The movie Sugar was an excellent, and somewhat accelerated, movie about the difficulties that a foreign born player faces when he is dropped in the middle of America and expected to perform with a scant support system.  However, that movie begins after the signing process has taken place.

A book that should be required reading is Venezuela Bust, Baseball Boom.  This book focuses on Andres Reiner's development of Venezuela as a major reservoir for highly talented baseball players.  However, if you read about Venezuela to understand what like is like for Dominican players, you will be mistaken.  The highly structured youth leagues of Venezuela do not exist in the Dominican Republic.  Talent simply develops differently in these countries.  To understand how it is developed in the Dominican Republic, Ballplayer: Pelotero is a great start to begin your education.

I will let the filmmakers of Ballplayer: Pelotero provide their own synopsis of the film:
In the run-up to the most important days of their lives, two young Dominican baseball players confront competition and corruption to achieve their Big League dreams.

For 16 year old Dominican baseball players, or peloteros, the only real chance to escape crushing poverty comes every July 2nd, the day they become eligible to sign professional baseball contracts.  Ballplyaer: Pelotero provides an intimate portrait of two prospects as they navigate the calculating, mercenary and often corrupt elements that surround Major League Baseball's recruitment of the island's top talent.

Ballplayer: Pelotero will be playing locally in Washington, DC at the West End Cinema from Friday, July 13th through Thursday, July 19th (buy tickets here).  During the week, the film will be shown three times a day and four times a day on the weekend.  You can also access it on iTunes.

I interviewed Jon Paley again this week briefly about the film.  I asked him about what drove him to make this film, Miguel Sano, the Orioles' presence, and what he hopes the film imparts on the audience.
When people ask where this project came from this is the story I always tell them.

I grew up in Pikesville as an Orioles fan. Four or five years ago in some of our darkest days I gave up on the big league team along with my fellow Baltimoron Josh Wolf and began to fixate on the farm system (as many of your readers I'm sure can identify with). It was seeing countless Dominican guys like Daniel Cabrera and Radhammes Liz come and go through the ranks that inspired the question of why Dominicans are so good at baseball. 

In regards to Miguel, the story I always tell is about the first time we met him. We had just arrived on the island and barely had any connections. We showed up at one of the biggest showcases with around 50 scouts and most of the islands top prospects. We were setting up the camera when we started hearing these booming thunderclaps. Prospects had been hitting BP continually since we arrived. But this just sounded different. We turned around and saw Miguel for the first time putting on a BP display like he was in the Home Run Derby. We knew he was something special even before we saw him. 

The O's were EXTREMELY close to signing Sano.  They had slow played their interest the whole time we were there. They brought Miguel in for two days of back to back tryouts just before July 2nd, the day he became eligible to sign. Stockstill was there and was high on the kid. At one point, the O's were ready to offer $5 Million for Miguel, but they were concerned about his investigation. They weren't willing to take a chance on it and lost out to the Twins. The O's had the inside track to secure a cornerstone player here and failed to act. Trust me, the vision of Miguel Sano wearing orange and black and how close they were has kept me up nights. 

What we found out making this film is that the baseball system in the DR is a lot more nuanced than we had ever thought. Its easy to write off every player as a liar and every trainer as an unscrupulous bloodhound but that is not the case. Baseball is good for the Dominican Republic, and we are not trying to reform or eradicate that system. We just want to make sure that Dominican players are treated equally and fairly to their American counterparts.


07 July 2012

Miguel Gonzalez: By the Numbers

Just a short piece on Miguel Gonzalez' night.

With three fifths of the Orioles' Opening Day rotation solidifying Norfolk's rotation these days, the Orioles were scrambling around for options to replace them.  One option, Jamie Moyer, likely would have been last night's starter if he had not been impatient enough to opt out of his deal and sign on with the Blue Jays only to be tormented by the long ball in the Pacific Coast League (not the best teetering career move).  Last night, the Orioles turned to Miguel Gonzalez.  Gonzalez has moved around quite a bit during his career.  He suffered injury issues in the Angels system and lost two years, was selected in the minor league portion of the rule 5 by the Red Sox and stumbled, tried to keep his career alive in Mexico, and now is throwing for the Orioles.

Gonzalez showed five pitches last night: four seamer, two seamer, curve, slider, and change up.  He depended on his four seamer and his slider predominantly.  Over half of his pitches were four seamer.  Gonzalez was able to put them in for strikes, but he did not overpower or trick pitchers with them.  He threw in the low 90s (92.4 average) with about 70% thrown for strikes.  Of the 12 four seamers that batters swung at, they made contact every single time.  Gonzalez was able to work his slider for swings and misses.  Out of 21 sliders, 14 came in for strikes with 5 swing/misses and only 2 balls put into play.  His change, curve, and two seamer were more change of pace pitches.

There was some concern over stamina as Gonzalez has spent much of the year and much of his career as a reliever.  He seemed fine with his velocity through 80 pitches.  His last inning saw his fastball drop about 2 mph.  If he remains in the rotation, then he will need to be able to going about 15 pitches longer with full effect. 

The graph below gives some indication of how his fastball changed over the course of the night:

06 July 2012

Midseason update: Shadow System Rankings

Over the All-Star break we will provide an updated ranking of the top 25 Orioles prospects.  For the time being, we thought it would be fun to recap our Shadow System and provide a snap shot as to where the Orioles's system would be were Jon and I in charge of making decisions to draft/sign amateur talent over the past four or five years.

As a recap, each year since 2008 we have made a "shadow" selection at each point that the Orioles have had a draft pick in the first ten rounds (only the first five rounds for 2008).  As far as international signings are concerned, we have generally just gone along with Baltimore's signings.

In our most recent piece touching on Baltimore's international efforts, we mentioned that Camden Depot has only strongly endorsed going after two high profile international prospects -- Miguel Sano (signed with Twins) and Ronald Guzman (signed with Rangers). In the case of Sano we would have offered more than he ultimately received; the opposite was true for Guzman. 

One reader pointed out to me that by not having Sano included in our Shadow System, we were essentially letting ourselves off the hook if he turns out to be a bad investment, but allowing ourselves to bring him up so long as he performs well.  Fair enough point -- he will now be included in our system with a price tag of $3.6 MM (he signed for just over $3.1 MM, so the extra $.5 MM should cover the "price" of buying him away from a system that is, at least on the surface, a bit more inviting to Latin American talent).

Below is a summary of our selections, and Baltimore's actual selections, since 2008.  Where necessary, we have noted spots where our spending on our picks would have prevented going overslot for picks after the first ten rounds (and those players have accordingly been left out of our Shadow System).

History of selections
We will update this table once the 2012 amateur draft signing period has ended. 


There are two decisions of note that account for the discrepency in spending: 1) the signing of international free agent Miguel Sano in 2009, and 2) the conscious decision to try and max out on draft haul in 2011, which was simultaneously one of the deepest draft classes in recent history and the last "free market" opportunity for the draft, with new rules rolling into place in 2012.  Outside of those decisions, we attempted to stay in line with what we thought would be a reasonable budget for Baltimore's acquisitions.

Prospects of note that we missed out on; prospects of note we grabbed
The big two in the O's system right now -- Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado -- are easily the best players currently in the Orioles system but not in our Shadow System.  Camden Depot passed on Machado in 2010, selecting Karsten Whitson (rhp, Chipola HS, Fla.) instead.  Whitson decided to forgo the start of his pro career in favor of three years at the University of Florida.  Camden Depot received a comp pick for use with the third overall pick last year.  That pick was used to grab the top player on our board: Anthony Rendon (3b, Rice Univ.)

Rendon has struggled to stay healthy over the past 18-months, but was easily the best offensive talent in the historically gifted 2011 draft class.  He is again on the disabled list, on while there is plenty of time for him to realize his emmense potential, the early nod has to be given to Machado and his solid showing at Double-A Bowie this year as a 20-year old.

Our second pick last year we passed on Bundy (who we had rated as a top 5 talent in the class) in favor of Derek "Bubba" Starling (of, Gardner-Edgerton HS, Kan.).  Starling was in extended spring training and working out at Kansas City's complex prior to joining up with the Burlington Bees (KC's Appy League team).  Starling has only played in seven Appy League games and currently sports a .321/.472/.607 triple-slash with 5 BB, 7 SO, 1 3B and 2 HR over his first 36 plate appearances. A solid showing, but again you have to give the nod to the Orioles's actual selection, Dylan Bundy, who is just two months older than Starling and more than holding his own at Advanced-A Frederick.

So, has the Shadow system been a failure on the Starling/Rendon : Bundy/Machado comparison alone? Not exactly.  We scored big when we selected Zack Wheeler in 2009 (now a top 15 prospect in all of baseball) while Baltimore appears to have swung and missed with Matt Hobgood.  Additionally, our decision to invest $3.6 MM in Miguel Sano may or may not work out long term, but the young Dominican slugger is currently showing perhaps the best raw power in all of Minor League Baseball (albeit with a "work-to-be-done" hit tool).

Other names we like in Baltimore's system include LJ Hoes, Clayton Schrader, and Xavier Avery, all of whom we have touted since their drafting by the O's.  Avery has broken through to the Majors this year, and Hoes looks to be not far behind.  Schrader is a high risk/solid reward arm that has progressed to Bowie off the strength of a plus 1-2 punch in his fastball and power curve.  How he handles control and command issues will determine his ultimate worth to the big club.

There are a number of names of note that we feel we did well to grab, though most of them remain in the low minors as high school picks out of the draft.  Ty Buttrey and Dillon Howard may wind-up in the pen, but carry with them #2/#3 upside in a rotation if things click.  Garin Cecchini, Todd Glaesmann, Tanner Rahier, Avery Romero (provided he signs), and Jake Cave are high upside offensive talents at A-ball or lower, but could be five-ninths of an impressive upper-minors squad at Double-A within two years. 

Josh Rutledge has nowhere near the upside of Machado, but gives the Shadow System a Double-A shortstop that has a chance to be an above-average offensive producer at a middle-infield position by 2013 (even if he has to slide over to second base).  Roger Kieschnick has exploded in the Pacific Coast League this year, already dropping 14 bombs through his first 50 games, but is only a fringe prospect because of the swing-and-miss in his offensive game and his corner profile.  Josh Elander (c, TCU) could turn out to be a steal in the 6th Round of this year's draft -- he should see time in A-ball this year and could be ready to tackle Double-A as early as next year if he shifts out from behind the plate to right field.
Top 25 prospects for the Camden Depot Shadow System
For purposes of this list, we are assuming Gausman and Romero both sign before next Friday. To the extent they do not, we'll update the list when we run our comparison piece on the updated O's top 25 and the updated Shadow System top 25.  All ages listed are as of July 1, 2012.

1. Zack Wheeler (22y1m, Double-A)
2. Kevin Gausman (21y6m, 2012 Draft)
3. Bubba Starling (19y11m, Rookie)
4. Miguel Sano (19y2m, Class A)
5. Anthony Rendon (22y1m, Class A-Adv.)
It's a very nice top 5 as far as upside is concerned, but Starling and Sano carry with them a good amount of risk associated with their respective hit tools and refinement.  Rendon is as safe a bet as you will find on the field, but he needs to show he can actually stay on the field.  Gausman and Wheeler both have front-end upside but need to continue to refine their command.  These five could all be on an All-Star team in four years, but this upside comes with both risk and a heavy financial investment (about $25 MM total).

6. Jonathan Schoop (20y9m, Double-A)
7. Garin Cecchini (21y2m, Class A)
8. Josh Rutledge (23y2m, Double-A)
9. Dillon Howard (20y0m, Rookie)
10. Ty Buttrey (19y3m, 2012 Draft)
A very solid second-half of the top ten, providing offensive upside with Schoop and Cecchini, some offensive production up-the-middle with Rutledge, and two power arms that could grow into top 20 prospects or eventually find their way to the pen.  Rutledge and Schoop could make an interesting tandem up-the-middle, though both might best fit as second basemen.

11. Tanner Rahier (18y9m, 2012 Draft)
12. Avery Romero (19y2m, 2012 Draft)
13. Todd Glaesmann (21y8m, Class A)
14. Josh Elander (21y3m, 2012 Draft)
15. Roger Kieschnick (25y5m, Triple-A)
Both Kieschnick and Glaesman have seen hiccups in their development but have enjoyed a successful start to their respective 2012 seasons, totaling 26 homeruns through a combined 127 games.  Both have struggled to overcome some holes, offensively, but could project as product corner outfielders with some pop.  The trio of 2012 draftees all carry their value in their bats, with Rahier and Romero likely to tackle short-season ball this year and Class A next year.  Elander is advanced enough with the bat to jump to Class A-Advanced, but might be eased into pro ball at the Class A level so that he can continue to work on his receiving behind the plate.

16. Brody Colvin (21y11m, Class A-Adv.)
17. Logan Verrett (22y0m, Class A)
18. Bobby Bundy (22y6m, Double-A)
19. Lex Rutledge (21y0m, 2012 Draft)
20. Eduardo Rodriguez (18y3m, Class A)
Colvin was an expensive oversign back in 2009 who has struggled to harness his stuff through his first two-plus seasons of pro ball.  Colvin retains his mid-rotation upside but is more likely to provide value as a late-inning power arm.  Verrett has been eased into pro ball but is old enough, and has shown enough success at Class A, to start moving up the chain. He tops out as a #3 but, like Colvin, might fit best in the back of a pen.  Bundy is a workhorse that struggled to start the 2012 season but has seen a steady lowering of his FIP over the last three months. He projects as a back-end innings eater but will need to find the breaker he had pre-draft to stick as a starter. Rutledge is a power arm best suited for relief, where his stuff plays much better than it does as a starter.  He could be an 8th-inning guy. Eduardo Rodriguez is surviving Delmarva at a young age, but his stuff looks to project better to the back end of a rotation.

21. Cody Kukuk (19y3m, Extended ST)
22. Jake Cave (19y8m, Extended ST - Injury)
23. Ian Krol (21y2m, Class A-Adv.)
24. Tim Melville (22y10m, Double-A)
25. Glynn Davis (20y8m, Class A)
Kukuk has yet to leave extended spring training but should make a short-season appearance this summer and tackle full-season ball in 2013.  He profiles as a potential mid-rotation or back-end arm but is a ways away.  Cave has tools for miles but has been slowed due to minor surgery early in 2012. He could make a big jump after he gets a year or so of pro ball under his belt.  Krol has been slowed by an elbow injury and some off-field antics costing him playing and development time.  He could be back-end starter, but has some growing up to do.  Melville was a seven-figure investment in 2008 but has struggled to find consistency in mechanics and stuff. Like Krol, the bullpen is the most likely point of entry to the Majors.  Davis remains a speedy athlete with a solid feel for the game but needs to get much stronger in order to avoid having the bat knocked out of his hand at the upper-levels. He profiles as a potential 4th outfielder. 

It's not an elite system, but there is big upside at the top and lotto tickets sprinkled throughout the 11-25 range.  After we unveil the updated Orioles Top 25 list next week we will examine whether, as of today, this collection of players is worth the additional $9 MM-plus of investment over the crop currently in Baltimore's system.

05 July 2012

Scouting the Birds: Chris Tillman 2012 Debut

History with Tillman
It has been a long road for Camden Depot with Tillman, so we wanted to take a few paragraphs to highlight the last four years we've spent covering and evaluating Chris before we jump into a review of his 2012 debut.  Feel free to skip down to the "scouty" report at any time.

*     *     *

Camden Depot has been an unabashed supporter of Tillman for sometime. Our history in evaluating Chris has been interesting in that we've found ourselves on the opposite side of "mainstream" fan opinion dating back to pre-Bedard trade talks.  Essentially, our view of Tillman has, rightly or wrongly, stayed the same throughout the last four years, meaning at the height of his popularity in prospecting circles we were seen as "too light" on him, and at the depths of his struggles we were seen as "too high" on him.

At the time of the Bedard trade, much of the Orioles blogging world, and message board world, was consumed with names like Carlos Triunfel and Jeff Clement as the "second piece" behind what everyone was sure would be the crown jewel -- Adam Jones.  Our take on Jones at the top was similar -- after all he made the most sense as a young, highly-touted and high-ceilinged prospect already breaking into the Bigs with an impressive pedigree to back up the scout card. 

After Jones, however, we posited that Chris Tillman would be, and should be, the second target in the transaction, and even pointed out that Andy MacPhail's reported insistence that Brandon Morrow be included in the deal (never going to happen) was primarily a negotiating tactic to allow Baltimore to "fall back" on Tillman.  At the time, Tillman was still just a projectable arm at A-Advanced High Desert, showing flashes of promise but often being burned by the hitter friendly environment in the California League and his inability to yet command his stuff.  It turns out that we saw the same thing Baltimore saw -- a prototypical pitcher's body with an easy motion and a chance to grow into front-end stuff.

The other names we threw into the package were Tony Butler and Mario Martinez, who we viewed as comparable to Triunfel but without the bloated "prospect ranking" value -- both are currently struggling to advance up the ladder, sitting in A-Adv. High Desert as 22- and 23-year olds, respectively. The actual trade, of course, involved Jones, Tillman, George Sherrill, Butler and Kam Mickolio -- hey, three out of five ain't too shabby.

Upon coming over, Tillman dazzled in Double-A for Baltimore and was labeled by many (including Baseball America) as a potential rotation headliner for the O's, and their top pitching prospect. Message boards were sky high on Tillman and we took some minor grief for giving the nod to Matusz, who we believed had a slightly better overall arsenal and much better command (that general opinion remains, and we would love to see the O's fans jumping back on the Tillman train to keep in mind Chris's developmental curve when they are trampling upon Matusz's potential on the message boards and blogs).

Chris had up-and-down showings during partial years with the Birds in 2010 and 2011, showing some inconsistencies in his mechanics and the effects of developmental tweaking "in progress" at both the Major League level and at Triple-A.  Our take remained largely the same, mostly because the raw material was still there for Tillman to be what we always considered his to be -- a potential number two starter, with a good chance of fitting in as a good mid-rotation arm. 

Last spring my updated filed report on Tillman contained an OFP of 57 with a 54-59 range. Essentially, I was very confident Tillman had the goods to deliver number three starter production and a shot at developing into a true number two.  The grade was slightly ahead of what we filed for Zach Britton, which obviously was met with skepticism from various readers and message boards.

Our biggest gripe with Tillman as of the end of 2011? He wasn't making use of his potential physicality and, likely tied to the lack of physicality, he wasn't maintaining his mechanics.  The motion and arm action was always easy, but Tillman had yet to tighten everything up, so the arm action, temp and release had not found a steady fit. 

The result was inconsistent stuff that didn't generally hold-up through the course of a game.  Tillman's velocity hadn't taken the expected step forward.  Tillman's curve and change-up, however, were still flashing plus, and he still had an ability to be a mid-rotation starter even with an average fastball.  It was a different Tillman than I expected to see develop, but not necessarily a worse Chris Tillman if he could find more consistency.

Tillman worked with Brady Anderson this off-season to improve his strength and stamina, both to improve his overall explosiveness and to better equip him to endure the long Major League season.  This spring, Baltimore (wisely, I think) started Tillman back in Norfolk and worked to simplify things, mechanically.  Last night Orioles fans were treated to the "new" Chris Tillman, who is really just the old Chris Tillman with a slightly more compact delivery, believe it or not.

We will get into the details below, but as we do so let's all keep in mind a couple of things: 1) pitching prospects rarely develop on a linear path, meaning Tillman's "ups and downs" are more common than uncommon among even high-level pitching prospects, and 2) a good start does not set a new baseline for expected performance, it simply gives you a positive data point to add to your overall evaluation of a young baseball player. 

On to some quick notes on last night....

Scouting Tillman: Short form report
July 4, 2012 (at Seattle Mariners)

Velo Chart (short form):
Pitch (AVG/Max)
FB (95/97)
CU (77/79)
CH (83/84)
CT (90/92)
SL (83/85)

Fastball:  55/60
Curve:  55
Change-up:  55/60
Cutter: 50/55
Slider: 45/50
Control/Command: 50
Feel:  55

"Scouty" report:
The biggest area of growth for Tillman over the past 18 months has been the simplification of his step in and arm circle.  The result has been a better tempo, more consistent release, better arm speed and a slight improvement in command (though the command is still a work in progress).  Tillman has completed a conversion to a phone booth motion (meaning he is compact enough to perform his step-in and leg kick inside a phone booth) and has paired that with a simplified drop on the backside of his arm action. 

In the past, Tillman has had a little more rock to his motion and more swing in his arm, which had the duel impact of flashing the ball on the backside (which can give hitters a look at your grip) and creating an inconsistent path from the backside to release, throwing off command and consistency of stuff.  This spring, both in camp and at Norfolk, Tillman showcased his more compact delivery and immediately saw the benefits through an increase in arm speed and a bump in velo (about four miles per hour higher, on average, than 2011). 

The other benefit of his simplified drop, or soft stab, on the back side is that he is shielding the ball much better from hitters, creating deception in his secondaries which almost assuredly will result in more swings and misses from MLB hitters.  That helps the secondary stuff but also causes the hitters to perceive a more explosive fastball.

His arsenal was largely what we have seen in the past with a couple of positive developments.  First and foremost, the import of the velocity bump cannot be understated.  Tillman, at his best, can utilize plus off-speed and breaking stuff down to help his fastball miss bats up.  The increased velocity will allow him to be more aggressive in all parts of the zone. 

The secondary stuff, as discussed above, benefited from an increase in deception.  It was also a little more consistent than Tillman has historically shown at the Major League level (though he has flashed plus stuff throughout his limited career). The change is, at its best, a plus pitch with hard fade. The curve is a 12-to-6 hammer at its best, and he got on top of it with a little more frequency last night than he has in the past. It wasn't any better than it had previously shown, but it was more consistent, and he showed comfort with it as both a drop-in pitch and a bury pitch.

It is a packaged deal, fastball and secondaries (one reason why I still am not certain why people mention "pitch values", a FanGraphs stat, individually as some sort of gauge for evaluating overall pitching performance).  Last night Tillman showed how dramatically slight improvements across the board can help all aspects of a pitcher's performance.

More deception and more consistency led to secondaries that were better executed and more consistently "there" for him when he wanted them. It also meant hitters were less able to sit fastball.  Increased velocity (while maintaining his almost always solid velo delta between the fastball and change-up) meant hitters had to be teed up for a true above-average to plus heater, increasing the odds in Tillman's favor when he decided to drop an off-speed or breaker.

Tillman hit his spots often enough to overmatch Seattle -- an offense with limited punch.  It is unlikely his line would have been quite as eye-popping against a more dangerous nine, and that is important to understand and keep in mind when revelling in last night's box score.  It was a very nice step forward, but not a signal that Tillman has "arrived". There is work to be done in his ability to spot his stuff, and that will be highly important in determining whether Tillman ultimately settles in as a dependable mid-rotation arm, a shut down number two, or somewhere in between. 

The good news is that a more consistent execution of his pitches will give him and Wieters a broader set of strategies to implement, and we should see an increase in changes and curves called by this duo as we progress through 2012.

The bottom line? It was a nice first step for Tillman at the Major League level in 2012.  It was not the performance of an ace, but it was more evidence that the front-end stuff we have always seen in there could manifest more regularly, and be implemented more effectively, moving forward. He still does not project as a plus command arm, but he can be better than average in spurts, and more importantly he has the look and feel of someone more confident in his stuff than he has ever been.

Once the Orioles return from the break, we will provide an in-depth breakdown of Tillman against either the Tigers or Twins.  There is much more to say than we've covered in the brief summary here.

03 July 2012

Amateur Acquisitions: Analyzing unsigned picks in Shadow Draft

Earlier today we took a look at the current state of amateur acquisitions on the international market and vis-a-vis the remaining unsigned picks in the June Amateur Draft.  Before continuing with this entry it might make sense to peruse that piece if you haven't alreadyThe loose conclusion of each respective discussion was that:

  1. fans should hope Baltimore does more on the international front but be comforted in the efforts of the remaining AL East teams being limited starting next year; and
  2. it doesn't just matter that Baltimore is able to sign Gausman (1st), Poche (5th Rd), and Velasquez (15th Rd over-allotment), it matters how the Orioles sign them.

We are focusing on the second point for this piece and applying to your humble ESPN SweetSpot blog the same standards we levied on the professionals in the Warehouse.  So we ask ourselves -- did Camden Depot spend efficiently and effectively in the Shadow Draft?

Here is a breakdown of our signings thus far and a note as to our current status vis-a-vis pool allotment:

1:4 -- Kevin Gausman (rhp, LSU): Unsigned (allotment $4.2 MM)
2:4 -- Tanner Rahier (ss/2b, Palm Desert HS, Calif.): Shadow bonus $700,00 (allotment savings $93,700)
3:4 -- Avery Romero (3b, Menendez HS, Fla.): Unsigned (allotment $481,100)
4:4 -- Ty Buttrey (rhp, Providence HS, N.C.) Shadow bonus $1.3 MM (overage $950,100)
5:4 -- Lex Rutledge (rhp, Radford) Shadow bonus $200,000 (allotment savings $62,000)
6:4 -- Josh Elander (c/of, TCU) Shadow bonus $196,200 (allotment savings $0)
7:4 -- Jeremy Rathjen (of, Rice) Shadow bonus $25,000 (allotment savings $125,000)
8:4 -- Zach Cooper (rhp, Central Michigan) Shadow bonus $15,000 (allotment savings $115,000)
9:4 -- Michael Boyden (rhp, Maryland) Shadow bonus $10,000 (allotment savings $120,000)
10:4 -- Chris Kirsch (rhp, Lackawanna College) Unsigned (allotment $125,000)

Total savings: $515,700
Total overage: $950,100
Current status: $434,400 over allotment
Available taxable amount without losing pick: $341,000 (with tax, $597,350)

Provided Kirsch signs (he was drafted by the Nats in the 31st Round), we should realize around $120,000 in savings there, which means we would have the money to sign Romero and Gausman to their allotted amount while incurring a tax of about $250,000. 

Now, keep in mind that Romero could be an over-allotment signee, given his option to attend the University of Florida.  That means that, if Kirsch doesn't sign, we would have to sign Gausman at enough of a discount to cover the additional $90 K to cover Buttrey's overage, as well as any other overage required to sign Romero.  If Romero does not sign, we would target signing Gausman for $3.75 MM so as to avoid paying tax on the Buttrey overage.

If we were required to pay the extra $250,000 or so in tax, I would view this as much more tolerable as applied to Buttrey than it would be as applied to Vasquez (discussed in this morning's piece).  Why? the overage essentially bumps Buttrey's cost to a little over $1.5 MM (with $1.3 MM going to the player).  That difference is the difference in spending allotment for the 33rd overall pick and the 40th overall pick.  Essentially, it is negligible. We had Buttrey valued as a supplemental-1st round talent, including risk profile, and regardless of whether we pay the $250,000 tax or not we are getting him for early-supplemental-1st round money.

Any overage required to sign Avery (provided he signs) would be covered by savings on Gausman and on our 7th, 8th and 9th round picks.  The tradeoff, of course, is that we went for cheaper senior signs in these spots as opposed to Baltimore essentially playing the board with selections willing to sign for around slot allotment.  Our analysis was that the difference between our expected return on our senior signs and our expectation for return for Baltimore's "play the board" picks are far outweighed by the greater upside we get in the form of Rahier/Romero/Buttrey over Baltimore's 2nd, 3rd and 4th Round selections of Branden Kline (rhp, UVA)/Adrian Marin (2b/ss, Gulliver Prep, Fla.)/Christian Walker (1b, South Carolina).

The risk, of course, is that Romero and Buttrey require more overage than we can cover, which means we have to either decide not to include one in our Shadow System, or forfeit our first round pick next year.  We certainly pushed the envelope as far as draft spend is concerned, but I feel strongly that our approach did a better job of leveraging our pool allotment to bring in the best collection of talent possible.  It will be interested to see how it all plays out and you can be sure we'll be spilling more internet ink on this topic in the coming weeks.

As a final note, if the Gausman signing goes right, Kirsch signs, and Romero signs for an amount that is not much more than allotment, we could have enough left over to ink Velasquez as well:

Current status: $434,000 over allotment
Gausmen signing $3.7 MM (allotment savings $500,000
Romero signing $600,000 (allotment overage about $110,000)
Kirsch signing $10,000 (allotment savings $115,000)
Updated status: $71,000 savings
Taxable overage available: $341,000

That would give us $412,000 to add to the $100,000 allotment currently in place for Velasquez.  Were Romero to sign for slot allotment, or were Gausman to sign for $100,000 less, we'd have over $600,000 to offer to Velasquez. Keeping in mind the tax makes sense in the context of our Buttrey overage, and this would be quite a draft haul.

Amateur Acquisitions: IFA signings; remaining Draft signings

International Signings -- Day 1 Wrap
Yesterday marked the first day that first-time eligible international free agents could sign with Major League organizations. Ben Badler at Baseball America kept folks abreast of all the action over at the BA Prospect Blog (check it out if you haven't already).  One quick note -- the BA rankings discussed are to anchor the piece and any resulting conversation.  In no way should the rankings be taken as gospel.  Badler does as good a job as anyone at compiling info on these players, but the opinions on these 16-year olds vary greatly from organization to organization.  We use the rankings as a useful cross-section of talented international players; that is enough for this exercise.

The down and dirty details? Out of the Top 20 IFA prospects listed by Baseball America, 14 have been announced as coming to terms with MLB clubs. Out of that group of signing prospects, seven are headed to farm systems in the AL East. Out of those seven, none are heading to Baltimore.  Here is the breakdown (including BA ranking):

Blue Jays
Franklin Barreto, ss/cf, Venezuela (BA Rank #1)
Luis Castro, ss, Venezuela (BA Rank #9)

Jose Mujica, rhp, Venezuela (BA Rank #3)
David Rodriguez, c, Venezuela (BA Rank #14)

Luis Torrens, c, Venezuela (BA Rank #2)
Alexander Palma, of, Venezuela (BA Rank #4)

Red Sox
Jose Almonte, rhp, Dominican Republic (BA Rank #17)

In previous years Baltimore has shied away from swiming in the deeper waters of high bonus international free agents due to expected return on investment.  This year, MLB has placed a soft cap on international spending for all teams, whereby teams cannot spend more than $2.9 MM on international free agents without incurring a penalty.  This $2.9 MM soft cap can be tweaked a little with up to six $50 K signings being permitted without counting against the overall allotment.

In 2013, it is expected that pool allotments for signing IFAs will be handed out on a sliding scale in similar fashion to the June Amateur Draft, with the best records from 2012 receiving smaller allotments than those teams at the bottom of the standings.  MLB hopes to then transition to an International Draft in 2014, though the details surrounding such an endeavor still remain convoluted.

With more cost certainty this year in the top tier of international signings, it is somewhat disappointing to see Baltimore still on the sidelines -- at least after Day 1 of the signing period.  Next year the O's will have a built in advantage over a number of teams, depending on their final record.  While the preference is for Baltimore to flex this advantage next year, at least fans can take solace in the fact that the other four AL East teams will be limited in their spending options.  So even if Baltimore continues to sit out the IFA feeding frenzy, at least the rest of the AL East won't be getting quite as far ahead as they have in years' past, and thus far in 2012.

Draft Signings
As of this morning, Baltimore still had yet to ink two of their top ten selections -- first rounder, and fourth overall selection, Kevin Gausman (rhp, LSU), and fifth rounder Colin Poche (rhp, Marcus HS, Flower Mound, Texas).  Thus far, Baltimore has spent just under $2.5 MM of their allotted $6.8 MM (assuming all top ten round selections sign).  The following is a breakdown as to what is available for Gausman and Poche, as well as a quick look at whether the O's should be looking to signing any of the remaining selections after the tenth round for over the $100K allotted amount -- most notably fifteenth rounder Derick Velasquez (rhp, Merced College).

Gausman's pick is allotted $4.2 MM by MLB.  When we selected Gausman in our Shadow Draft, we did so with an estimate that we could sign him for $3.5-3.75 MM.  That estimate looks pretty spot on in comparison to other top six picks that have signed thus far:

1:1 Carlos Correa (ss, Astros) - Signed for $4.8 MM (allotment $7.2 MM)
1:2 Byron Buxton (of, Twins) - Signed for $6.0 MM (allotment $6.2 MM)
1:3 Mike Zunino (c, Mariners) - Signed for $4.0 MM (allotment $5.2 MM)
1:4 Kevin Gausman (rhp, LSU) - Unsigned (allotment $4.2 MM)
1:5 Kyle Zimmer (rhp, Royals) - Signed for $3.0 MM (allotment $3.5 MM)

The O's have saved $120K by signing various of their top eight signees for under allotment, which ups Gausman's "allotment" to around $4.3 MM  They could spend an additional $341 K (approx.) without losing a pick next year, but would be taxed 75% on the overage (this is important).

If Gausman signs for the full allotment of $4.2, Baltimore will have $120K untaxed to tack on to Poche's allotment or the allotment for fifteenth rounder Velasquez. Ideally Baltimore will save more money on Gausman in order to increase the allotment for these other two picks.  Why? Once we dig into the taxable overage for these two players, we push closer to the area where risk and reward get more uncomfortable.

Poche's allotment is $262 K.  Velasquez's allotment is $100K.  Adding another $120 K to either bumps the allotment into an area that is still bearable from a risk reward standpoint (about fourth round money for Poche and fifth round money for Velasquez).  Anything over that comes at a 175% rate, which quickly drives up the respective price of these two.  Here is how it shakes out assuming Gausman were to sign for $4.2 MM and Baltimore is willing to spend up to their allotted 5% overage:

Actual Allotment/Round Selected - $262,000/5th
Bonus w/$120K saved from other signings/Round Equivalent - $380,000/4th
Additional $100 K to player - $555,000/late-2nd
Additional $150 K to player - $645,000/mid-2nd
Additional $200 K to player - $730,000/early-2nd
Additional $300 K to player - $905,00/supplemental-1st

Actual Allotment/Round Selected - $100,000/15th
Bonus w/$120K saved from other signings/Round Equivalent - $220,000/5th
Additional $100 K to player - $395,000/late-3rd
Additional $150 K to player - $485,000/early-3rd
Additional $200 K to player - $570,000/mid-2nd
Additional $300 K to player - $745,000/early-2nd

While both Pouce and Velasquez have upside, Poche is not a second round talent from a risk profile perspective and it is debatable as to whether Velasquez should be considered more than a third or fourth round talent form a risk profile perspective.  Further, if Velasquez was signable for around $350-400 K, one would think he would have come off the board around the fourth or fifth round. My guess, having been witness to negotiations of this type first hand, is that Velasquez is looking for something closer to $600-650 K.  Above, Baltimore had room to give him $520 K without losing a pick. Assuming they save $200 K by signing Gausman for just $4.0 MM, that would make the total cost for Velasquez, tax included, $875,000 (with $650,000 of that going to the player).  That would be top sixty overall money.

What's the point of all of this? It's not as simple as "there is money to sign Gausman/Velasquez/Poche."  If Baltimore saves $500 K by signing Gausman to a $3.7 MM deal, that $500 K, with the $120 K already saved through other signings, should in and of itself give Baltimore the money to sign Poche and Velasquez to $300,000 and $675,000, respectively, without incurring any penalty.  If Gausman signs for the full $4.2 MM, and we assume Poche and Velasquez can be had for around $275 K and $500 K, respectively, it would end up costing Baltimore an additional $525,000 (or about 7.75% of their draft budget).

Yes, it's just money. But in reviewing the formulation and implementation of a draft strategy, a resulting class in which Poche and Velasquez comprise a total of 18% of your budget ($775 K in bonus and $525 K in taxes levied) is simply not going to score very high from an "efficient and effective" standpoint. 

Beginning this year, the draft is about a lot more than "get your guys". The teams that thrive in this environment are going to be the teams that best utilize their bonus allotments.  O's fans should not simply be hoping to see Gausman, Poche and Velasquez signed -- they should be hoping to see them signed such that a large chunk of tax is not required.  The alternative is a potential indication that Baltimore was not as effective in their draft spend as they probably could have been. That means talent was likely left on the table.