The 2018 MLB Draft is drawing closer and closer (June 4th is just a few weeks away) and this is where things get exciting for fans of any team. More and more mock drafts are coming out and the top of the draft, at the very least, starts to come into focus. Casey Mize has long been the favorite to go #1 and guys like Joey Bart, Nick Madrigal, and Alec Bohm are settling in as very likely top 5 picks. As a result, more and more teams and their fans are starting to get a better sense of what players will be available around the time that they pick and ratcheting up their excitement accordingly.
This is just as true of Braves fans. While initial mock drafts from industry experts were all over the place (which is to be expected), we are starting to see the same names such as Jarred Kelenic and Nolan Gorman associated with the Braves at 8 and that allows all of us to get hyped up for what the Braves could be adding to their farm system, too.
However, the biggest storyline for this draft possibly shouldn’t be who the Braves get in the first round, but what the effects of the penalties from this past offseason will end up being.
The fiasco that was the end of John Coppolella’s tenure as general manager has been well documented and the loss of basically an entire international free agent class understandably gets top billing especially when one considers the level of talent lost in guys like Kevin Maitan, Yunior Severino, and Yefri del Rosario. However, one thing that does get lost in that conversation is the loss of the Braves’ third round pick in this draft due to violations on the draft side. On the face of it, that doesn’t SEEM like a very big deal....but in practice, especially with how a team’s draft bonus pool works, it is a very significant hurdle.
The Braves are picking 8th overall in the 2018 draft and, generally speaking, that would usually mean that would all but guarantee them a top 10 draft bonus pool in a given draft class due to the value of the draft slots through the opening rounds of the draft (yes, I know that comp and supplementary round picks mess this calculation up a bit, but stay with me here). However, due largely to the loss of the Braves 3rd round pick which cost them around $675,000 in draft bonus pool money, the Braves are only 15th overall in terms of their draft bonus pool at $8,267,300 with the Royals leading the pack at $12,781,900 due to them having competitive balance and compensatory picks.
So why does this matter? Well, the obvious reason first is that there are very good players available in the third round and the Braves won’t have a crack at any of them. This is very clearly unfortunate. Just in the last few years, the Braves have drafted Freddy Tarnok and Max Povse in the third round. There is real value to be had there, especially if the scouting department does a good job and the Braves have one of the best scouting departments in the league.
Moreover though, the loss of the pick decreases the team’s ability to be flexible with their bonus pool money which is particularly painful in a draft as deep as this one. There are guys whose stock is falling (such as maybe Ethan Hankins, Will Banfield, Mike Vasil, etc.) that, with a healthier bonus pool, the Braves could make a play at snagging with their 2nd round pick by going overslot to get them. This plan is certainly complicated by the Braves’ lack of compensatory and competitive balance picks (that system is pretty awful for what it is worth) because there were always going to be a lot of teams with a lot of pool money in the way of those grand designs even if the Braves’ pool was at full strength, but that option is basically completely off the table now.
That financial flexibility isn’t just useful in terms of big flashy moves like that. Being able to come up with a little bit of extra money to sign talented, but raw guys away from college commitments in the 4th and 5th rounds. Bryse Wilson was all set to head to school, but the Braves made him an overslot offer after picking him in the 2016 draft which, at the time, wasn’t a gigantic amount of money over slot or anything like that, but enough for him to forgo college and now he is one of the best pitching prospects in the Braves’ farm system.
With the limits on draft spending, slot values, and draft bonus pools overall, every single dollar matters. In today’s sports economy, $675,000 does not seem like a lot of money....hell, I am pretty sure the Braves have paid more than that to have the pleasure of Emilio Bonifacio on the roster recently. But with the rules in place for the draft, the depth and value of the players that would be available, and the effects it will have on the team’s overall draft strategy, the pain will be real for the Braves come draft day.
Fortunately, not all is doom and gloom here as the Braves do hold a top 10 pick, so they will get a very good player and the Braves scouting department led by Brian Bridges has a real knack for finding value in later round picks. The team will be fine and there will some really fun players to talk about after the draft ends. However, it is also a reminder of the scale of the punishments the Braves received this past offseason. The loss of a draft pick was one of the smaller prices the Braves had to pay, but that doesn’t mean that is was insignificant.