University of Nevada CF and member of the USA Collegiate National Team T.J. Friedl is expected to sign a lucrative NDFA (non-drafted free agent) deal with the Cincinnati Reds. Friedl, a redshirt sophomore in 2016, was eligible to be drafted in June but, due to confusion with how he was listed on Nevada’s roster, the industry — and, rumor has it, Friedl himself — was unaware that he was draft-eligible. Only once Friedl began to make waves this summer with Team USA did scouts begin to look into his background and realize that he had slipped through the cracks and was eligible to sign.
Of course, NDFA’s that sign for over $100,000 count against the signing club’s draft bonus pool and as bidding for Friedl began to heat up, many teams had no room to make a run at him. The Reds had around $700K worth of money to spend without incurring heavy penalties for exceeding their pool limit, and indeed I’ve heard anything from $500-$750K as the likely amount here, with more sources indicating the number is toward the low end of that range. Tampa Bay was also heavily involved in negotiations with Friedl.
The scouting report here is that of a sandwich- or second-round talent. Friedl is a 70 runner, posting run times from home to first in about four seconds flat. He played in an outfield corner for Team USA in deference to Vanderbilt CF Jeren Kendall but made some fine defensive plays there and scouts are confident about his ability to play center field. He has plus bat speed, loose, strong wrists that whip the bat through the zone and good hand-eye coordination. Combined with his speed and physical tools to hit, Friedl is also an exceptional bunter and I’ve spoken with scouts who think that package of skills will culminate in an above-average hit tool. He has fringe-average game power, as his swing is more geared for contact, but there’s more raw in there than plays during games and, based on his likely defensive profile, the power is fine. There’s excellent video of Friedl here.
The most lucrative NFDA deal I’ve been able to unearth is Bobby Kielty’s $500K deal from 1999, and Friedl looks poised to exceed, or at least match that. I’m still trying to confirm exactly how and why nobody knew Friedl was draft-eligible, but at this point it seems as though Nevada had simply listed him as a sophomore on their roster and teams would have had to examine his player bio page on the site to see that he had redshirted during his true sophomore year, was actually a redshirt sophomore in 2016 and thus three years removed from high school and eligible for the draft.
I think this is an excellent get for the Reds who add another early-round talent to a good 2016 drat class as well as for Friedl, who was able to offer his services to a more open market than he would have had he been drafted next year.
UPDATE: 8/4/2016: Friedl signed today for about $730k. Since the initial publication of this article, scouts have contacted me and alerted me that they knew he was draft eligible (though it’s clear some teams didn’t), as did Friedl, but that Friedl wasn’t going to sign after his R-Soph year unless he got the kind of money that he ended up getting today from the Reds. Scouts who saw him this spring didn’t think he was worth that sort of bonus. Scouts who saw him this summer however, did.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.
Does it make sense for him to sign at this point, rather than wait a year? Just looking at the slot values, 2nd round slot is anywhere from $900K-1.5MM. Sandwich picks are a tick above that. So if he’s that caliber of player, it seems like he’s selling himself short by at least a few hundred grand, if not closer to a million bucks, by signing now instead of next year.
He could just be hedging against having a poor year. Maybe not a bad idea for guys who don’t have big time power.
Going by scouting reports and his stat line, I would be very doubtful he’d be a sandwich round pick. From recent drafts, the first guy who comes to mind as a comparison would be Mike Tauchman, who got a $10k bonus. Granted, that was depressed by his lack of remaining NCAA eligibility, but Tauchman had a very similar scouting profile and a longer track record of success in a comparable conference. Sure, Friedl has room to add some power to his game, but he’d have to take a pretty big step forward to go in the first few rounds.
The bigger question is how not a single team realized he was draft-eligible (I can’t imagine any team realizing he was and not taking a flyer on him somewhere in the late rounds) despite his appearing on multiple pre-draft lists.
Getting into pro ball a year earlier, getting the coaching a year younger, and getting to be arbitration and free agent eligible a year earlier should all be worth leaving a possible extra $100-600k on the table.