Let’s Field an All Late-Round Team

At this point, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that Major League Baseball is highly adept at saving money on the backs of people without a seat at the table. Amateur players often bear the brunt of those machinations, and without a real voice in the collective bargaining process, they’ve seen their negotiating rights and earning potential limited by bonus pools, restrictions on major league contracts, and shrinking negotiation windows. Sometimes, these measures have seemed almost gratuitous, like when the Phillies, unable to sign Ben Wetzler in 2014, decided to report him to the NCAA for having legal representation.

The March agreement between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association on how to resume the season (and what to do if there isn’t one) cut the amateur draft to the bone. The draft was reduced from 40 rounds to a maximum of 20 (MLB later settled on the minimum of five), slot values remained at their 2019 levels, signing bonus payments were deferred to July 2021 and 2022, with a maximum of $100,000 due to each player in 2020, and undrafted players had their bonuses capped at $20,000 (previously, players could receive $125,000 without it counting against a team’s draft pool).

The question is: What kind of talent will this cost baseball long-term? Baseball’s draft is an uncertain exercise compared to the NBA’s or the NFL’s. While those leagues have their own share of undrafted stars — in much shorter drafts — baseball has a long history of franchise stalwarts who weren’t in the top 300, 600, or even 800 players taken.

With the bonus restrictions on undrafted players, baseball is sure to lose a piece of its future. Many of these players will still end up in baseball eventually, but with only minuscule bonuses, which many players desperately need to justify seeking baseball careers because of the anemic minor league salaries, a lot of players will not.

And yes, these figures represent significant cuts to pay, more than any owner has asked of any player with a union protecting his rights. There will be no sixth round this year. Last year, all 30 players drafted in the sixth round signed, with bonuses averaging $266,000; 26 of the 30 players received more than $100,000. Twelfth round picks averaged $210,000, while 18th round picks averaged $111,000 (27 players). Even 30th round players did better than the $20,000 maximum, with the 21 signed players combining to make $725,000 ($35,000 on average).

A bonus of $20,000 instead of $150,000 is a pretty big deal for a player who will make a minimum of $400 a week in Rookie ball in 2021. Some of the players who do not sign will re-enter the draft next year; some will go to college. But some may end up as football players or basketball players, or doctors, or lawyers, or firefighters. To illustrate how much talent is at stake, let’s build some teams of players drafted in rounds that don’t exist in this year’s draft and see how they stack up to the rest of the league.

Let’s start with just the players outside of the top five rounds. To keep this from being too easy, I’m only using players who were drafted (and signed) in the last decade. [I originally forgot to include this very helpful sentence -DS]

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Pitchers (>5th Round)
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP Jacob deGrom 9 2.88 4.7
SP Kyle Hendricks 8 3.67 3.3
SP Robbie Ray 12 4.00 2.7
SP Matthew Boyd 6 4.37 2.7
SP Chris Paddack 8 3.68 2.6
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP/RP Dallas Keuchel 7 4.20 2.5
RP Chad Green 11 3.27 1.7
RP Brent Suter 31 3.76 1.7
RP Taylor Rogers 11 3.09 1.5
RP Scott Oberg 15 3.47 1.1
RP Seth Lugo 34 3.15 1.1
RP Colin Poche 14 3.52 1.1
CP Josh Hader 19 2.45 2.2

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Hitters (>5th Round)
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C Tucker Barnhart 10 .249 .333 .390 1.9
1B Paul Goldschmidt 8 .262 .361 .465 3.1
2B Whit Merrifield 9 .287 .334 .433 2.9
3B Jeff McNeil 12 .293 .355 .480 4
SS Marcus Semien 6 .274 .348 .486 5.3
LF Joc Pederson 11 .249 .340 .513 2.8
CF Ramón Laureano 16 .258 .324 .469 3
RF Adam Eaton 19 .285 .365 .425 2.6
DH J.D. Martinez 20 .292 .365 .547 3.7
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C Mitch Garver 9 .249 .332 .470 1.8
IF Tommy Edman 6 .269 .315 .408 2.6
OF Mike Tauchman 10 .263 .335 .437 2.5
OF Kevin Kiermaier 31 .242 .302 .411 2.4

You don’t get a team of All-Stars from top to bottom, but you sure get a lot of them! The bullpen depth is a bit thin past these names, but this team has rotation depth through next week, with players like Brandon Woodruff, Miles Mikolas, Brad Keller, Tyler Mahle, and Zach Davies not even making the final 26-man roster. The only player in the starting lineup who would be a real surprise at the Midsummer Classic would be defensive specialist Tucker Barnhart (you can swap him out for Mitch Garver if you prefer).

This team wouldn’t combine for the 67 WAR projected — players like Kevin Kiermaier wouldn’t get full-time at-bats, for example — but they’d easily compete with the best teams in baseball. Replacing the Baltimore Orioles with this team (nobody would miss this year’s O’s) over a normal season leads to a 101-61 projection, which would be the best team ZiPS has ever projected. These players combined to make $3.5 million in signing bonuses, with nearly half the roster (12 of 26) getting at least $100,000. The maximum signing bonuses for this group this year is $520,000, only 15% of what they were actually paid.

Let’s make it more challenging and only roster players from the 10th round or later.

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Pitchers (10th Round+)
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP Robbie Ray 12 4.00 2.7
SP Brandon Woodruff 11 3.74 2.3
SP Zach Plesac 12 4.58 1.9
SP Zach Davies 26 4.10 1.8
SP Patrick Sandoval 11 4.40 1.7
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP/RP Jakob Junis 29 4.80 1.6
RP Chad Green 11 3.27 1.7
RP Brent Suter 31 3.76 1.7
RP Taylor Rogers 11 3.09 1.5
RP Scott Oberg 15 3.47 1.1
RP Seth Lugo 34 3.15 1.1
RP Colin Poche 14 3.52 1.1
CP Josh Hader 19 2.45 2.2

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Hitters (10th Round+)
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C Tucker Barnhart 10 .249 .333 .390 1.9
1B Nate Lowe 13 .258 .343 .445 2.1
2B Mauricio Dubón 26 .260 .296 .378 1.8
3B Jeff McNeil 12 .293 .355 .480 4.0
SS Zack Short 17 .212 .322 .358 0.9
LF Joc Pederson 11 .249 .340 .513 2.8
CF Ramón Laureano 16 .258 .324 .469 3.0
RF Adam Eaton 19 .285 .365 .425 2.6
DH J.D. Martinez 20 .292 .365 .547 3.7
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C Yan Gomes 10 .234 .305 .406 1.2
IF J.T. Riddle 13 .242 .281 .398 0.8
OF Mike Tauchman 10 .263 .335 .437 2.5
OF Kevin Kiermaier 31 .242 .302 .411 2.4

Naturally, there are some big losses here, as we see Jacob deGrom, Kyle Hendricks, and most of our infield vanish. We’re still able to maintain everyone in the bullpen except for Keuchel, who I filled in as a swing man, and the outfield stays intact. This team doesn’t project to challenge the Dodgers or the Yankees, but at 87-75, it ought to be in the thick of the Wild Card hunt and perhaps bother the Tampa Bay Rays if that team is unlucky.

This team actually got more in signing bonuses than our first team, thanks to Jakob Junis and Patrick Sandoval both being lured from college commitments with large bonuses. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? At $20,000, it’s going to be hard to convince many serious prospects that college isn’t the smarter option for their life and careers.

Since we have to increase the difficulty level, so long rounds 10-14!

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Pitchers (15th Round+)
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP Zach Davies 26 4.10 1.8
SP Jakob Junis 29 4.80 1.6
SP Chris Bassitt 16 4.33 1.6
SP Tyler Phillips 16 5.06 1.4
SP Mike Fiers 22 4.75 1.2
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP/RP Matt Strahm 21 3.92 1.2
RP Brent Suter 31 3.76 1.7
RP Scott Oberg 15 3.47 1.1
RP Seth Lugo 34 3.15 1.1
RP Josh James 34 4.14 1.1
RP Zac Grotz 28 3.87 1.1
RP Alex Claudio 27 3.52 0.8
CP Josh Hader 19 2.45 2.2

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Hitters (15th Round+)
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C Danny Jansen 16 .232 .312 .378 1.2
1B Luke Voit 22 .266 .361 .480 2.3
2B Mauricio Dubón 26 .260 .296 .378 1.8
3B Ty France 34 .255 .330 .426 2.2
SS Zack Short 17 .212 .322 .358 0.9
LF Adam Eaton 19 .285 .365 .425 2.6
CF Kevin Kiermaier 31 .242 .302 .411 2.4
RF Ramón Laureano 16 .258 .324 .469 3.0
DH J.D. Martinez 20 .292 .365 .547 3.7
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C David Freitas 15 .259 .329 .382 0.8
IF David Bote 18 .243 .326 .413 1.4
OF Brett Gardner 22 .247 .327 .414 1.8
OF Kevin Pillar 32 .266 .298 .426 1.6

Our starting rotation is starting feel a little…err…Royalsy? The pitching staff won’t remind anyone of the Koufax-Drysdale Dodgers, but we still have legitimate major leaguers in this mediocre-but-not-appalling starting five. We get to hang onto Josh Hader for one final round of this exercise and the bullpen losses overall aren’t too dramatic yet. Joc Pederson is gone from our outfield, but Kevin Kiermaier in center and Ramón Laureano in right (sorry Adam, but Laureano’s arm is bananas) is pretty sterling. Only shortstop is a significant lineup weakness.

ZiPS has this team down to 79-83, almost an average major league team, but one that needs some luck to make a significant playoff run.

While I think I’ve demonstrated the point, it wouldn’t be much fun if we stopped before the resulting team was a disaster, would it?

If you thought we’d run out of players at this point, you thought wrong! ZiPS projected nearly 3,000 players for the 2020 season, hopefully forecasting practically everyone who was even vaguely relevant, and there are still nearly 297 projected players remaining. And 160 of them are still projected at replacement level or better!

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Pitchers (20th Round+)
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP Zach Davies 26 4.10 1.8
SP Jakob Junis 29 4.80 1.6
SP Mike Fiers 22 4.75 1.2
SP Matt Strahm 21 3.92 1.2
SP Ryan Weber 22 4.65 1.2
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP/RP Sterling Sharp 22 4.57 0.8
RP Seth Lugo 34 3.15 1.1
RP Josh James 34 4.14 1.1
RP Zac Grotz 28 3.87 1.1
RP Alex Claudio 27 3.52 0.8
RP Phil Maton 20 3.88 0.6
RP David Bednar 35 3.52 0.6
CP Brent Suter 31 3.76 1.7

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Hitters (20th Round+)
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C Alex Dunlap 29 .186 .277 .294 0.1
1B Luke Voit 22 .266 .361 .480 2.3
2B Mauricio Dubón 26 .260 .296 .378 1.8
3B Ty France 34 .255 .330 .426 2.2
SS Robbie Glendinning 21 .208 .281 .330 -0.2
LF Brett Gardner 22 .247 .327 .414 1.8
CF Kevin Kiermaier 31 .242 .302 .411 2.4
RF Kevin Pillar 32 .266 .298 .426 1.6
DH J.D. Martinez 20 .292 .365 .547 3.7
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C Jonathan Morales 25 .214 .264 .286 0
IF Danny Mendick 22 .238 .305 .356 1.3
OF Josh Rojas 26 .262 .332 .426 1.6
OF Jon Kemmer 21 .236 .311 .451 0.9

Our viable-ish pitching staff mostly stays together, with the big exception of us having to replace the departed Josh Hader with his teammate Brent Suter (there are no actual major league closers left at this point). Unfortunately, our beautiful outfield falls apart and at some of the skill positions, we now have to include players whose names I had to double-check weren’t generated from MLB the Show or something.

But this team isn’t the worst yet! At a 69-93 projection, they’d still likely be looking down at the Tigers and Orioles (if we hadn’t booted them out of existence already).

As my word count creeps up, it’s time to drop the guillotine. Let’s knock off another 10 rounds, meaning only players taken in the 30th round or later may apply to our team.

Even at this late round, a $20,000 signing bonus would be a significant pay cut for many players. In 2019 alone, 63 players drafted at this point in the draft or after received signing bonuses greater than $20,000.

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Pitchers (30th Round+)
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP Josh James 34 4.14 1.1
SP Penn Murfee 33 4.65 0.9
SP Joe Palumbo 30 5.13 0.8
SP Rico Garcia 30 4.49 0.8
SP Matt Tomshaw 42 5.05 0.4
Position Player Round Projected ERA Projected WAR
SP/RP Caleb Ferguson 38 3.64 0.8
RP Seth Lugo 34 3.15 1.1
RP David Bednar 35 3.52 0.6
RP Jeffrey Passantino 40 4.59 0.7
RP Adam Bray 33 4.93 0.5
RP John Brebbia 30 3.74 0.5
RP Tim Hill 32 4.20 0.4
CP Brent Suter 31 3.76 1.7

2020 ZiPS All Late-Round Hitters (30th Round+)
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C Renae Martinez 33 .208 .274 .313 0
1B John Nogowski 34 .260 .344 .382 1.4
2B Chris Bostick 44 .238 .296 .369 -0.4
3B Ty France 34 .255 .330 .426 2.2
SS Andy Young 37 .230 .308 .419 1.1
LF Trey Harris 32 .239 .298 .375 0.1
CF Kevin Kiermaier 31 .242 .302 .411 2.4
RF Kevin Pillar 32 .266 .298 .426 1.6
DH Rowdy Tellez 30 .244 .307 .446 0.8
Position Player Round BA OBP SLG Projected WAR
C Jett Bandy 31 .206 .266 .363 -0.1
IF Matthew Batten 32 .221 .290 .312 -0.3
1B Tyler White 33 .246 .323 .422 0.8
OF Ben Ruta 30 .227 .278 .327 -0.8

Okay, we have now made an indisputably lousy team. We kept a couple Kevins on the roster, but they are our last remotely legitimate major league starters. ZiPS projects this team to go 55-107 in a normal season, a worse projection than the Baltimore Orioles. Mission Accomplished! (Wait, was that what we were trying to do?)

To sum up a lot of simulations, baseball’s later draft rounds result in a lot of players who eventually play in the majors, many becoming stars. By cutting off baseball’s talent source to save a buck, team owners risk a chunk of the future talent level of the league. Hopefully, this short-sighted thinking won’t also win out in the current negotiations with the MLBPA.

We hoped you liked reading Let’s Field an All Late-Round Team by Dan Szymborski!

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Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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fordhamflash
Member
fordhamflash

I mean some of these guys were drafted over a decade apart. They’re the definition of outliers. Shortening the draft was stupid, but let’s not act like there are 5 late round superstars in this draft that aren’t going to get picked now

jetsfansam
Member
Member
jetsfansam

I think that’s kind of the point though. I agree there probably aren’t five late round superstars in this draft, but losing just one still feels like a missed opportunity. Nobody knows who the outliers will end up being, so to risk losing those players over maybe a $1 million per team is not worth it.

Sarachim
Member
Sarachim

On the other hand, projections are conservative, and we’re only looking at one season out of a player’s career. If anything, this exercise might understate the impact of losing late-round players, because the *real* outliers, like deGrom’s historic 2018 season, are invisible.