One of the ongoing debates that we have had on Lone Star Ball since...well, probably since its inception is about drafting. Specifically, the Texas Rangers draft success (or lack thereof), and whether they would be better off simply drafting based on the general publicly available consensus of who the top player on the board.
You frequently see the suggestion that the Rangers are trying to “get cute” by passing on whoever is perceived to be the top player on the board for someone else, though the reality is that that’s based on how the Rangers rank the available players. MLB teams have boards that diverge and differ dramatically, particularly after the top 20-25 players, and so a guy who one team might have a third round grade on, for example, another team may not have on their board at all.
In any case, I thought it would be a useful exercise to go through some recent drafts and compare who the Rangers picked in the first couple of rounds to who the top player on the Baseball America board was. I decided to start with 2012 because that is when the draft bonus pool system started. I decided to use BA because, well, I had to pick someone’s board, and theirs is the biggest and is generally used as the primary reference point in these sorts of exercises.
As a footnote to 2013, something that I meant to mention in that write-up, but didn’t, was that Isiah Kiner-Falefa was a fourth round pick in 2013. He was not ranked in Baseball America’s top 500 draft-eligible players, and signed for $202,000, which was about half slot value. IKF was an over-draft, in the sense that he wasn’t on the top 500 list and yet went in the fourth round, but he also got what I think was around 7th or 8th round money (I can’t find the later round slot values for 2013), so maybe he wasn’t. Anyway.
Today we are doing 2014.
Here are the Rangers’ draft picks in the first three rounds in 2014, along with their slot values and what they signed for:
30 — Luis Ortiz — $1,760,500. Signed for $1,750,000.
59 — Ti’Quan Forbes — $957,900. Signed for $1,200,000.
95 — Josh Morgan — $550,100. Signed for $800,000.
Ortiz signed for right around slot, and then the Rangers went well above slot for their next two picks.
The Rangers’ top pick, Luis Ortiz, a righthanded high school pitcher out of California, was the #28 ranked prospect on BA’s top 500 pre-draft rankings list. He was viewed as having impressive stuff, but there were concerns about his conditioning (he lost 30 pounds before his senior year, but there were questions if he would keep the weight off) and makeup. He was the Rangers’ #4 prospect heading into 2016, and was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers that summer in the Jonathan Lucroy deal. He was the #3 prospect in the Brewers system prior to 2017, and was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles in July, 2018, in the deal that brought Jonathan Schoop to Milwaukee. He has 3 major league appearances, and hasn’t pitched in the majors this year.
Ortiz was in the back half of the top 100 lists for BA, MLB Pipeline and BP (high of 62, low of 79) prior to both 2016 and 2017, then fell off the lists after that. He’s an example of a guy who was drafted, saw his stock rise as a prospect, and was dealt by the Rangers when his value was probably near its peak.
Four players were ranked ahead of Ortiz:
Sean Reid-Foley (ranked 19, taken 49)
Monte Harrison (ranked 20, taken 50)
Jake Gatewood (ranked 21, taken 41)
Spencer Adams (ranked 23, taken 44)
Sean Reid-Foley was a righty high school pitcher out of Jacksonville, Florida. He dropped to the Toronto Blue Jays at #49, and signed for slot money (around $1.1M). He was generally in the Blue Jays’ top 10 prospects on the BA list for so long as he was prospect-eligible, and made an appearance in the back half of the BA, MLB Pipeline and BP top 100 lists in 2017, though not thereafter. He spent some time in the majors in 2018 and 2019, mostly starting, and has 5 relief appearances in the majors in 2020.
Monte Harrison was a guy I thought would be a likely selection of the Rangers that year. He fell to the Milwaukee Brewers at #50, but signed for $1.8M — a skosh more than Ortiz, and about $700K above slot. A righthanded hitting high school outfielder out of Missouri, Harrison was in the back half of the BA and MLB Pipeline top 100 prior to 2018, and was #49 on BP’s list that year, but otherwise hasn’t cracked the top 100 for those folks. His stock dropped after two disappointing seasons with the bat in 2015 and 2016, rebounded in 2017, and then dropped again. Interestingly, he was dealt to Miami, along with former Ranger prospect Lewis Brinson, who the Brewers acquired along with Ortiz in the Jonathan Lucroy trade, in January, 2018, in the Christian Yelich deal. He made his major league debut this season, slashing .132/.195/.237 in 41 plate appearances over 22 games, and is currently #7 on the BA mid-season list for the Marlins.
Jake Gatewood was a high school shortstop out of California with huge raw power who was seen as a likely corner guy as a professional. He was drafted by the Brewers at #41, and signed for $1.83M. He has basically never hit, with a .235/.289/.397 slash line, and has never had much value since being drafted.
Spencer Adams was a righthanded prep pitcher out of Georgia. He went to the Chicago White Sox at #44 and signed for just under $1.3M. He ranked in the top five in the ChiSox system for his first couple of years, including making the BA top 100 list prior to 2015, but has since his stock fall since then. He has been exposed in the Rule 5 Draft the past two offseasons, missed most of 2019 due to injury, and hasn’t pitched in the majors.
The only one of these four who had similar value to Ortiz as a prospect was Harrison. You’d rather have Reid-Foley right now than Ortiz, but realistically, the only player of the four one might argue the Rangers would have been better off taking is Harrison, and even that is pretty debateable.
Ti’quan Forbes was a toolsy high school shortstop out of Mississippi who was #46 on the BA top 500 rankings. His draft write-up at BA started off by saying he was “[a] projectable player scouts can dream on,” while also saying that he had “arguably the biggest gap between the player he is today and the player he could be at maturity,” so, given the Rangers’ proclivities at the time, you can see why they picked him. He was 15 on the BA top 30 for the Rangers after he was drafted, and then never made their list again, as he never hit. The Rangers traded him to the Chicago White Sox for Miguel Gonzalez in August, 2017, and he hasn’t hit for the ChiSox, either.
The top ranked player on the board ahead of Forbes was Virginia high school pitcher J.B. Bukauskas, who fell because of signability issues and went to college. The Astros drafted him 15th overall in 2017 and signed him for $3.6M, and he was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Zack Greinke trade.
The only other two players ranked higher than Forbes who were still on the board were high school outfielder Marcus Wilson and San Diego State pitcher Michael Cederoth.
Wilson, out of Gardena, California, was ranked #44 on the BA board and went #69 to the Arizona Diamondbacks, signing for $1 million. The Arizona Diamondbacks traded him to the Boston Red Sox last year for Blake Swihart, who had been DFA’d. Wilson had a nice 2017 season in low-A, that saw him move into the D-Backs top 10 on BA’s list, but otherwise has been in the back half of the top 30 throughout his career. He is on the 40 man roster for Boston and is a good enough defensive center fielder that he could potentially have a bench role at some point, but he’s never hit — he got demoted from AA to high-A after being dealt to the Red Sox because of his offensive struggles — and he’s yet to reach AAA.
Cederoth is a righthanded pitcher who was ranked #45 by BA and was taken at #79 by the Minnesota Twins, who signed him for around $700K. He has 164 professional innings, mostly out of the bullpen, has walked and struck out a bunch of batters, hasn’t pitched above A ball, and didn’t pitch in 2019.
Wilson has more value than Forbes, but neither has had much value, and each was dealt by their drafting club in a very minor deal.
The most notable players close behind Forbes who were still on the board were Alex Verdugo (ranked 55, drafted 62), Sam Travis (ranked 56, drafted 67), Brian Anderson (ranked 69, drafted 76), Mitch Keller (ranked 76, drafted 64), and Dylan Cease (ranked 77, drafted 169, but signed for above slot at $1.5M).
I’m including 3rd round pick Josh Morgan in this write-up because the Rangers didn’t have any extra picks, and because they didn’t go well below slot with him, as they did with Pat Cantwell in 2012 and David Ledbetter in 2013.
Morgan was a high school shortstop out of California who was seen as a solid all-around prospect with no real standout tools, but with quality makeup and no real weaknesses, either. He was ranked #63 on the BA board, and was taken at #95 by the Rangers.
J.B. Bukauskas was the highest-ranked player still on the board, though again, he dropped because of signability issues and wouldn’t have signed for what the Rangers paid Morgan or Forbes.
The next highest player on the board was Carson Sands, a lefthanded high school pitcher out of Florida, who was ranked #53 and drafted #109 by the Chicago Cubs. He signed for an above-slot $1.1 million, never ranked high in the Cubs system, and hasn’t pitched since 2017.
The next highest player on the board was Mac Marshall, a lefthanded pitcher from Georgia, who was ranked #57 by BA and was taken #616 by the Astros. You may recall that, when the Astros reduced their offer to Brady Aiken after having previously agreed to a certain amount, it was by an amount necessary to sign Marshall, who was asking for $1.5 million, and who slid because of signability issues. Marshall was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the fourth round in 2015, signed for $750,000, and has not made it above high-A.
The final player still on the board was Brett Graves, a righthanded pitcher out of the University of Missouri, who was ranked #61, and who was taken by the Oakland A’s at #101. Graves was selected by the Miami Marlins in the Rule 5 Draft after 2017 and spent 2018 in their bullpen, putting up a 5.40 ERA. He hasn’t appeared in the majors since, and split the 2019 season between AA and AAA. Graves never appeared on a BA top 30 prospect list for the A’s or Marlins, and hasn’t pitched in the majors this year.
Morgan was in the Rangers’ top 10 prospects on the BA list from 2015-17, then dropped to the bottom third in 2018, and hasn’t been seen since. He has played all three infield positions in the Rangers’ system, though he’s seen as more a second baseman or third baseman than shortstop, and the Rangers have also tried the catching experiment with him. Morgan hasn’t hit or stayed healthy, and played only one game in 2019 due to injuries.
So if the Rangers went chalk in 2014, their selections would have been:
30 — Sean Reid-Foley
59 — Marcus Wilson
95 — Carson Sands (if they went above slot) or Brett Graves
Also worth noting — the Rangers’ fourth, fifth and sixth round draft picks that year were Brett Martin, Wes Benjamin and Jose Trevino.
Martin was completely off the board — he was not in the top 500 on the BA rankings, and there was no scouting report available for him on the draft database. Nevertheless, he received a $475,000 bonus, which was $67,000 over slot for where he was picked.
Benjamin was ranked #371, and signed for $125,000, which was about 40% of slot value. He also had had Tommy John surgery just a couple of months before the draft, and was a college junior, reducing his leverage.
Trevino was ranked #131, was taken at #186, and signed for $200,000, which was $28,700 under slot. Amusingly, the BA writeup praised his track record of hitting, but questioned where he would play defensively as a professional.
Their big dollar signing after the top 10 rounds was 11th rounder Scott Williams. A Juco righthanded pitcher, Williams worked as a reliever as a professional, and had a very solid 2017 season at Down East, but missed most of 2018 with injury and threw only 7 innings in 2019. He’s a minor league free agent after 2020, assuming he hasn’t been released, which he may have been.
I will do 2015 next.