The biggest surprise of the first day of the 2022 MLB Draft was when the Texas Rangers selected pitcher Kumar Rocker with the #3 overall pick. Rocker, who was selected #10 overall by the New York Mets in 2021, but didn’t sign after the Mets had concerns about Rocker’s medicals, was expected to be a mid- to late-first round pick, and his being taken by the Rangers came seemingly out of nowhere.
While the Rangers clearly liked Rocker a lot — he was someone they scouted closely in 2021, and were reportedly considering taking at #2 last year, when they ultimately opted for his Vanderbilt teammate Jack Leiter — one of the benefits of taking Rocker at #3 is that he could be landed for a well-below-slot bonus. Jon Heyman says that Rocker agreed with the Rangers on a $5.2 million bonus, which is close to $2.5 million under the slot value for that pick.
The Rangers do not have picks in rounds two and three, but the $2.5 million in savings against slot for Rocker means that the Rangers have the ability to draft players that they see as potential second or third round talents, but who have slipped because of signability issues or other reasons, in the later rounds, using their excess bonus pool money to provide the equivalent of second or third round bonuses to those players.
The Rangers went above slot with their third, fourth and fifth round picks in 2021, inking high schools Cam Cauley, Ian Moller and Mitch Bratt to deals where they applied some of their bonus pool savings. Texas will have much more excess pool money to spend this year, and will have to decide whether to spread that around on a number of players, or whether to load up and try to get what they perceive to be a first round talent with a bonus of $3M or more.
If Texas wants to aim high, they could target Michigan prep pitcher Brock Porter. A righthander, Porter is the highest ranked prep pitcher on the Baseball America top 500 board at #12, and has a terrific fastball/changeup combination, as well as a slider and curveball which are still works in progress.
Porter is considered to be strongly committed to Clemson, and as he turned 19 last month, he will be a draft-eligible sophomore in 2024, which gives him more leverage in negotiations. If the Rangers wanted to, they could pop him in the fourth round, go way under slot for most of their other picks, and offer him $4 million, which would be mid-first-round money. It sounds like, however, that it would take more than that to land him, so I’m not expecting Porter to go to Texas, unless they take a flyer on him in the late teens.
UPDATE — Evan Grant tweeted that he expects the Rangers to take Porter in the fourth round, so, well, there you go.
Perhaps the most interesting potential over-slot sign to me, as a Rangers fan, is University of Florida pitcher Brandon Sproat. The righthander was selected in the seventh round by the Texas Rangers in the 2019 draft with what was expected to result in a well-over-slot deal. However, Sproat ended up not signing, which was a major upset — almost every player picked in the first ten rounds signs, and you generally don’t take a player in the first ten rounds if you aren’t confident he will sign.
Sproat has had an up-and-down career with Florida, although he improved in 2021, and he’s currently #75 on the BA board. He has a high velocity fastball with mediocre movement and a couple of secondaries that are plus when they are working and he’s commanding them, but he hasn’t done that consistently.
The Rangers obviously liked Sproat enough a few years ago to want to moneywhip him away from his college commitment, and one would think that they likely still are interested in him. A player who is previously drafted by a team, but doesn’t sign, has to grant that team permission to draft him again, but that usually happens and there’s no reason that I’m aware of to think that Sproat hasn’t done so. Sproat could try to go back to school, improve his command and consistency, and try to get first round money in 2023, but that seems like a pretty big roll of the dice. The Rangers taking Sproat again, and actually signing him, could be in the cards.
Tristan Smith, a lefthanded prep pitcher out of South Carolina, is, like Porter, a Clemson commit who will be a draft-eligible sophomore in 2024. Smith is a two pitch guy right now with command issues and relief risk, but he’s the type of projectable high school arm that teams like, and he’s probably more signable than Porter.
Malcolm Moore is a prep catcher out of Sacramento. He’s a lefthanded hitter who is a bat-first guy, and we know the Rangers love their catching prospects. Ranked #66 on the BA list and #57 on the MLB Pipeline list, Moore is committed to Stanford, but is the type of player I can see the Rangers going over slot for in the fourth or fifth rounds.
Sticking with catchers, Brady Neal is a catcher out of the IMG Academy in Florida — given that is where Elijah Green played as well, the Rangers have no doubt seen a lot of Neal. Neal doesn’t turn 18 until October, and was originally part of the 2023 draft class, but reclassified — those players sometimes aren’t seen as much, which can sometimes result in them falling. Like Moore, he is a lefthanded hitter, and he gets good marks for his ability to barrel up velocity. He’s more of a well-rounded catching prospect than a bat-first guy like Moore, and he’s someone who would seem to be a potential Rangers target for above-slot money in the fourth or fifth rounds.
Sam Horn is an older prep pitcher out of Georgia — he turns 19 next month — and he is currently committed to play both football (as a quarterback) and baseball at the University of Missouri. Horn is seeing as having three potential plus pitches, and is the type of big, athletic pitcher that teams love, but he’s very raw, having not focused primarily on baseball, and as a four star football recruit, he could be expensive to sign. Horn is someone I could see grabbing in the later rounds with an eye towards giving him a seven figure bonus to forego the gridiron and play baseball instead.
Riley Kelly is a prep pitcher out of California who also is a high school quarterback. He’s a helium guy after deciding to focus just on baseball as a senior, which saw his velocity increase. He’s a high spin rate guy who is raw, projectable and athletic, and is someone that the Rangers may see as a guy who could blossom into a first round type talent, and thus are willing to go over slot for now.
These are the guys who caught my eye, and the Rangers will probably end up selecting none of them, so take the above with a grain of salt. That said, these are names that might be worth keeping an eye on as the third round progresses and we start getting to where the Rangers will have some picks.