Pierce Johnson is a potential first-round pick in the upcoming June draft via www.mvc-sports.com
Once you get past the first five or so rounds of the MLB Draft, you're pretty much just throwing darts. I mean, even moreso than you are IN the the first five rounds. Maybe you grab an athletic junior college outfielder, or a high school lefty from New Mexico, or a strike-thrower from Kent State. And if you're lucky, you get Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore, and Andy Sonnanstine. But you usually aren't that lucky, and you're really just drafting organizational depth and lottery tickets.
The lottery tickets are generally high schoolers with strong college commitments, drafted on the off-chance they change their mind (or in the case of Phillies' 2008 38th rounder Jarred Cosart, $550,000 changes their mind). Every team has a list a mile long of players taken late, that they had little chance of signing, that turned into stars. The Dodgers drafted David Price in the 19th round in 2004. The Indians offered Tim Lincecum $700,000 to sign as a 42nd rounder in 2005 (he wanted $1 million), and the Cubs drafted him in the 48th round back in 2003.
The point is, the what-if game isn't often useful to play with the MLB Draft. But still... what if the Indians ponied up that extra $300k? Rays fans might find themselves asking the same type of question come June, when a few former picks by the team have their name called early. Let's look back at the 2009 draft, where most of the high schoolers taken are now draft eligible once again:1st round - Levon Washington, OF/2B - As the Rays' top pick this year, his story is most well known. An athletic leadoff-type, Washington was coming off labrum surgery and had some lingering health questions. Washington alleged the Rays told him they would offer over-slot money but didn't. SI.com reported the Rays offer was right around slot, $1.1 million, which was turned down. Ruled academically ineligible at Florida, he went to Chipola JC and was taken 55th overall by the Indians in 2010, and signed for $1.2 million. He hit .218/.331/.315 in the Midwest League last season.
2nd round - Kenny Diekroeger, SS - A California high schooler with top tier athleticism -- his SPARQ score was among the highest in his class -- Diekroeger never seemed likely to sign. Academics were a priority, and indeed, he followed through with his commitment to Stanford. However, instead of refining his athleticism into baseball skills, he's mostly disappointed. Once thought of as a potential top-5 pick, he didn't rank in BaseballAmerica's midseason top 60. His tools will still get him drafted relatively highly, but the team will have some work to do to unlock his potential.
10th round - Derek Dennis, SS - If Diekroeger has been a disappointment, the Dennis has been an outright disaster. Derek Dennis was reportedly looking for first-round money, in the ballpark of $1 million. The Rays offered $750,000, and he opted to go to Michigan. He's massively underperformed, hitting .267 as a freshman and .216/.329/.250 as a sophomore (he's played in just eight games and hit .188 this spring). So if you want to play the what-if game with some of the next players, just keep in mind it looks like the Rays saved money here.
15th round - Pierce Johnson, RHP - A major prospect crush of mine at the time, Johnson was a slender righty from Colorado who broke his hand on a line drive his senior season of high school. The limited playing time cooled his stock, and he went on to Missouri State. In a case of projection in action, Johnson grew from 6-2/165 to 6-3/180. With the Bears this spring, he's got a 2.85 ERA and 94 strikeouts against 25 walks in 75.2 innings. A bout of forearm soreness could scare some teams away, but he's got the stuff to sneak into the first round if his medicals check out.
20th round - Dylan Floro, RHP - Floro was a potential supplemental first-rounder entering his senior year of high school, but his velocity dipped. Still, BaseballAmerica rated him as the #103 overall prospect, and even taken this lately, he seemed willing to sign. He sought $450,000, the Rays offered $280,000, and he took his talents to Cal State-Fullerton. He never regained his fastball but has succeeded as a control pitcher -- he's issued 10 walks in 90.1 innings this spring and 34 in 236 innings in his career. Floro was ranked 62nd in BA's early college top 100 but has not been ranked in any lists since. Given his control and the fact he flashed better stuff as an amateur, he's still a candidate to be taken by the fifth round.
24th round - Andrew Heaney, LHP - He wasn't an elite talent alongside Jake Turner, Zack Wheeler, and the other top prep arms of 2009, but (as Jim Callis said on Twitter) he was a "name guy" who was just about unsignable. Not a 24th-rounder on talent, that's for sure. After three years at Oklahoma State, he's worked his way into the first round conversation -- BaseballAmerica had him going #15 to the Indians in their initial mock draft.
37th round - Austin Maddox, C - Here's a guy who's had a weird career. He was drafted by the Rays as a catcher (and totally unsignable, by the way. He was rated 81st overall by BA and fell to the 37th round), but there were whispers he wouldn't stick there. He hit well as a freshman, playing 1B/3B/DH, but his OPS tumbled over .250 points in his sophomore season. But also that year, he took the mound for 27 innings, striking out 21 and walking three with a 0.67 ERA. This spring, he's gotten just 67 at bats (and hit .269) as his future looks much brighter on the mound: A 1.50 ERA, 53-8 K-BB in 48 innings. At this point, who the heck knows where his stock is at, but he's an interesting guy to watch at the very least.