There hasn’t been much talk about teams reaching deals with underslot players at the top of the draft in order to pick up better players with their secondary picks. The Rays hold the 4, 31, and 40 picks in this year’s draft. They are set well if that’s the route they decided to go.
The top of this year’s class is considered weaker than normal, but the depth is pretty solid especially in college arms and high school outfielders.
The strategy was originally used by the Houston Astros when they selected Carlos Correa with the number one overall pick when they agreed to a $4.8MM bonus with a $7.2MM slot amount. They were able to parlay the $2.4MM in savings into upgrading multiple picks including signing Lance McCullers, Jr. with the 41st pick with the ability to buy out his commitment to the University of Florida for $2.5MM even though the slot only had roughly a $1.25MM value.
This year the slot bonuses drops aren’t as steep as they were in year’s past. If a team were to attempt this strategy they likely would have to make a big overdraft to have significant savings. The team would then need somebody to fall. There are some players with strong commitments that are otherwise unsignable in this class.
Then Keith Law posted a mock draft for ESPN.com. Law had the Rays selecting SS/OF Royce Lewis, but that wasn’t the highlight of the blurb.
There's also a rumor that they could do a big underslot deal with Bubba Thompson here, but I think that's unlikely.
Baseball America followed with a new mock draft they posted this morning. They had the Rays selecting Thompson with the fourth pick. Baseball America provided the following commentary.
Tampa has played this pick as close to the vest as any team, with speculation rising that the Rays will cut a deal. One scout said the biggest reason for the rise of Alabama prep outfielder Bubba Thompson is his improved hitting ability, saying he’s improved his hitting tool by two grades in the last six months.
Add in a trip to the Trop...
... and there appears to be plenty of smoke surrounding the Rays selecting Bubba Thompson with the fourth pick.
If the Rays do go this route having the 31st pick is crucial to this kind of deal working out in the Rays favor. The Twins and Reds join the Rays with three picks in the top 40. The Rays have the advantage of being the first to make their second selection. The Cubs, Rangers, and Blue Jays have two picks in the first round, but hey all occur in the mid to late 20s.
Somebody falls or there is a strong college commitment that is able to be bought out every year. This could end up working in the Rays favor if they decide to go this route.
Is Bubba Thompson good enough to be selected 4th overall?
Thompson ranks in the 20s by almost every outlet doing significant draft coverage.
Thompson is a two sport player who had D-1 college offers to play both football and baseball, but is committed to the University of Alabama to play only baseball. As a first round talent he should be able to be bought out of that commitment.
Bubba Thompson has elite speed and will be a center fielder in the long run. According to at one scout the hit tool has increased enough in a very short amount of time for this to be a real decision. He possesses plenty of bat speed, has raw power, and can be a real five tool athlete.
The downsides are he’s raw, as he’s committed significant time playing football, and he is old for his class having turned 19 years old on June 9.
It’s not only about Bubba Thompson though. The Rays will need somebody they really like to fall while needing the necessary cap space to make that choice.
It’s a very high risk, high reward strategy that if the draft plays out as you expect can really pay off in a massive way. If it doesn’t you get left taking a inferior pick early and having nobody you really want to spend the money on later.
Personally, I think the Rays would be taking a risk with this pick. Thompson’s draft stock has certainly improved, but it’s hard to believe he’s leapfrogged consensus top-five prospect Royce Lewis overall.
Then again, if the Rays brass feels that Bubba Thompson is one of best players available that is fine, you have to trust your staff, but don’t try to outsmart yourselves with the 4th overall pick.