Monday, May 18, 2015

Drafting Lance McCullers

In honor of Lance McCullers' MLB debut tonight - and doesn't this feel like Christmas Eve, when you can open one present, and you know that Carlos Correa is still under the tree - we thought we'd go back and take a quick look at McCullers and his path to the Majors.

When star Astros shortstop Clint Barmes took his .698 OPS and signed as a free agent with the Pirates following the 2011 season, the Astros received a compensation pick in the 2012 draft that would eventually be the 41st overall pick. The Astros made their second selection of the 1st Round - 40 picks after choosing Carlos Correa - by selecting McCullers, a pitcher out of Jesuit High School in Tampa with a strong commitment to the University of Florida.

McCullers said as much up front:
My commitment to Florida is solid. This is not one of those things that I'm just kind of using my leverage [to get a better deal from a major league team].

He was the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year (joining Zack Greinke, Justin Upton, and Alex Rodriguez) and the 2012 recipient of the Jackie Robinson Award, given to the most promising senior prospect after going 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA in 77IP, with 140K:30BB.

His agent was, of course, Scott Boras. Given that expressed commitment to Florida combined with Boras' presence - and the inevitable binder of information that Boras provided to teams - and the brand new draft bonus pool system, teams were leery of dealing with Boras, and McCullers, and McCullers wasn't happy:
It’s frustrating, the whole draft thing is frustrating. I’ve done nothing than get better since I’ve been ranked No. 1 forever, and no one in the country had a better year than me on the hill. If Major League Baseball wants to undervalue me, then I’ll show them what I’m really about three years from now.

Keith Law summed it up:
He’s seen as having a high price tag and extremely strong commitment to Florida. Guys like that are tough. ...He could easily end up, five six years from now we're talking about him as 'why didn't he go in the top five overall picks?'

And Law loved that the Astros drafted him, anyway. 

But how the Astros were able to sign McCullers had as much to do with Carlos Correa taking under-slot as the 1-1 and freeing up money to distribute around the other selections - mainly McCullers. Remember it was thought that the Astros would take Mark Appel, but he turned down $6m from the Astros in advance of the draft, leading to Correa's selection, and his agreeing to a $4.8m bonus, $2.4m under slot for the 1-1 pick in 2012, leading yours truly to say that 2012 could be a historic draft for the Astros.

McCullers told WTSP that, if teams were worried about his signability, they should have checked with him:
If any team took the time to listen and show interest in me, they would know I wasn't an impossible sign. I was just asking teams to recognize that I'm one of the best pitchers in the country... That I have a strong commitment to Florida... And I'm not going to go out there and throw my education away for nothing.

On June 17, the Astros signed McCullers to what was reported at a $2.5m bonus - almost double the slot value and just under the recommended bonus for the 12th overall pick. It wouldn't have been possible without the financial flexibility of both the Astros and Carlos Correa.