We know that the Rays like a lot of things about Shaffer. They like his power, his plate discipline, and his leadership. But little did we know that the Rays liked Shaffer not just for those reasons by another underlying reason: selecting a college player who would sign for slot or less in the first round would give them maximum flexibility the rest of the draft.
Looking at the Rays’ picks in this years draft (links to profiles of all the picks are here), the Rays selected 6 high school players, 6 college players, and 3 junior college players. But the players who stick out are the tough signs. 12th rounder Taylor Hawkins has big-time power from the catcher position but has the leverage of an Oklahoma commitment. 11th rounder Clayton Henning, centerfielder with was two-sport star in high school before committing baseball-only to Dayton, but he looks to be a tough sign as well. Those two specifically stand out because with the new CBA, teams have a pool of money they’re allowed to spend on the draft based on where their picks are, and for after the 10th round, picks count against that only if their bonuses are above $100,000. Hawkins and Hennings will command bonuses significantly above that if they sign. Drafting Shaffer and the other college players gives the Rays a chance to get these upside players signed.
The Rays have $3,860,000 allotted to them for the first ten rounds (thanks to Baseball America). Let’s go pick by pick in the first 10 rounds and see estimate how much flexibility the Rays have because of their college picks.
The bonus estimations include quite a bit of guesswork but also values that would seemingly make sense. Shaffer expected to go higher, but I’m sure they asked what he would sign for before they picked him and will end up saving some money. Edwards has already said he would sign, which is a good sign that he will sign for slot. Toles doesn’t have a clear destination for next season and should sign for not too much of an above-slot bonus. Gannon’s bonus could be higher, but considerable how projectable he is right now, this could be his peak value out of the draft and I don’t think he signs for so much above slot. Jackson will require some extra money, maybe as much as $300,000 to sign, but he does not seem like the type of player that will end up attending school. Carroll is excited to sign and I think he goes for a little below slot. And the rest of the top 10 picks are all college guys, and especially Bierman will get a well-below slot bonus because he’s a redshirt senior sign and has dealt with injury problems. By my somewhat arbitrary calculation, the Rays will have saved $220,000 compared to the slot. That gives them some wiggle room with their subsequent picks.
Floro in Round 13 and Willie Gabay in the 15th round should sign for under $100,000 easily, but the question is the other three: Hennings, Hawkins, and Kirsch. Kirsch has turned down two teams before, but I think that if he wants to sign (a big if) the Rays will be able to get him for close to the $100,000 maximum without it counting against them. That leaves them say $200,000 to go for Hennings, Hawkins, and whichever other upside they go for in later rounds. Will that be enough? Especially if the Rays give a good portion of that to one or two guys, I think yes. I think because of their maneuvering in the first 10 rounds, the Rays manage to sign at least one of Hennings and Hawkins, and maybe they’ll have some money left over for some players they have yet to draft. I also think that the Rays would be willing to incur the tax for going less than 5% over their bonus pool if there’s a player they really like, although they’ll definitely stop short of the point where they’ll have to forfeit future picks. That would give them as much as $420,000 left over from the first 10 rounds. That’s quite a bit of money to play with considering they have $100,000 to offer to each player to begin with. Suddenly it feels like the Rays have a legitimate chance to sign both of Hennings and Hawkins if they’re at all willing to sign, and we’ll have to see what upside other guys the Rays draft on Day 3. And this is all because of the maneuvering the Rays did with Shaffer and their other picks.
So let me get this straight- drafting college guys like Shaffer and is really an upside play for later in the draft? Essentially, yes.