An opportunity might have presented itself last week when LSU’s Jaden Hill tore his UCL in his start while facing off against Vanderbilt and fellow top five selection Jack Leiter. Going into the season, Hill was seen as a Top 5-10 pick as a hard-throwing starter with multiple pitches after dominating from the bullpen last season. The injury will now cost him his season and perhaps some draft bonus money as he’s unlikely to go in the top 10 picks now.
Based on stuff, Hill has some of the best in the draft with a fastball he can run into the upper 90s, a plus changeup, an improving slider, and a cutter in the low 90s. The stuff sounds loud in the description, and it is in short bursts, but the injury history and the lack of results as a starter lag behind others. He has some room for improvement on his release extension (6’2) and his spin rate (2200 FB RPM). Physically he’s a gifted athlete at 6’4, 230 lbs, a former three-star high school quarterback.
He has an injury history that consists of him missing most of 2019 with a shoulder ailment and now he will Tommy John surgery. The results early in the season weren’t matching that of other possible draftees after Oral Roberts roughed him up in one of his starts. However, there is still plenty of raw ability and talent to groom for a team that believes in the raw tools and isn’t scared of that injury history.
The opportunity presented by this injury is somewhat similar to one the Royals employed in 2013 when they chose Sean Manaea with the #34 pick after selecting Hunter Dozier at #8. Dozier was a middle of the 1st round talent, while Manaea was one of the top pitchers before his injury. The Royals paid Dozier a bonus similar to the #15 pick that year while paying Manaea equal money to the #5 overall selection.
It’s relatively common for a top pitcher to get injured and see his draft stock drop due to that injury. Last year, Mississippi State’s J.T. Ginn was a Top 25 draft prospect before his UCL injury. The Mets took advantage of this drop, nabbing Ginn with the 52nd pick and securing his services with a $2.9m bonus. Unlike the Royals taking a slight hedge against the first round pick, the Mets took money from their third ($630k in savings), fourth ($120k), and fifth-round selections ($330K). One might see this as a smart strategy based on the decrease chance of landing a significant producer in those later rounds.
This year the Royals have the seventh overall selection with a bonus amount of $5,432,400 allotted to the pick. The rest of their Top 10 round selections follow:
2-66 $1,003,300 (Collective Balance selection)
Teams know all the strategies and likely know who is choosing who before draft day. Just last year, there was noise that Nick Loftin got shoved down a tad to his spot with the Royals because they were willing to spend a little more for him. Considering his $3 million bonus, roughly $750k over the slot and near the 22nd pick slot value, that looks pretty plausible.
Still, a team will have to have a pretty good idea that they are getting the player or players they want at that second selection if they’re willing to take the dip on that 1st pick the way the Royals did in ‘13. The preferred strategy is the one the Mets employed to me as the players is on the board available when you’re choosing and figuring out his demands to sign at that time is easier than knowing what the teams below you will do. This seems like a good year and a decent strategy to get a couple talented players in a draft that isn’t deep at the top end of the talent pool.