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Braves Will Pay Third-Highest Draft Bonus In Team History This Year

The Braves will give their first round pick this year a larger bonus than they gave Jason Heyward.
The Braves will give their first round pick this year a larger bonus than they gave Jason Heyward.

The 2012 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft is less than a month away. The Atlanta Braves have been stingy the past few years, paying very little above the slot recommendations for bonuses. The result of that rigidity to MLB slot recommendations means the Braves spent the third-lowest total on draft bonuses last year, and over the past three years have totaled the second-lowest spent on draft bonuses.

The Braves spent just under $4 million on all their draft bonuses last year, with over a quarter of that, $1.134 million, going to first round pick Sean Gilmartin. The only players the Braves seemed to go over-slot on were their two high school signings, 11th-rounder Seth Moranda and 31st-rounder Jackson Laumann, as well as 14th-round pick Navery Moore, signing him away from his senior season at Vanderbilt. Indeed the Braves signed several players among their first ten picks to bonuses well below slot recommendation.

None of this is to say that the Braves draft was a bad one. In fact, last year's draft looks to be one of the more promising and balanced drafts in recent years. Much of that was due to their willingness to go over slot on the players mentioned above.

Baseball America has the MLB slot recommendations for this year's first round posted, with the Braves first round pick (21st overall) recommended for a bonus of $1,825,000. This expected payout would be the third-highest bonus the Braves have ever given an amateur player:

Player, Year Drafted Bonus
Mike Minor, 2009 $2,420,000
Jeff Francoeur, 2002 $2,200,000
Matt Belisle, 1998 $1,750,000
Jason Heyward, 2007 $1,700,000
Edward Salcedo, 2010 $1,600,000

Of course, with their first pick being the 21st pick of the draft, this will be the third highest the Braves have drafted in the last 20 years -- the two higher picks being Minor (7th overall) and Heyward (14th overall).

If the Braves have a similar budget for this year's draft to the one they had for last year's draft, then they have very little room to go over slot for any player, and little to no room to sign later round picks away from college commitments. This route of giving large bonuses to late round draftees has been an important one for Atlanta, but has been largely missing for several years before returning last year for some promising late round signings.

The best Braves drafts have been the ones where they have been able to spend more in the early rounds, and also supplement their haul of prospects with a few large late-round bonuses. For this to happen in the 2012 draft, the Braves will need to increase their budget and continue their rediscovered willingness to spend big in the later rounds. There is hope that this strategy will be the one chosen.

If the Braves are analyzing their last few drafts as I have been, then they should see that last year's crop of talent far exceeds that of every Braves draft dating back to 2006 and 2005 (the last years they were able to use the draft-and-follow). Much of that is due to the club's willingness to spend a little more last year than they were willing to spend in the intervening years.

Certainly the elimination of the draft-and-follow system hurt the Braves ability to evaluate and sign later round picks, but even with draft-and-follow they had to shell out some large bonuses to those later round picks, and giving big late round bonuses is something the Braves abandoned from 2007 to 2010. I was glad they brought it back last year, and hopefully it is here to stay. But that tactic will once again butt heads with the Braves tight budget in 2012, made tighter by a higher than normal first round selection and associated bonus.

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