What’s more, the teams at the top of the first round didn’t seem particularly concerned with high school bonus demands in the 2011 draft. Eight of the top fourteen picks were high school players, and the Orioles and Royals took a couple of high school players with solid college commitments in Dylan Bundy (Texas) and Bubba Starling (quarterbacking Nebraska), over Anthony Rendon, the top college position player available. Both Bundy and Starling signed, as did Archie Bradley, the 7th overall pick (an unprotected selection, at that), who had a commitment to play both baseball and football at Oklahoma. In other words, it seems the only reason that top prospects are falling is because teams are overestimating how firm their commitments are, when reality suggests that a nine-figure signing bonus looks much better than selling your labor for free (and risking your health and eligibility along the way) to the NCAA.
Secondly, and more importantly, once you get past the first 15-20 picks or so, the logic breaks down entirely for the simple reason that, for as much as Bud Selig desperately wants it to be, the baseball draft just isn’t particularly analogous to the NFL draft. In the latter, teams are selecting highly developed products with the intent to have them contributing to the roster pretty much immediately. There are projects, to be sure, and there are 2nd round picks who aren’t on the active roster for much of their first two seasons, but by and large early picks are expected to at least play a marginal role on the roster from day one, if not start for their new teams in their rookie season. In baseball, on the other hand, even most college seniors spend at least some time in the minors, and the vast majority of players drafted will spend multiple seasons in the minors before making the big league roster.
Because most prospects are so far from being finished prospects, drafting baseball players isn’t as simple as simply evaluating everyone’s talent level on draft day and selecting accordingly. Scouts and scouting directors have to look at a player on draft day with an eye towards what that player will become after spending a few years in the minor leagues. To that end, teams are scouting tools, trying to figure out whose flaws can’t be overcome, etc., and different teams will have different philosophies about this. Which is to say that, for 99% of the draft, there’s simply no such thing as players being picked “in order of talent,” they’re picked on the basis of what each team’s philosophy is, and what they think they can be turned into over time. That likely won’t change under the new system, the only difference is that a lot more toolsy high schoolers drafted in rounds two through ten won’t be signed by the teams that draft them, but will instead go off to play college ball. Maybe they’ll come out as more developed, safer investments, or maybe the next Matt Moore (drafted in the eighth round) will have his arm destroyed by a college coach trying to squeeze every win (and every dollar on his next contract) he can get out of the player’s time with the program.