Chicago Cubs Draft Primer
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The 2021 MLB Draft is now officially 20 rounds and will be held July 11-13 in Denver, Colorado. Previously the draft was 40 rounds until 2020 when even having the five round event was a mild surprise. The new 20 round format is one that fans should get accustomed to since a shorter draft has been a goal for Rob Manfred and ownership due to the reductions in MiLB teams.
Cubs Draft Slots
Each team is allotted a certain amount of bonus pool money. The teams largely have complete autonomy in how they spend their funds, with only a few minor restrictions involved (mostly due to draft pick compensation in the event a player doesn’t sign in the first three rounds). The total pool is comprised of the values assigned to each pick within the first 10 rounds.
Since these bonus allotments aren’t fixed (only a guideline), the draft is really separated into two drafts. The first 10 rounds becomes its own beast with teams strategically drafting certain players to “save money” for higher priced picks. For example, the Cubs could select a stud high school hitter with a commitment to Vanderbilt (known for keeping a high percentage of their committed high school players) at pick 21. That player has a number that he and his family/advisor have determined he with sign for. In this example, the number the player desires is $4 million. The Cubs offer $4 million and then take a player(s) in a subsequent round(s) who they can sign for less than the respective bonus allotments for each pick. Often, this involves drafting players in the latter half of the first 10 rounds who are seniors in college and lack leverage in negotiations. Though he wasn’t drafted in the abbreviated 5 round draft, Matt Mervis spoke about this process in a recent Ivy Futures Interviews episode.
First 10 Rounds (AKA The Bonus Pool)
Total Cubs bonus pool is $6,779,400. The total the Cubs can spend without losing a first round pick is under $7,118,370.
If a player is drafted in the top ten rounds and does not sign, the team loses the value of that bonus allotment. This rarely happens, but it did occur with the Cubs in 2019 when they failed to sign their 10th round selection, Wyatt Hendrie. Teams may spend up to an additional 5% of their bonus pool. so the Cubs have a total of $7,118,370 with the 5% amount of $338,970 without a significant penalty. The Cubs have overspent their designated bonus pool every single year of the current format.
Prior to 2020, this second part of the draft (rounds 11-40) would involve players that teams planned to sign (often from college) or those that the team would love to sign but a signing was viewed as unlikely (highly valued high school players with significant bonus demands). Since this latter part of the draft was so long, teams could safely take a player on the slim chance that player would sign because they had so many rounds. Teams often only signed approximately 20 players in a 40 round draft.
No one knows how this years’ draft will play out, but teams will likely be more judicious in not “wasting” a pick since the draft has been cut in half. Teams can sign players for up to $125,000 without any funds being taken form their bonus pool. Every dollar over $125,000 a player signs for in rounds 11-20 gets added on to the bonuses spent in the first 10 rounds.
For example, if the Cubs were to select college seniors in rounds 8-10 and they saved $100,000 total after signing their first 10 picks, the Cubs could take a player in round 14 and sign them for $250,000 (since only $100k would count against the pool spending).
Post-Draft Free Agency
Similar to last year, any player eligible for the draft who is not drafted may sign with any team for a maximum of $20,000. This will often involve college seniors, like in 2020 when the Cubs signed Matt Mervis, Bradlee Beeseley, Ben Leeper, and many others. However, the Cubs signed Jacob Wetzel, who was a junior college player. The bulk of the players brought into the organization will come from the 20 round draft, but don’t lose sight of the post draft free agency period. In the last two years, the Cubs have signed Max Bain and Joe Nahas, not to mention more than a dozen interesting prospects from 2020
One Eye on the Future
The 2021 MLB Draft will be vitally important to the Cubs organization. Regardless of how this season finishes, Cubs President Jed Hoyer has already floated that they “one eye on the present and one eye on the future”. In addition to difficult decisions at the major league level, the draft is the single largest way teams can bring in the most future talent. In future articles, we’ll explore potential Cubs draft targets and information on the draft class.