Lucas Giolito will celebrate his eighteenth birthday as a member of the Washington Nationals.
The MLB amateur signing deadline came and passed at 5 PM EST today. For Giolito, the Nationals’ top draft pick, that marks the beginning of his professional pitching career. The teenage phenom, who turns eighteen tomorrow, inked a pro contract just seconds before the deadline.
Yesterday, the Yankees signed their top draft pick, Tyler Hensley, to a $1.2 million deal. With just twenty-four hours left on the clock, five players selected in the first round of last month’s draft remained unsigned– Keving Gausman, Andrew Heaney, Richie Shaffer, Mark Appel and Giolito. Giolito and Appel were almost universally regarded as the top two pitchers of the 2012 draft class, and both players were considered the toughest signs of the first round.
Today, just thirty-seconds before the deadline, Giolito inked a professional contract with the Nationals that included a $2.925 million bonus. Considering the young phenom’s elite-level talent, the figure is a significant bargain for the Nationals.
Heading in to this Spring, many analysts considered Giolito a lock for a top-five selection come draft day. The most gifted arm among this classes’ crop of pitchers, Giolito hit 100 MPH off the mound at age-seventeen. His slider is often unhittable, and even better, his smooth delivery and polished command are extraordinary for his age, and especially for a flamethrower. In a mental game full of personal achievement and failure, Giolito’s most attractive characteristics are his cowboy cool demeanor on the mound and his bright, gregarious attitude off of it.
The young star sprained his elbow in March however, and while the injury wasn’t too serious and hasn’t warranted surgery, it was ultimately enough to scare teams from using a $3+ million slot on him. A strong commitment to UCLA, one of the nation’s best amateur programs, seemingly made him an even more risky pick. On the day of the draft, when he slid down the board and in to the club’s lap at the 16th slot, the Nationals decided to take a chance on him. They didn’t have a lot of money to work with, but the possible pay-off was just too enticing to pass-up. GM Mike Rizzo’s gamble did pay off in the end. Both sides made the deal happen, but he deserves an extra helping of credit for structuring the remainder of the team’s draft around their top pick. With a lot of savvy wheeling and dealing, Rizzo managed to free-up enough budget room to make a fair offer to a top talent, even while working with mid-first round slotting restrictions.
Even with the elbow injury, Giolito could’ve easily commanded a bonus in line with the $4 million Dylan Bundy received from the Orioles last summer. Out of the 16th slot, the Nationals initially had just $2.125 million to reel him in. In order to beef-up their offer, Rizzo shaved off almost $700 grand from the team’s bonus pool for the first ten rounds. They drafted especially carefully. Rizzo signed Tony Renda and many of their other top picks to below- slot deals, but still managed to reel-in some intriguing talent.
Though it came down to the wire, the Nationals got their man while walking away from the process relatively unscathed. The $2.925 million bonus the club handed Giolito is over-slot by 38%. Because it causes their total spending for the first ten rounds to exceed the $4.4 million bonus pool allotment the MLB set aside for them, by $100,000 (2.5%), the Nationals will pay a $75,000 luxury tax. However, the bonus figure is below the $3.035 million threshold that would result in losing a pick in next June’s draft, a much heftier price to pay.
Giolito has stated that his elbow injury is “behind him.” The the UCL tear kept him off the mound for almost the entirety of his senior season at Harvard-Westlake school. However, the Nationals team doctors have already examined his elbow, evidently concluding that the injury isn’t too serious. For now, it appears that he will avoid the knife. He’s been throwing off flat ground since May, and will likely open his Nats career at the franchise’s Spring training complex, taking it easy and continuing to rehab the injury.
A supremely gifted young pitcher, BaseballNewsHound.com rated Giolito as the top high school pitcher and the second best prospect in the 2012 MLB Draft. He posted a sparkling 9-1 record and a 1.00 ERA during his junior season at Harvard-Westlake. Facing the most polised high school talent in the nation, he mowed down 76 batters through 70 1/3 innings. He no-hit Arroyo Grande high in the Southern Section Division II playoffs, and capped-off his remarkable campaign with honors as Baseball America High School Pitcher of the Year.
The deadline had a much different meaning for Mark Appel, the Pirates’ top pick and the eighth overall selection. Widely regarded as best college pitcher since Stephen Strasburg, Appel turned down Pittsburgh’s $3.8 million offer to return to Stanford for his senior season.
The Pirates did their best to offer Appel a competitive contract, making an offer that over-shot their $2.9 million slot recommendation by $900K. Had he signed, the Pirates would’ve paid a 75% luxury tax. Appel evidently felt he should’ve commanded even more money, but Pittsburgh wasn’t willing to break the 5% over-bonus-pool limit and sacrifice a draft pick in next summer’s draft. In the end, it will be difficult for the right-handed to get a better offer next time around. Not only will he have to pitch at an even higher level and avoid injury– a risky gamble, particularly for pitchers– but he loses out on the leverage of returning to college.