UCLA baseball’s incoming recruiting class had four players whom coach John Savage called high-profile.
“We were hoping to hold on to two of them,” Savage said. “We held on to one of them.”
Savage knew he wouldn’t be able to keep Hagen Danner – who received a $1.5 million signing bonus with the Toronto Blue Jays – and Hunter Greene, whose $7.2 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds set a new record.
That left Jeremiah Estrada and Garrett Mitchell – but Estrada won’t be coming to Westwood. He signed with the Chicago Cubs for $1 million.
“I still don’t think it was enough to buy him out of college, but every family is different, every situation is different,” Savage said. “The family thought it was in his best interest for him to sign.”
When Darol Salazar – Estrada’s high school coach – talked to the right-handed pitcher, he told him that he had to pick a number and stick to it. Salazar said Estrada’s number was right around $1 million.
“Getting a million dollars in the sixth round doesn’t happen very often,” Salazar said. “I think they knew they had to do that to lure him away from UCLA.”
The Cubs’ sixth-round pick has a slot value of $222,600, but the team was able to more than quadruple that figure thanks to a draft strategy that Savage said a lot of teams are using.
The reigning World Series champions spent their ninth and 10th round picks on college seniors. Generally, college players are drafted after their junior year, and can use their remaining year of academic eligibility as leverage in bonus negotiations.
Players signing after their senior seasons don’t have this leverage, so the Cubs were able to snag the seniors for just $5,000 dollars apiece, saving close to $130,000 of cap space on each of them.
“It’s the way the system’s set up now. Seniors are getting overdrafted … so there’s a lot of money left for prospects like Jeremiah,” Savage said. “I don’t particularly believe in that system, but it is what it is. They know how to take advantage of the system, and that’s one way to be able to pay prospects.”
Because the Cubs were able to find the money for Estrada, he’ll start working his way through their minor league system instead of vying for a spot in UCLA’s rotation, where he likely would have been a rotation option as a sophomore, Savage said.
Salazar said Estrada loved UCLA and looked forward to working with Savage, who has a reputation as being a pitcher’s coach, but the the high risk of injury was one factor that led Estrada to go pro.
The high school coach mentioned that he had another player drafted in the 12th round in 2011. That player – David Schuknecht – turned down money to play for the University of Arizona, but got injured during his collegiate career and didn’t get the chance pursue pro ball.
Although the Bruins lost Estrada, they will keep their fourth high-profile player, Garrett Mitchell. The Oakland Athletics took Mitchell in the 14th round this year, but he’ll be going to school instead. When he signed his national letter of intent, Savage called him a five-tool player and said he’s probably the best athlete in his draft class.
“I would say Estrada could have gone either way,” Savage said. “Fortunately for Mitchell and for us, he’ll be able to grow as a person and grow as a player for UCLA and come out a really, really high-end prospect.”