Tucker Frawley is a catcher that was drafted as a senior by the Blue Jays in the 8th round. He was clearly one of their money saving picks, as the Blue Jays aggressively used the new system to make sure they could still sign guys demanding high bonuses in the early rounds. The new draft rules put in place by the 2012 MLB CBA clearly punishes not only teams that usually spend a large amount in the draft, but also punishes the teenagers and young adults being drafted. Each team is given a “pool” of money (determined by the league, and different for each team, based on things like payroll, previous record, etc). There are heavy taxes for going over the pool, so in the first year of the system, every team went by the pool guidelines. However, many teams found a way to work around it by drafting college seniors with little to no leverage in the 5th to 10th rounds and signing them to very cheap bonuses. They did this because they would not only be easy signs (so the team would not have to lose any of the allotted money), but it would save money for the teams so they could use it on the high end picks (examples of this working would be the Nationals, who nearly built their whole draft around Lucas Giolito. An example of this not working would be with the Pirates, who took Mark Appel after he slid, only not to be able to sign him. Despite the general rule being that high schoolers have higher ceilings than college players, they took 6 college players from the 4th-10th rounds). The Blue Jays were perhaps the most aggressive in doing this, drafting all college players from 4th to the 10th round. Frawley signed for just $5,000, 4th rounder Tucker Donahue signed for $5,000, 5th rounder Brad Delatte signed for $5,000, 6th rounder Eric Phillips signed for $5,000, 7th rounder Ian Parmley signed for $5,000, 9th rounder Jordan Leyland signed for $5,000, and 10th round pick Alex Azor signed for $1,000. There has been some talk that some of the college seniors drafted that high are so bad that some of the top 10 round picks could be released as early as this spring training. Delatte had just one outing after being drafted and it lasted less than an inning and was terrible. Donahue threw 25.2 outings in the Northwest league that were well below league average. Phillips struggled in 8 games, while Parmley struggled with the bat in 58 games (though he had more walks than strikeouts, his batting average and slugging were horrible). Leyland managed to post OPS’s under .700 over two different levels, while Azon had a OPS under .600 in rookie ball.
Frawley was no different, as he really struggled in the Northwest league after being drafted. He had decent peripherals (8.5 BB %, 21.5 K%), but no average (.185) or power (no extra base hits). This is not a big surprise if you just look at his college statistics at Coastal Carolina (.630 OPS in 41 games as a senior). His bat speed is quick enough, but his swing plane is sort of strange. It is almost a chop and would seem to lend to a lot of ground-balls (and it did in the Northwest league, as he had a 54 % ground-ball rate).
Frawley does have a good defensive reputation with a 1.85-1.95 “pop time” (MLB averages are usually between 1.8-1.95). He seems to have a pretty strong arm, but when I watched him, his accuracy wasn’t always great. He is small for a catcher (listed at 6-0 185, which I find a little dubious), but seemed to do a good job of blocking balls behind the plate. He threw out a respectable 32 % of runners with Vancouver in the Northwest league with one passed ball. Perhaps more importantly, he is a good receiver and framer. As far as speed goes, he is about 4.27 to first, which is above average for a catcher. He did have two steals in the minors in 2012 with a 4.6 speed score, which probably has a lot to do with his size.
So it really seems that the Blue Jays drafted terrible players in the 4th through 10th rounds on purpose in order to be able to get possible high impact players like D.J. Davis, Marcus Stroman, and Matt Smoral in the early rounds. It is a risky strategy, as they are giving yourself less opportunities to mess up or less opportunities to find impact players, but, if the right players are selected, it is a pretty clever way to get around the rules. The goal is not to field the best minor league teams as possible, the goal is to find players that provide value for the MLB team (either themselves or by being traded). It also means draft order probably means less than it once did. We can’t really assume that a 4th round pick was considered to be better than the team’s 12th round pick. With teams like the Blue Jays, the opposite is probably the case. The Blue Jays can pay the 12th round pick up to $100,000, while they paid the 4th round pick $5,000 (perhaps the 12th round pick was a bad example since the Blue Jays 12th round pick, Ryan Kellogg, didn’t sign). It is a different game, and we have to be sure we realize this when we are evaluating drafts and prospects.