The Most Interesting Signings in the 2022 MLB Draft
The MLB Draft is officially over. Dreams came true, fans and analysts alike were shocked, and teams set the foundation for what they hope is a successful future. The deadline for draft picks to sign professional contracts has officially passed, and those who inked deals will be gearing up for rookie ball soon.
Going into the draft, each team has a certain amount of money that they can use for signing bonuses for all of the players they draft. In the first 10 rounds, every pick is attached with a certain slot value, which is the designated signing bonus for that pick. Picks after the 10th round have no slot value, but if a team signs a pick from those rounds for more than $125,000, that overage is subtracted from the bonus pool. Teams can also go “overslot” or “underslot” to sign a pick for more or less than his slot value. Teams usually go underslot to save money for their other picks, in which they draft high-upside prospects to try to entice them away from college baseball. A team may employ whatever draft strategy they wish, but they cannot exceed their draft bonus pool without paying a tax penalty, which increases the more a team spends over their assigned pool.
Between surprising reaches, tremendous steals, and gambles on players with impressive pedigrees, there were quite a bit of interesting selections throughout the draft. Here are three draft picks that I found noteworthy.
Kumar Rocker, RHP - Texas Rangers: Round 1, Pick 3
$7,951,600 Slot Value, $5,200,000 Signing Bonus
Nobody should be surprised that I’m writing about this pick, but I’m sure you were shocked when you heard Kumar Rocker’s name called third overall. Rocker, a 6’5”, 245-pound right-hander from the Tri-City ValleyCats of the Frontier League by way of Vanderbilt, was the biggest mystery in the entire draft. After three stellar seasons in the weekend rotation for Vanderbilt, Rocker was selected 10th overall by the Mets in the 2021 Draft. However, the Mets were scared away by Rocker’s medicals and did not offer Rocker a contract, with Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reporting that the Mets “didn’t think even Tommy John surgery would alleviate their worries.”
In September 2021, Rocker underwent what Rocker's agent Scott Boras "called ‘a minor scope’ on his right arm,” according to Kiley McDaniel and Jeff Passan of ESPN. After recovering from that shoulder surgery, he signed with the Tri-City ValleyCats of the Frontier League, an independent professional league, in May. After he pitched 20 innings across five starts for the ValleyCats, the Rangers decided they had seen all they needed to and picked Rocker third overall.
On the mound, Rocker offers an impressive arsenal that can terrorize future batters. While his average fastball velocity fluctuated during his 2021 season at Vanderbilt, it still sits in the low-to-mid 90s and has touched 98. The fastball also comes with good movement, but that sink and run are not always present, occasionally leaving his fastball flat and easier to hit. Rocker’s best offering is his slider. It features depth, sits in the mid-80s, and can be used to generate a ton of swings and misses. He can also throw a cutter and curveball that both have the potential to be above-average with proper development. Rocker’s scarcely-used changeup is not a great pitch but projects to be average with development, as does his command. That entire arsenal was put to good use at Vanderbilt. He punched out 19 Duke hitters en route to a postseason no-hitter his freshman year and amassed a 2.73 ERA, 0.934 WHIP, and 179 strikeouts across 122 innings during his 2021 junior campaign. His Frontier League stint, while brief, was also impressive, featuring 5 starts, a 1.35 ERA, 32 strikeouts, and 4 walks across 20 innings.
The Rangers deemed that pitching repertoire and track record of success too good to pass up at pick 3. Rocker signed his professional contract for a $5.2 million signing bonus, which is almost $2.4 million below pick 3’s slot value. There are a lot of things to love about this pick. For starters, it is exactly the kind of risk the Rangers needed to take to keep building a contender. They spent $500 million this past offseason to lock down a middle infield of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. While the roster still lacks all the pieces necessary to win a championship, those moves signified the Rangers are ready to try for a World Series sooner rather than later.
When healthy, Rocker has some of the best stuff in this draft class to go along with a proven track record of success at the highest level of college baseball. He will be major-league-ready quicker than most, if not all, of his fellow draftmates. If this move pans out, the Rangers found themselves a solid starter with ace potential who should see major league action at around the same time as all of their other top prospects.
Additionally, the savings from Rocker’s deal allowed the Rangers to make a splash with their next pick. They selected Brock Porter, a high school RHP from Michigan, 109th overall. The leftover bonus pool from Rocker was put towards signing Porter, MLB Pipeline’s 12th ranked prospect and 1st ranked pitcher, for $3 million overslot. Even if Rocker doesn’t pan out in the big leagues, the savings by that pick could go a long way if Porter is as good as advertised.
However, the move does also come with its risks. If healthy, Rocker seems to be a staple in the Rangers future. That is a big if. Despite being able to pitch again this summer, Rocker has yet to show that his arm can hold up to the stress of a full season. While Rocker’s agent Scott Boras reaffirmed that the September surgery was not major and that Kumar’s arm is completely fine, it is fair to wonder what about Rocker’s arm scared the Mets away from the negotiating table last year.
Rocker has also adopted a new pitching delivery. It is smoother and more compact, but he will have to get used to employing it throughout a full season. He had no problem getting results with his new motion in the Frontier League, but the minor leagues and MLB will be a much tougher challenge. Rocker will be much more successful if he can repeat his delivery and maintain his arm health at the professional level. Unfortunately, it is unknown if he can do either right now, meaning there are still a lot of question marks surrounding this pick.
This pick was the biggest risk taken in the draft, but it also offers a potentially massive reward. The Rangers decided they were committed to winning a championship by dealing with the enigma of Rocker’s health to potentially gain an ace pitcher for years to come. Additionally, they were able to sign Rocker for underslot and use their savings to draft to sign high-end prospects that fell down the draft board.
Ivan Melendez, 1B - Arizona Diamondbacks: Round 2, Pick 43
$1,818,500 Slot Value, $1,400,000 Signing Bonus
1st Baseman Ivan Melendez just capped off a historic season at Texas, culminating in winning the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to college baseball’s best player every year. Nicknamed the Hispanic Titanic, Melendez is a menacing presence in the batter’s box who hit the cover off of baseballs all year. The Diamondbacks loved his 6’3”, 225-pound frame and insane collegiate season, drafting him in the second round with the 43rd overall selection.
Melendez’s power is nothing short of spectacular. MLB Pipeline dubbed it a double-plus tool with a grade of 60 on the 20-80 scale. His right-handed swing produces high exit velos and generates plenty of lift on the ball. Additionally, the strength in Melendez’s hulking frame enables him to hit home runs off of pitches that had no business leaving the yard. All of that combines to give him power to all fields, which will be his calling card at the major-league level. Melendez used that raw power well at Texas, putting together an unbelievable .387/.508/.863 slash line with a 1.371 OPS. His 32 home runs set the NCAA single-season record in the BBCOR era (since 2011).
The Diamondbacks snagged Melendez with their second-round pick, signing him with a bonus of $1.4 million. Arizona saved more than $400,000 by signing Melendez below pick 43’s slot value. This selection gives the Diamondbacks an advanced hitter that should be major-league ready sooner than most of his draft class. He has the power for the D-Backs to dream about, especially in a hitter's park like Chase Field. He has also shown he can control the strike zone. His 2022 season at Texas saw him strike out 51 times and draw 52 walks, a vast improvement from his 65 Ks and 34 BBs in 2021. That increased plate discipline, should it carry over to the major-league level, can only do wonders for his power. By laying off bad pitches and drawing walks, Melendez should see more pitches to do damage against, so we could be seeing moonshots like this in the desert soon.
A great hitter like that would do wonders for an Arizona offense that is currently 21st in the MLB in OPS, 24th in wOBA, and 26th in wRC+. Additionally, the $400,000 saved by the Diamondbacks allowed them to go overslot for several players, most notably Landon Sims, an RHP from Mississippi State. If Sims can recover from Tommy John surgery, his quality fastball and disgusting slider could enable him to be a great pitcher for the Diamondbacks down the road.
Concerns with this pick arise mainly with Melendez’s defense. He has the arm strength to potentially play third base, but he would need to increase his agility tremendously, making this option unlikely. Melendez played first base at Texas, and his athleticism should allow him to suffice at that position in the MLB. DH is another likely option. However, no matter where he plays, Melendez does not project to be a valuable defender. Using the 43rd pick in the draft on a player with little to offer defensively could be concerning, especially with players still available that project to have talent on both sides of the ball. There are also some worries as to how well Melendez’s power will translate to professional baseball. He featured some swing-and-miss in his plate approach at Texas, and his bat speed is not elite. If he doesn’t improve on either of those aspects, he will struggle against great pitching, and it would be hard to imagine him being a consistent power threat at the major-league level.
Melendez was the most accomplished college player in the draft, and the Diamondbacks couldn’t pass up the opportunity to select him. If Melendez cannot carry his mammoth power to the professional level, then the Diamondbacks will probably look back on this pick with regret. But if Melendez continues to both rake and control the strike zone as he did at Texas, then the Hispanic Titanic should be an integral part of the Diamondbacks future.
Caden Dana, RHP - Los Angeles Angels: Round 11, Pick 328
$125,000 Slot Value, $1,497,500 Signing Bonus
Caden Dana, the Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year, was a highly-touted pitching prospect heading into the 2022 MLB Draft. MLB Pipeline’s 119th overall prospect, he seemed poised to be taken within the early rounds of the draft but remained unselected after two days and ten rounds. After that, the Don Bosco Prep alum looked to be heading to Lexington to play for the University of Kentucky - until the Angels scooped him up in the 11th round and gave him a signing bonus of almost $1.5 million, the highest ever given to an 11th round pick.
Dana’s fastball already sits in the mid-90s with some arm-side run. He will need to learn to consistently add that spin and movement to it, but this offering looks to be a plus pitch once he develops. His curveball projects to be another plus offering. Its velocity is in the mid-70s, it flashes impressive downward action, and Dana can land it in the strike zone. His third pitch is a changeup, and while he showed he can use it against left-handed hitters, it still needs development if he wishes to use it at the professional level. This repertoire comes with a strong 6’4”, 215-pound frame, a repeatable delivery, and a high 3/4 arm slot. Dana used that arsenal and delivery to dominate his New Jersey high school competition. He finished his senior season with a 1.33 ERA, striking out 70 batters in 47.1 innings en route to a state championship. Dana showcased more of his impressive stuff at the 2021 Perfect Game National Invitational, where he fanned the first six batters he faced.
The Angels jumped at the opportunity to select Dana in the 11th round and had to pony up $1,497,500 to get him to sign. Of that bonus, $1,372,500 came from the Angels signing bonus pool. As mentioned before, an 11th-round pick has never signed for that much, but it isn’t hard to see why the Angels gave Dana such a hefty bonus. The pitching arsenal and strong build are impressive, and Dana projects to develop into a starting pitcher at the major league level. His mid-90s fastball velocity was consistent even as he went deep into his appearances, and it could increase as he gets stronger and finishes filling out his frame. His delivery is clean, compact, and repeatable. The Angels pitching coaches will have to work to improve his changeup, and adding another pitch would likely do wonders for Dana’s success at the major-league level. But everything that he has shown thus far makes it seem reasonable to believe that Caden Dana will be an MLB starter.
Developing such an asset from the 11th round would be amazing for the Angels, who are looking to do anything they can to field a competitive team around Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
Given how little risk there was to selecting Caden in the 11th round, there’s not much to dislike about this pick. With that being said, however, Dana is still only 18 years old and is unlikely to be major-league ready for a while. Coming from the high school ranks, he will have to learn to manage the strain of a full professional season and attack minor league hitters. None of that comes easily, especially to a guy who just graduated high school. However, I highly doubt that the Angels picked Dana expecting him to contribute to their MLB club right away.
More concerns can be raised about the Angels using over $1.3 million of their signing bonus pool to sign the New Jersey high schooler. After the draft, the Angels signed 18 of their 19 selections and used 5% more than their allotted bonus pool. That overage of $351,650 will be taxed at a 75% rate, totaling out to a $263,737.50 penalty. While it would be fair to criticize the Angels for going over the bonus pool, it’s not like they horribly mismanaged their money. They signed 6 players overslot, which they compensated for by signing 9 players for under slot value. The Angels got their guys, and it’s clear they were willing to pay the tax penalty and use more than their bonus pool to do it. They couldn’t use the pool money for anything else, and I’m not convinced that the penalty of around $263K will sting Angels owner Arte Moreno and his $4.3 billion net worth.
This record-breaking pick comes with almost no risk and still includes a tremendous potential reward for the Angels. Dana projects to be an MLB starter, and getting his upside in the 11th round is an absurd steal. The Angels had to spend a lot of money to sign him, but this amount is negligible in the long run. With all going well, expect to see him in the rotation.
These three signings all include incredible players with some interesting caveats. Whether or not these players pan out is a different story, but their professional ball clubs invested a lot of money into acquiring them. These signings make for incredible stories to monitor down the road. Between injury concerns, defensive questions, record-breaking bonuses, and extreme upside, it will be exciting to see how these picks pan out.
"Kumar Rocker" via Gamecock Central licensed under CC BY 2.0