Last year the 78th pick in the draft signed for $550,000. That's a nice head start for a young ballplayer. Mark Zagunis now has a difficult choice in front of him. Does he go pro now, or opt to improve his chances and take a stab at the bigger bonus after his final year?
MLB teams now have pools of money that they are allowed to spend on the draft. And the Cubs had $8.352MM to cover the top 10 rounds. And with the 4th pick in the first round slotted for all but $3.8MM of the entire pool, it's assumed that the Cubs had a deal in place under that slotted amount with Indiana C Kyle Schwarber, who like Zagunis is a semi-finalist for the Johnny Bench award for Nation's Top Catcher.
This would leave the Cubs with more money to play with in the remainder of the top 10 rounds. College players have less leverage at the bargaining table than elite high school talents who can threaten pro organizations with their college scholarship. Signability is always a concern in the early stages, so often times the college player is the safest bet. They have to really question whether coming back for a year might be worth the risk of losing what they've already gained.
For Zagunis, two-time All-ACC catcher and the first Hokie to repeat at the same position, the reward would be great if he were to move up into even the early part of the 3rd round, where he could be looking at bonuses in the $1.5MM range, maybe double or triple his money for one more year of college baseball. Then again, a simple fall to the fifth round, and he could be looking at earning $200,000. It's no wonder most people take the money on the table.
How Does He Fit Into The Cubs Plans?
It's interesting to me that they would select two college Catchers who aren't really known for their defense in the first round. It is usually expected that if you take a guy in the top 10 out of college he should be MLB ready by about 800-1,000 minor league ABs. Schwarber is likely too far advanced with the bat and too far behind with the glove to play C at the MLB level for a couple years. If they dumb down the defense and stick him in LF, he could challenge for a spot next June (as to avoid a complicated Arbitration clause in the future) or be ready to play in event of injury as the late-season call-ups are made. Zagunis will likely stick to a more traditional development path
When you select 21 year olds, this usually means by about age 24 they should be ready to produce, if not a little sooner. Which makes the ETA on Zagunis 2017 season, or else the organization has a good idea already that he isn't going to be a fit long-term.
Zagunis has a great eye at the plate, the potential for pop, and handles his staff well, though he features an arm and a pop time that are regarded as average. And his speed and baserunning are top of the class for his position. The plus speed might make him attractive candidate in LF, which is also where some are saying Schwarber might end up. Confusing, right? Zagunis' frame is taller and more slender than the stocky Schwarber, he definitely appears to be the more athletic, if less powerful of the two.
Look at him get down the line after contact. Playing Catcher will slowly chip away at that, sad to say:
The Cubs have languished for a few years now, and entered a total rebuild under GM Theo Epstein, who is now embarking on year three. They accumulated picks and have made great use of them, and it's led to them having a farm system that is burgeoning with young offensive talent like RF Jorge Soler, CF Albert Almora, 3B Kris Bryant, and SS Javier Baez, all very close to MLB ready. Both top picks, Zagunis and Schwarber will have to earn their way into this Cubs lineup, though luckily the depth at the OF positions in the system might leave one of them an opening, as the Cubs have Almora, Soler, and Lake in their plans but little else. If some of the young rotation arms come around, this Cubs team might be in contention in 2015 or 2016, much sooner than many envisioned.
Cool Towns Zagunis Might Get To Play In Along The Way
If he signs with the Cubs, he will probably begin in short-season A ball in the Northwest League with the Boise Hawks later this summer. This is where most of the draftees will begin their career after a stint at Extended Spring Training.
After playing some winter ball, it is expected that a player with a draft slot this high out of the competitive ACC would begin his career in High-A ball, where if you are under 23 years old you are considered advanced for the level. The Cubs play their High-A ball in Daytona of the Florida State League. Not a bad gig if you can get it.
Zagunis will likely enjoy this "advanced" status until he gets to AA Tennessee (Knoxville) of the Southern League. He will face the best pitching he's seen on a daily basis since his time with the Harwich Mariners team in the Cape Cod League (a wood bat summer league for top prospects). It is here in AA that he will likely stall out and lose his prospect status, if that were to happen. The Southern League is a pressure cooker.
If he has to play the waiting game, he'll do it in Iowa (Des Moines), the long time home of the Cubs AAA farm team. Hopefully he spends as little time in AAA as possible where the arms are more seasoned yet usually less talented than those he'd be seeing in AA.
Zagunis might also eventually be selected to play in the Arizona Fall League at some point after the next two seasons. The organization usually selects 6-7 players at the AA level or below and sends them to Arizona for a month. This is similar to an All-Star nod, and a great sign that the organization has you in their future plans.
Congratulations to Mark on the once-in-a-lifetime news, and here's to wishing him the very best in reversing the curse, which has now reached 105 years and counting, if that's what he chooses to do. Hopefully, the reward is commensurate with whatever risk he chooses.
We'll be back with more on Hokies in the 2014 MLB draft in the coming days.