Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees made a pick that raised eyebrows by selecting New Jersey prep right-hander Jack Leiter, a first-round talent who slipped due to signability concerns.reached its conclusion on Wednesday, nearly 48 hours and some 40 rounds after it began. Halfway through the draft, in the 20th round, the
Leiter, whose family has all kinds of big-league connections (most notably his father, Al, pitched parts of 19 seasons in the majors), was officially picked No. 615. Entering the event, however, MLB.com regarded him as the 33rd best prospect in the class due to his polish. Leiter had been considered a tough sign due to his outstanding commitment to Vanderbilt, and there was speculation that he would sign only with the Yankees or Mets.
The Yankees, who took Leiter’s teammate Anthony Volpe in the first round, might have been on Leiter’s short list, but it’s hard to see how they could sign him. The Yankees have one of the smallest bonus pools in the draft, with just under $7.5 million to hand out. Signing their top three picks to slot value deals would require more than $5 million of that amount — and it’s possible that Volpe will require more than $2.37 million to break his own commitment to Vanderbilt.
Further complicating matters is that the Yankees’ pool would shrink if they were to, say, punt on signing Volpe or one of their other early picks in order to accommodate Leiter. Were the Yankees to go over their bonus pool amount, they would be subject to the following penalties, per MLB.com:
If a team exceeds its assigned pool, it faces a penalty. Teams that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75 percent tax for surpassing their pool by more than 5 and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.
Beyond those hurdles, it doesn’t appear that drafting Leiter was part of some grand scheme on the Yankees part. When the Mets took Matthew Allan on Tuesday, they followed up that selection by drafting a bunch of college seniors — a class of player who often sign underslot deals because they lack negotiating power. The Yankees didn’t take their first college senior until their ninth pick.
So, Leiter may have gotten his wish to be drafted by the Yankees. But it’s probably just a paper move rather than some elaborate plan to land one of the best arms in the draft in round 20.