BOSTON – When Will Middlebrooks played high school baseball in 2007, he was considered a sure first-round pick in that year’s major league draft.
But Middlebrooks also was a gifted football quarterback with a scholarship to Texas A&M.
Teams feared Middlebrooks might be too difficult to sign, and he slipped to the fifth round, where the Red Sox took a chance.
A fifth-round draft pick out of high school usually commands around $200,000. To convince Middlebrooks to give up football and sign, Boston gave him $925,000.
Those days are over. New rules take effect for the 2012 draft, which begins Monday.
If a team wants to give nearly $1 million to a fifth-round pick, it will have to pay below scale in earlier rounds, or risk a penalty from Major League Baseball.
In MLB’s newest collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union, a mandatory pay system was implemented for draft picks.
MLB has assigned a value to every draft pick in the first 10 rounds. And based on a team’s number of picks and its order in the draft, MLB has determined how much each team can spend in those first 10 rounds.
Boston has 12 picks in the first 10 rounds (getting two extra picks because it lost Jonathan Papelbon in free agency to the Phillies). Boston’s “pool” for the first 10 rounds is $6.884 million.
By comparison, Boston spent $6.6 million before the second round last year, on four draft picks. The Red Sox spent $10 million in the first 10 rounds (and that was without signing their eighth-round pick).
Also, draft picks after the 10th round can be signed for up to $100,000 only. Anything more will count against the pool. Last year, Boston gave four players after the 10th round between $125,000 and $275,000.
“Are we going to spend less than previous years? Maybe,” said Amiel Sawdaye, the amateur scouting director. “But we’ll still get good players.”
General Manager Ben Cherington said his team isn’t handicapped.
“It’s all relative to the competition,” he said. “Make more out of our picks than our competition. That’s the priority of every draft.”
But Cherington admits the new rules make that competition a more level field for smaller-market teams.
In previous years, Boston and other big-market, big-spending teams were able to pick top players later in the draft after small-market teams avoided them because of demands for a large signing bonus.
In 2010, Anthony Ranaudo of Louisiana State may have been the best college pitcher in the draft, but he was coming back from an injury and his agent was the demanding Scott Boras. Teams stayed away until Boston picked him in the supplemental round with the 39th overall pick.
Boston eventually signed Ranaudo for $2.55 million. Only six players drafted ahead of him received more money.
Boston also drafted high school infielders Sean Coyle and Garin Cecchini in the third and fourth rounds and gave them each $1.3 million.
Big-market teams can no longer spend that much on a few picks. And drafted players can’t demand over-the-top salaries. That means smaller-market teams can go after anyone.
According to Cherington, the theory with the new system is “the first player taken is the best player and on down from there it spreads the talent out more. That is the intent.”
Another likely effect is high school players who don’t get chosen in early rounds may opt for college.
MAKE UP YOUR MIND
Colleges get another break from the rules, besides likely keeping more recruits. The deadline for draftees to sign was moved up a month to July 13, which means colleges will know sooner which players they’re losing to the pros. And pro teams can get their players signed and playing immediately.
Under the mid-August signing deadline, players who signed late had only two weeks left in the minor league seasons, and many didn’t play at all until the following year.
“There’s a benefit to getting their feet wet, getting the initial transition out of the way,” Cherington said. “They can come to spring training (the next year) and hit the ground running.”
After the draft, look for teams to sign undrafted players, because the draft has been cut from 50 to 40 rounds.
Major league teams don’t have to follow the bonus rules, but it would be costly. For going up to 5 percent over a team’s pool (in the Red Sox case, that would be mean spending up to $344,200 more than its pool money), there is a heavy fine.
If a team goes over by more than 5 percent, the fines continue, plus teams lose draft picks, starting with the first round in 2013.
“We’re going to try and work within the rules,” Cherington said. “I don’t foresee a scenario where we would be willing to give up a pick.”
OTHER MONEY MATTERS
If a team fails to sign a draft pick in the top 10 rounds, the suggested bonus for that pick is subtracted from the pool. For instance, if Boston doesn’t sign it’s third-round pick, $400,500 would be subtracted from its pool.
This prevents teams from dumping lots of cash on one player and drafting others with no intention of signing them.
Another change eliminates major league contracts for draft picks. This prevents a team from giving a modest signing bonus, then offering a multi-million dollar salary.
The team with the biggest pool this year is Minnesota ($12.368 million). The Twins have 13 picks in the first 10 rounds, including the second overall pick, slotted at $6.2 million.
The Astros have the top pick, which MLB slots at a $7.2 million bonus.
For Boston’s top three picks, the MLB slots are $1.75 million, $1.575 million and $1.394 million. It drops off from there, to $565,000 for the second round.
The Red Sox don’t have to pay those exact amounts. They just can’t go over their total pool ceiling.
DEPTH, BUT FEW STARS
Sawdaye said there is “some depth” in the 2013 draft.
“I’m not sure there is that top-end talent (of previous years). But we’re going to find some pretty good players.”
The top players who are expected to be taken well before Boston picks include Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, high school outfielder Byron Buxton of Georgia, high school shortstop Carlos Correa of Puerto Rico, Louisiana State pitcher Kevin Gausman and University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino.
ARE THE RED SOX INTERESTED?
Mock drafts from various sources have the Red Sox picking a variety of players.
We’re guessing the Red Sox could go after college players, with a few high school players in the early rounds.
Here is a group that might interest the Red Sox:
Marcus Stroman, Duke pitcher (Tom Gordon comparisons).
D.J. Davis, high school outfielder (speedster).
Stephen Piscotty, Stanford third baseman/outfielder (Cape Cod League batting leader).
Zach Eflin, high school pitcher (plus fastball and change-up).
Tanner Rahier, high school third baseman (raw, aggressive hitter).
Brian Johnson, University of Florida pitcher/first baseman (solid lefty).
Barrett Barnes, Texas Tech outfielder (potential power).
Mitch Haniger, Cal-Poly outfielder (another Bryce Brentz?).
Nolan Fontana, University of Florida shortstop (leader).
James Ramsey, Florida State outfielder (fast, hits for average).
The first and supplemental rounds will take place Monday. The following 39 rounds are Tuesday and Wednesday.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: