Changes made at the collective bargaining table in 2012 likely went unnoticed by most baseball fans, but they will soon be of utmost importance to those who follow the Sky Sox.
Under that agreement, teams were allotted a pool of draft money to sign draft picks that they could not exceed without paying a steep penalty. This cut out much of the haggling that dragged out the signing of most high-round draft picks until mid-August. That deadline was also moved up to mid-July.
In short, under the new rules, drafted players have less negotiating leverage and sign far faster, which means teams can quickly place them in short-season leagues like the Pioneer League that the Sky Sox will be joining in 2019.
Because of that change, top draft picks will likely play in Colorado Springs in the weeks after they are selected.
It wasn’t always like that.
In 2010, for example, seven of the top eight picks in the draft took their negotiations right up to the Aug. 17 signing deadline. Of the six who eventually signed at that point, only Manny Machado – taken third – debuted in a Rookie League, but that was only for two games. Most of the group, including Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon, Drew Pomeranz and Matt Harvey, made their professional debut the following year at higher minor league levels.
Compare that with 2016 when the top five picks all quickly signed and played in a short-season league the same summer. Top pick Mickey Moniak, an outfielder drafted by the Phillies, logged 46 games in the Gulf Coast League, which is essentially an equivalent to the league the Sky Sox will be joining. No. 2 pick Nick Senzel, taken by Cincinnati, made his pro debut for Billings in the Pioneer League one week after being drafted out of Tennessee.
This year four of the top 10 picks have already signed from the June 12 draft. Many of them will soon be playing at the Rookie League level. And in two years, that will mean they’ll be appearing in Colorado Springs.
Other differences for fans in the city, aside from players being roughly nine years younger on average, will be the frequency of player movement at the rookie level.
In Triple-A, players often shuttle between the majors and minors, and call-ups from Double-A often join the season at various points. Players also frequently repeat the level, or even spend a handful of seasons in Triple-A. The roster is also, on occasion, joined by players on major league rehab assignments.
To give a sense of the frequency of player movement, the Sky Sox have used an average of 26 position players and 32 pitchers over the past three full seasons.
In Rookie League over that same span, the Helena Brewers – who will become the Sky Sox – have averaged 19 position players and 22 pitchers.