Cleveland Indians Sign 2016 First Round Pick Will Benson

Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports /

Cleveland Indians Sign 1st Round Pick Will Benson

The Cleveland Indians have signed outfielder Will Benson, giving him a $2.5M signing bonus. Benson, an outfielder from the Atlanta area, was the Tribe’s first-round pick in last week’s 2016 Major League Baseball draft. He was the 14th overall pick.

Benson will be a bit of a project player for the Indians. He’s very athletic with some big tools, especially power, but he’s several years away from impacting the big league club and will need a lot of work at the minor league level honing his skills. He was a top 30-40 prospects according to most experts heading into the draft so he was considered a small reach at 14; however, the thing to remember with the baseball draft is slot money and how that affects picks (the Indians saved almost half a million with Benson versus slot value). 

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Money Saved is a Big Deal

While to some it may sound like it’s the “Dolan’s being cheap” with the draft savings, it’s actually very good news for the Indians. Per Major League rules, the Indians this year are limited to just $7,499,600 for the draft. If they spend any more than that, they will begin to incur penalties. They can spend up to 5% more without losing a draft pick, but will pay a tax penalty on every dollar spent over (which they’ve done the last couple years).

With the signing, the Indians saved $473,700 against “slot” on Will Benson, the Indians have more draft pool money to spend on other picks in the draft, namely their 2nd round pick Nolan Jones. Jones, a high school third baseman, was a top 20 prospect according to many and will certainly command more than the $1,159,200 that is slotted for him being the 55th overall pick. The Indians will likely have to approach the $2,000,000 mark with him to get him to forego college and sign with the Indians.

The Indians had to do this with their second pick in the 2015 draft as well, signing Triston McKenzie for $2,302,500 while slot was only $1,468,400 for the pick (a difference of $834,100). The Indians already have some good savings built up as in addition to signing Benson, the Indians have also signed their 9th round pick Hosea Nelson. Nelson, an outfielder out of the junior college ranks, received a $125,000 signing bonus (slot was $166,700). 

In total, the Indians are $515,400 “under slot”. They still have nine guys in the top 10 rounds that still need to be signed. It’s these rounds that count against the draft pool money. The Indians probably will save some money on the college guys they took but could need some money for guys like Connor Capel (5th round) or Ulysses Cantu (6th round). The Indians could also be saving some money to make a run at an “unsignable” guy they drafted in rounds 11-40.

Players drafted in those rounds aren’t subject to the draft pool money, provided they sign for $100,000 or less. However, anything over $100,000 does go against the draft pool money. The Indians took advantage of some savings last year and were able to sign high school shortstop Luke Wakamatsu for $290,000 last year ($190,000 of which went against the draft pool). Whether the Indians will attempt something similar this year remains to be seen.

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The Indians are a very smart organization and know what they’re doing with the draft and have become good at budgeting. They went almost a million dollars over slot on their first two picks in 2015 (Brady Aiken and McKenzie) but still managed to remain out of any major penalties. In fact, they missed losing their first round pick by just $1,530 in 2015. Be sure to check back with Wahoo’s on First for more draft signing updates.