Tigers pony up $1M to sign high-school catcher

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

And that makes nine.

The Tigers have inked perhaps their toughest sign from last week’s Major League Baseball Draft, high-school catcher Sam McMillan, who will pass up a chance to play collegiately for the Florida Gators. It took some serious cash to get a deal done with McMillan, who was applauded on Twitter on Wednesday by his new representation, Full Circle Sports Management out of California.

McMillan, 18, will receive a $1 million signing bonus, nearly $700,000 more than his pick’s value, of $313,900. It is the biggest reported bonus from the fifth round this year.

"It was a tough decision, but it was a win-win for me," McMillan told The News on Wednesday afternoon. "It was a big decision, but it wasn't as stressful as you might think. Both sides of it would've been really cool, but I felt personally ready to start my pro career.

"And the Tigers gave me a great opportunity."

The Tigers were able to get a contract signed because they saved significant money on several other top-10-round picks, including second-rounder Reynaldo Rivera (nearly $300,000 in savings), fourth-rounder Gio Arriera (unknown savings, but he signed under slot), eighth-rounder Max Green (more than $134,000 in savings) and ninth-rounder Luke Burch (more than $125,000 in savings).

Each MLB team gets an allotted bonus pool, and if it goes over on one pick, it must be made up elsewhere.

The Tigers got two serious “money-saver” picks in Green, who ran into off-field issues at Pepperdine and was left with little leverage, and Burch, a senior from Kent State who had little negotiating pull. Detroit has signed nine of its first 10 picks, with just its first-rounder, Florida right-hander Alex Faedo, left to go. Faedo is pitching, and pitching well, in the College World Series.

McMillan was the first high-school player drafted by the Tigers in 2017, in the fifth round. He’s 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, and bats right-handed. He has a strong throwing arm, though some soreness early in the spring threw up caution flags for some other major-league teams.

The Tigers checked him out later in the spring, and the arm strength was back, after he took three weeks off for rehab.

"There was some shoulder tendinitis," McMillan said. "That was a little bit of a red flag for some people. Luckily, I got it back, got it right in time, ready and good to go."

McMillan will have his first workouts Thursday, and is staying in the same TigerTown dorms he stayed in earlier this year for the state high-school All-Star Game, so he knows his way around the property. He will start with the Gulf Coast League Tigers, a rookie-ball team that begins its season Monday.

In other Tigers draft news, Michigan utilityman Jake Bivens, a junior, told the Battle Creek Enquirer he planned to sign and skip his senior season. He was a 27th-round pick.