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The Future of the MLB Draft: Effects and Benefits


David Seifert
Director of College Scouting

Yesterday we recommended changes to the current, the Rule 4 First-Year Player (Amateur) Draft. Today, we dive further into the effects and benefits these potential changes may bring to the players involved, MLB, college baseball and sports agencies.

Obviously, a drawback of a Player Declaration requirement is that the player essentially must sign if drafted. However, the significant increase in minor league salary and a known, guaranteed signing bonus represents a financial floor that a player will receive if he declares and is drafted. Additionally, overseas remains an option (Carter Stewart), as are the independent leagues (Matt Harrington, Luke Hochevar, Tanner Scheppers) and post-graduate opportunities (a la Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix at IMG Academy). With these fallbacks, although not perfect, there is wiggle room in the rare case a player’s value took a major hit between the Declaration Date and the Draft due to injury or other unforeseen event.

This system would also limit the usefulness of player agents as some of the changes remove their leverage. However, the trade off of increased bonuses for most, and a more livable annual salary make for a better situation and a greater opportunity for the player to develop. And isn’t that what it should be about? Yes, I know it’s not always that simple due to politics and economics, but we can dream, can’t we?

In reality, should agents make significant money ($12+ million) from the amateur draft? Did Adley Rutschman pay $324,000 (4% of $8.1M signing bonus) for advisement when he was clearly the best prospect available from the first day of the 2019 season to pick 1-1 of the 2019 draft? A flat fee cap for agency services at a maximum of $50,000 seems more logical. Agents could then concentrate on advising the player client whether to declare or not and directing the player to the right summer league if the player is not drafted. This system would likely eliminate many of the smaller agencies who advise few, if any, proven Major Leaguers and survive on signing bonus commissions from players drafted after the 5th round.

Benefits to the Clubs: Clubs could better select talent in talent order, not in an order based on signability or year in school. This would revive the importance of an area scout who can identify talent and get to know prospects in his/her area. Scouting departments who can evaluate and minor league systems who can develop would rise even more to the top. The new system would also eliminate negotiations in rounds 4-15, expediting the process for all parties since a player who has declared is more or less signed when picked. Players would take the field sooner and clubs would start the development of their “assets” at an earlier time. A declaration date would also eliminate clubs spending time and financial resources to evaluate prospects who crave attention, only to become “unsignable” a few days before the draft. I’ve personally experienced this situation.

Finally, fewer rounds on Days Two and Three of the draft would be a welcome change for the clubs and its staff. The current 30 rounds on Day Three is ridiculous in every aspect and unfair to everyone involved. Those with MLB and the MLBPA who make the rules should be made to experience Day Three first-hand, in the trenches.

Benefits to the PlayersSimilar to the above regarding benefits to the Clubs, these changes would expedite the process for all parties. Players would play sooner and begin their professional development. Additionally, the signing bonus would be more commensurate with talent level, and not signability or year in school. An increased monthly salary would also improve off-season workouts by having the time to better dedicate (not having to find other work to survive) and providing a better overall quality of life.

Benefits to College Coaches: Coaches want and deserve roster clarity. They would largely know who will and who will not return by the Declaration Date, both with their current roster and incoming recruits. Yes, they could lose some of their most talented players a year earlier (under this system sophomores are eligible, not juniors), but this is offset by the additional year that coaches/programs will get from a player since juniors are not eligible to be drafted. Having more seniors in their program will likely lead to a more polished team on the field and an increase in graduation rate. And who doesn’t want more of their student-athletes to graduate?

This could also allow the NCAA to impose tighter restrictions on the amount of scholarships above the 11.7 that D1 programs are limited to. This is a current point of contention between, for example, conferences like the Big Ten who have restrictions on the amount of scholarships above 11.7 that can be offered and the SEC, who doesn’t have that same restriction. Do colleges really need to sign 20-25 new players each school year, in addition to their 25-30 returning players? A robust Transfer Portal, largely the result of over recruiting from colleges trying to protect themselves from potential draft signees, injuries and academic casualties, is not a good thing for college baseball. Neither are loads of mid-semester transfers, which we have just started to see this year. Currently, there are 450+ names in the portal. The roster certainty would also repair relationships between 4-year and the JC coaches who typically get raided by 4-year colleges in late summer when the 4-year college suddenly has a roster spot due to “losing someone who signed that we didn’t expect.”

Benefits to the USA Collegiate National Team: The CNT will know who is available and not available due to the draft declaration and need not worry about a player leaving mid-schedule (Luke Waddell’s situation last summer is the most recent example). The CNT could also select players who just completed their junior season instead of those who just completed their freshman or sophomore campaigns. More proven, polished and experienced players would likely bode well against international competition.

Benefits to Summer Collegiate LeaguesSimilar to the CNT above with less/no worry about players leaving midsummer. However, the dynamics would change with players who declared, but were not drafted. Showcase leagues could emerge. Imagine six to eight teams located around one or two cities with constant games, little overhead (no player salaries), etc., particularly if MLB reduces the number of MiLB teams. This is a natural fit for small cities looking for high level summer baseball and with facilities to offer a great environment for MLB scouts to further evaluate non drafted players.

Benefits to Sports Agencies: Agents would benefit by the less run around from player clients who don’t know what they really want to do (sign professionally or attend/remain in college). Although not commonplace, today’s practice of a prospect floating a bonus amount previous to the draft that he will sign for, but then raising it once he is selected, would be eliminated with a Draft Declaration process.

Ultimately, agents want to minimize, or best case, eliminate draft pick compensation for signing major league free agents. Currently, teams can lose draft picks for signing free agents, and/or can earn compensatory picks in the draft based on departing free agents who reject a Qualifying Offer. Agents want to see the draft taken back to pre-2007 with no bonus pools and few restrictions...aka a free market. However, the current state of cost certainty in the draft and limiting free agent salaries via draft restrictions, isn’t anything owners would likely ever surrender without major concessions in other areas.


Questions/Comments? Please send to seifert@prepbaseballreport.com

 

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