A reduced MLB Draft, now and potentially in the future

Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

After months of deliberation, the decision on the 2020 MLB Draft has been decided. 

Due to COVID-19, Major League Baseball lowered the number of rounds from 40 to five. Despite intense negotiations by player-development personnel and general managers to have the shortened draft go to 10 rounds, owners won the battle for five rounds as a means to save costs due to the pandemic. 

According to ESPN.com, teams are allowed to delay signing bonuses, with a maximum of $100,000 to be paid within 30 days of a player signing, 50% of the remainder due July 1, 2021, and the leftover due July 1, 2022. Additionally, as a way to offset the small number of rounds, teams are allowed to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players for $20,000 each. 

2020 marks the first year since 2012 that the MLB Draft has been shortened. The 2012 MLB Draft was shortened from 50 rounds to 40. 

While the case could be made that sacrifices had to be made to the MLB Draft this season due to the pandemic, the ramifications of five rounds as opposed to 10 rounds or more could be significant. 

Let’s look at this from a team perspective first.

General managers and player-development personnel alike realize that to get the most value out of a draft, there must be surplus value. MLB is unique in regard to draftees having to go through the grind of minor league baseball for a couple years at the minimum before reaching the major leagues. With the MLB Draft being mostly seen as a crapshoot from the top to later rounds, more picks equate to a better probability that more draftees will eventually become quality major league players.

For general managers and player personnel that work with the teams they represent, they want more picks to work with so that they have a better shot of making more quality players. 

Even when looking beyond the front office, professional teams, whether for teams in rebuilding mode or teams that are vying for World Series titles right now, all benefit from having more draft picks. Without 40 rounds, the probability of finding major league players fizzles profoundly. 

What about the minor leagues themselves? 

The teams that, in the corresponding weeks after the draft, get assigned these players and are charged with beginning the developing and seasoning process? 

With minor league baseball teams potentially being cut by 25%, the possibility becomes more of a certainty with the draft size for 2020 being reduced by over 85%.

The ramifications of a five-round MLB Draft go beyond the teams and the front office.  

How this affects the players could be even more drastic, especially if rounds are reduced in future drafts. 

To show this, let’s look at the All-Star selections in last season’s MLB All-Star Game. The list included selections with replacements

Of the 75 total players selected to the 2019 MLB All-Star Game, 62 were drafted. Under the new five-round draft for 2020, though, not all of those 62 would have been drafted. In fact, close to 20% (12 of 62) would not have been drafted. Those 12 include: 

            INF Tommy La Stella (8th round)

            OF Whit Merrifield (9th round)

            DH J.D. Martinez (20th round)

            RHP Shane Greene (15th round)

            LHP John Means (11th round)

            RHP Ryan Pressly (11th round)

            OF Jeff McNeil (12th round)

            RHP Jacob deGrom (9th round)

            LHP Josh Hader (19th round)

LHP Will Smith (7th round)

            RHP Brandon Woodruff (11th round)

            RHP Kirby Yates (26th round)

While it is true that five rounds will not be the norm moving forward, additional round reduction in the future could make players unable to continue the dream of playing baseball. While $20,000 for undrafted players could theoretically bring them into professional baseball, even that might be enough to hold them over through the grind of many years in the minor leagues where the salary is weak to begin with. If the financial benefits through small signing bonuses like $20,000 is not enough, players may be forced to give up the sport. 

That would mean no National League Cy Young Awards in the past two years for deGrom. 

No stolen base or hit leader in consecutive years (2017-2018 and 2018-2019, respectively in the American League) for Merrifield. 

No Silver Slugger Awards or World Series ring for Martinez. 

No first-time All-Star bids for 11 of the 12, save Martinez. 

While it is impossible to get the full 40 rounds in for 2020, the round reduction to five, along with potential round reductions in the future, hurts not only the depth of farm systems or the farm teams themselves, but also the players who grew up playing the game that will have to give it up. 

While MLB had no choice, their choice moving forward in future drafts will be pivotal. 

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