College Baseball Buckles Up With Five-Round MLB DraftAnalysis
It has been the million-dollar question for the past couple of months in amateur baseball. How many rounds will the Major League Baseball draft be? Well, we finally got our answer late Friday afternoon, as the owners and Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to a five-round draft that will take place on June 10 with a signing deadline of August 1.
Though speculation over the past month suggested that the MLB draft would indeed be five rounds, there was flexibility heading into Friday’s decision. Back in late March, the owners and MLBPA came to an agreement that the 2020 draft would be as little as five rounds, but not more than 10. They also agreed to cap the number of rounds in 2021 to 20 with anyone not drafted in the Top 20 rounds becoming a free agent with a bonus cap of $20K. Furthermore, they agreed that no signing bonus payout in 2020 would exceed $100K. Instead, the drafted player would receive $100K this year, and the rest would be deferred to subsequent years with payments coming in 2021 and ’22.
In the end, MLB went the route that certainly benefits the organizations and not the amateur athlete. Pro teams, many whom are paying employees and scouts through the end of the month, but have not yet made guarantees past that date, are looking to save cash in many ways, and the amateur athlete who was expected to get drafted in the 6-10 round range, is the one who gets the short end of the stick in this situation.
Should a player not get chosen in the top five rounds, their options are rather limited. MLB will allow anyone not drafted in the top five rounds to sign with anyone as an undrafted free agent beginning June 13. However, the catch? They can only be paid $20K. There will absolutely be a cornucopia of seniors who will take that $20K, sign and run with it. But what about the juniors and draft-eligible sophomores? Few draft-eligible sophomores would be smart to sign for $20K, while juniors have a different dilemma on their hands. Should a junior choose not to sign this summer, they’re then viewed as a year older (as a senior) in the eyes of scouts and organizations, and they’d be returning for another season with a loaded draft that will include returning juniors, the returning sophomores who would’ve been juniors, and oh yeah, the 2021 prep class.
Even with such a low signing bonus in 2020, there’s risk involving in returning. And it’s a risk that I expect many juniors to take and return to their respective college programs for another season. Furthermore, it would be surprising to see many high school prospects choose to sign for $20K instead of showing up to campus this fall.
What’s that mean for college baseball? Loaded rosters and massive roster management programs for some Power Five schools and limited mid-majors.
“With a five-round draft, I’d fully expect it to be very college heavy because MLB teams will want that longer track record of success than just two-to-four looks from a high school kid,” an SEC recruiting coordinator said. “I think this pushes a lot of talent into Division I, but also the JUCO ranks. I think the JC ranks will be stronger than ever because of this.”
JUCO programs will benefit from the draft decision for two reasons: In addition to getting players in their programs who would prefer to be draft-eligible next summer as opposed to waiting two or three years, there will be log jams at some major programs with talent-rich environments. The expected JUCO surge is only compounded by the NCAA’s decision to kick the can down the road on the one-time transfer waiver. The D1 Council was previously expected to vote and pass the waiver on May 20. However, that vote is expected to fail or be postponed to January, entirely, thanks to recommendations made by the NCAA’s Board of Directors, who suggested the transfer waiver not be approved during these unprecedented times.”
With players unable to freely transfer and upperclassmen unable to head the JC route, there undoubtedly will be some tough decisions for some programs to make between now and the fall. But some help is expected be on the way for college coaches.
The D1 Council acknowledged in late April that college baseball’s roster structure would need to be revisited, at least in the short term. The Council has not released when and if it will vote on roster relief measures, but the American Baseball Coaches Association has released preferred guidelines for the Council to review.
The ABCA recommends that:
* Relief from the roster cap size of 35 players
* Seniors are not included in the 35-man roster
* The numbers of players on aid increases from 27 to 32
We’ve all learned over the past year that voting within the D1 Council is no exact science. The group tends to go with the way of the wind, and with that, you kind of expected the unexpected. However, the intel we’ve received regarding the ABCA’s recommendations to the NCAA has been positive. The vote on this matter will be the true test.
“Quite simply, I’m just happy to have a decision made on the issue so our coaches can start planning accordingly,” ABCA Executive Director Craig Keilitz said. “It does create some potential problems for some of our high-profile programs with the number of the athletes who won’t be selected in the draft. But with that said, the bright side is that it’s fantastic the great players who might have otherwise not gone to a Division I institution will now go to college.
“We’re in a tough time right now and a lot of things are definitely difficult,” Keilitz added. “But our coaches are finding ways to make it work. They’re going to find a way to make this work for their programs and student-athletes.”
In the end, we expect the D1 Council to provide temporary relief for college baseball and for more talent to enter the sport. Those are both extreme positives. But there are a host of negatives to this decision. Current juniors have lost some leverage, some hard work done by some incredible scouts has been devalued by a trimmed draft and professional baseball will have fewer entrants for two-straight summers.
Like everything else right now, we’re somewhat in crazy town.
But at least we now know the parameters of the MLB draft. That’s progress.