Baseball Draft 101
June 6, 2009
You probably know that these guys your team drafted are amateur players, just like in other sports. You probably also know that some of them are paid big bonuses and look like sure fire major league superstars but that, for some reason, some of them never make it to the majors and even if they do make it to the majors it takes years, unlike football and basketball.
Beyond that, you may not know much about the baseball draft, which is referred to by Major League Baseball as The First-Year Player Draft.
This article is designed to provide the casual fan of the Indians with a little more knowledge about the draft, how it works and how it has changed, especially this year. In addition to the synopsis below you can go to Baseball America’s website to find How the Draft Works.
The best player in this year’s draft is Stephen Strasburg, a RHP from San Diego St. He is far and away the best prospect and should go #1 overall even though his agent, Scott Boras, is asking for a $60 million major league contract. After that, the ranking of prospects is difficult to figure out and varies from day to day. The strength of this draft is college and high school pitching as you can see from Baseball America’s ordering of their top 100 draft prospects . The Indians draft at #15 (the complete draft order is here) and, given how fluid this draft is becoming, it is possible that ANY of the prospects listed after Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley could be there when the Indians pick at 15.
What Is The First-Year Player Draft?
Every June all the teams in major league baseball participate in a draft of eligible players. The draft has 50 rounds (it used to be unlimited – David Riske was drafted in the 56th round, Mike Piazza in the 62nd round). It used to be 20 rounds the first day of the draft and 30 rounds the second day but the last couple of years it was 5 rounds the first day and 45 the second day. This year the draft will be spread over 3 days, June 9-11, with the first round televised the evening of June 9th (coverage starts at 6 pm ET). If it is anything like the past two years the first round will be made-for-TV with an incredible amount of ‘show’ (and not much substance) on the first night. This year the first night will consist of the first 111 picks in the draft, through the end of round 3. The second day will consist of rounds 4-30 and the third day, of course, will be rounds 31-50. There is some thought among scouting directors that breaking after 3 rounds allows teams to reassess who might be left and to re-strategize on what to do in the second day, including calling players who were not drafted the first day to reassess their bonus demands before the second day starts. Ditto for that third day.
In the past the draft was held as one big conference call to Major League Baseball Headquarters. For a long time, the proceedings of the draft were secret and the fans only found out about who was drafted by their team after the draft was complete. Then, Major League Baseball started to release the names of the first round or first few rounds worth of picks soon after they were made, but the rest of draft remained a secret until it was done. For the last few years the entire draft has been broadcast over the internet as each pick occurs. The last two years, the first round of the draft was televised (as it is in football and basketball).
One of the first things you notice if you listen to this internet broadcast is that, unlike sports like football and basketball which have very few rounds in their drafts and so could afford to dawdle between picks, in baseball there is usually no more than one minute between picks and, except for a break to catch their breaths every few rounds, these teams like to move right along. Even at one minute or less per selection, with 30 teams this could take 15-20 hours over three days to complete 50 rounds.
For the first round, to make it more TV friendly for the draft ‘experts’ to have time to make their commentary, there will be a 5 minute time limit for each team to make their pick. Baseball is again allowing representatives of each team to be present to help make the first round selections for their team. After the televised part of the draft the teams will go back to the rapid fire approach at that pick-a-minute rate and the picks will be announced by MLB executives. It will be audiocast on mlb.com as, starting with the 34th pick, the draft reverts back to the conference call format. The entire first night this year will also be telecast on mlb.com.
What Players Are Eligible For the Draft?
Eligible players are exclusively from or are high school graduates of or enrolled in college in the United States (including US territories like Puerto Rico) and Canada. Players residing in other countries like Korea, Australia and most of Latin America, including defectors from Cuba, are not usually eligible for the draft. US and Canadian players are eligible if they are high school seniors, attend a junior college or are juniors or seniors (and, in rare cases, over-age sophomores) attending 4-year colleges. Normally, college freshmen and sophomores attending a 4-year college are not eligible for the baseball draft. Also, although this doesn’t happen often, US or Canadian players who are 18 or over who are not attending college and who have never signed with a major league baseball team are eligible for the draft. One thing you will notice if you watch or listen to the draft is that each player has a number assigned to them. Teams submit lists of players they are thinking about drafting and MLB gives each of them a unique identifying number. That way, if there are a bunch of John Smiths who might get drafted, it makes the process of determining which one was drafted by which team a lot faster. Also, players who are not registered with the commissioner’s office are not eligible to be drafted. Finally, players who have been drafted before (say as high schoolers or junior college players) who failed to sign that time will have “re-draft” inserted in front of the player’s name or assigned draft number and a player has to give his written permission to be re-drafted by the same team that drafted him before.
How is the Draft Order Determined?
Although it has changed a little over the years, today the draft order is determined similar to the football draft where the team with the worst regular season record the previous year gets to draft first and so on until you end with the team that had the best record the year before. Unlike basketball there are no lottery picks. The order is strictly determined, at least initially, by record. Teams cannot TRADE draft picks in baseball. This year the Indians will pick 15th in the first round because they had the 14th worst record in baseball last year and because one team before them did not sign their 2008 first round draft pick, thus bumping Cleveland down one slot.
Teams can LOSE draft picks to other teams in certain circumstances. If, in the off-season before a draft, Team A signs a really good free agent whose previous team, Team B, wants him back, Team A could lose a pick to Team B in the following draft. If they sign two of these types of free agents they could lose two draft picks and so on. Which pick(s), if any, Team A lose(s) will be determined by how bad Team A’s record was the previous year AND how good the free agent was that they signed. If they had one of the 15 worst records in the majors that previous year they cannot lose their first round pick. Teams lose picks starting with their highest pick eligible to be lost and then the next highest, etc. Starting this year the number of free agents requiring this type of compensation is almost 50% smaller than it has been in the past because of rule changes that came out of the new Collective bargaining agreement. The Indians will have their full compliment of draft picks this year as they neither signed a free agent that cost them a draft pick. Teams that lose free agents can also get extra picks that are added to the draft order between the first and second rounds. These picks are known as supplemental first round picks or sandwich picks, because they are sandwiched between the first and second round of the draft. This year there are 16 sandwich picks down from 34 last year with the new draft rules having a major effect!
Finally, due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement if teams failed to sign a first, second or third round pick in 2008, they get a draft pick almost identical to that draft slot if they failed to sign a first or second rounder and a pick at the end of the 3rd round if they failed to sign a 3rd rounder. This year there are 2 teams (Nationals at #10 and the Yankees at #29) who failed to sign a first round pick in 2008 and 2 teams (Pittsburgh and the Yankees) who failed to sign a second round pick. Houston gets an additional pick at the end of the third round for failing to sign their third round pick last year.
When you put all this together it means the Tribe will have the 15th, 63rd, 90th, 125th picks with each subsequent pick after 125 being 30 (the number of teams in the majors) higher than the previous pick.
One last point: each team continues to draft until they pass on drafting a player in a round. At that point that team cannot draft any more players in that draft and, of course, the remaining teams have a shorter wait between draft picks in subsequent rounds.
Draft Dynamics 2009
Important points about the draft that I haven’t mentioned above:
(1) Teams now must sign or lose the rights to a player they draft if they can’t sign him to a contract that is faxed to MLB’s offices by 11:59 pm on August 15th of the year they draft him.
(2) As last year, the top 200 daft prospects, as determined by MLB’s internal scouting service, have to submit to pre-draft drug testing and the results of that testing are known to major league teams already. Players, however, will NOT be subject to suspension for a positive drug test and the results will be kept confidential. Nevertheless, if the player is predicted to go early in the draft and then they mysteriously falls dramatically, be suspicious that there were some issues with that prospect’s drug test.
(3) Last year MLB put out a memo saying that teams should draft players solely based on their ability. Inherent in this is that MLB is also asking teams to only pay draft picks the bonuses that MLB deems appropriate for that draft slot. Thus what the commissioner’s office is saying is that they want the worst teams in baseball (who get the highest draft picks due to their poor record the previous year) to ‘take a bullet’ for the rest of the teams and draft players they know they can’t afford to sign because these players want way over slot value. I think, again this year, there is a snowball’s chance of that happening.
(4) Speaking of holding to MLB’s slotting system for bonuses, watch how many teams will totally ignore that this year. Last year Boston, Kansas City and Tampa Bay had great drafts by mostly ignoring these slotting guidelines in later rounds of the draft. They all spent $10 million on their drafts. Even with the free spending we saw with the Indians, they only spent $7 million.
(5) The following players have suffered serious injuries before or during the spring season which will cause them to drop a little or a lot during the draft: Kyle Gibson (RHP, top 10 draft prospect, stress fracture, pitching arm), Scott Bittle (RHP, Yankees 2008 second round pick, should injury), Tommy Medica (C, a top 3 round pick). I am sure there are many others but these are the ones that came to mind who might fall to the Indians at various points in the draft.
It will be interesting to see how all this affects who gets drafted in 2009. In the past the best players did not always get drafted early in the draft. If it was perceived that their bonus demands were higher than their perceived talent level or, for HS players, if that player had a really good college scholarship (e.g., to Stanford or Vanderbilt) teams might not draft that player at all or might wait until late in the draft to draft the player. These players are sometimes referred to as tough signs. Also, if a player suffered an injury or even was rumored to have suffered an injury or if that player had a sudden drop in performance right before the draft the player might drop 10 rounds or more on draft day and, sometimes, would not get drafted at all. So, as always, drafting value is important and value exists even into the late rounds of the draft. In the 2006 draft a number of college pitchers (Greg Reynolds, Kyle McCullough, Brandon Morrow and Andrew Miller) were selected in the first round. Three years earlier each of these pitchers were among the best HS pitchers in the country but each of them fell dramatically on draft day for one of the above reasons and decided to attend college.
I hope this has helped you in your understanding of the draft. Have fun and root for the Indians in the draft just as hard as you do every time you see or hear them play because, to a large extent, what happens on June 9th through 11th this year (and up to the end of the August 15th signing period) will affect what the Cleveland Indians roster looks like in 2012 and beyond!