Last week, Major League Baseball (“MLB”) and the MLB Players Association (“MLBPA”) reached an agreement on the framework of a delayed and shortened 2020 amateur draft according to ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel. The draft would be pushed back to July, the number of rounds would be drastically reduced to around 5-10, and bonuses would be severely restricted. Meanwhile, the NCAA will permit Division I, Division II, and Division III spring-sport athletes who had their seasons shortened by the Coronavirus pandemic to have an additional year of eligibility. So what does this mean for the future of amateur baseball, and are there any real winners from the aforementioned announcements?
First, the MLB First Year Player Draft has been 40 rounds since 2012. Assuming the 2020 draft is 10 rounds, 900 draft hopefuls will not hear their name called and will have mainly two options: sign as a free agent or go (for some, return) to college.
While the shortening of the 2020 MLB draft is unfortunate news for high school seniors who were hoping to forego collegiate baseball in order to cash in with a major league club, the real losers of this deal are the many college seniors who will most likely not be drafted within these 10 rounds. Now while these seniors are eligible to either sign with a professional club or go back to school there are cons to both. If they choose to sign the professional contract it will be for a lot less money than what has typically been given. Teams will be limited to spending no more than $20,000 to sign any undrafted player. According to Baseball America, of the 960 players who signed professional contracts last year, 680 signed for more than $20,000. This provision severely restricts the bargaining power an undrafted free agent has.
Now say the college senior decides to go back to school. While he may get another shot to prove himself and climb up draft boards, he does it while tacking on another year to his age. On average, college seniors are 22 years old. In 2021, these seniors will be 23 years old. While the 1 year age difference isn’t drastic, scouts and executives could use the player’s age as a bargaining tool during bonus negotiations after the player is drafted. Further, teams may opt to draft players from the high school or junior college ranks given that these players would be on average 3-4 years younger than the 2021 college seniors. Unfortunately, a shortened 2020 MLB draft is negatively affecting this year’s college seniors.
Since the vast majority of 2020 seniors will head back to their respective schools for the 2021 season, there will be an overflow of talent at top Division 1, Division 2 and Division III schools. The beneficiary of this overflow of talent will be Junior College (“JUCO”) teams across the country. While JUCO is a route that is often looked upon with scorn by the average parent, it is a fantastic option for an incoming college freshman who realistically won’t touch the field at a top Division 1 or Division 2 school. Instead of sitting on the pine for a year at a 4-year school, an incoming freshman could go to JUCO and play 30 games in the fall, get in the weight room to get stronger, and then play a 50-60 game schedule in the spring. Not to mention if a player has a fantastic season they could enter the MLB draft after one year, whereas they would have to wait 3 years at a 4-year school. While the JUCO ranks already boast hundreds of elite-level prospects, next year there could be “must-watch” baseball at the local community college. If you are a baseball fan looking for something to do next spring, go check out your local junior college where the field could potentially be flooded by MLB level talent.
Major League Baseball has been hoping for an opportunity to decrease the size and amount of players in the minor leagues. The uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 has given them a chance to act on their wish. The NCAA did the right thing by granting spring athletes another year of eligibility. Next year’s college baseball season will be especially intriguing with an influx of talent that will be caused by a shortened 2020 MLB draft. The 2021 “Road to Omaha” will be fun to watch.