Imagine for a second that you are the general manager for a major league team, and you hold the number one overall pick in the draft. Chances are, your team has a long ways to go before it can become a serious contender, and your decision here can help accelerate that clock — or set your franchise back even further.
All of the options are in front of you. Do you take the high-upside shortstop out of Colleyville Heritage (Texas) High School, an 18-year-old kid with flashes of five-tool potential? Or do you make the safer bet, selecting a switch-hitting catcher out of Oregon State? Perhaps, believing in the importance of pitching over offense, you fall in love with the left-hander out of Texas Christian, or the high school right-hander from Seminole, Florida?
Making a pick in the MLB Draft is already complicated, with teams having to balance between selecting high-upside prep players that they can develop and more MLB-ready college athletes. That’s all before you even start throwing around the impact of slot pool money. Now imagine what would happen once international amateurs get added to the mix.
The international draft has been a topic of discussion for years, as ownership and Major League Baseball have attempted to end the free market that international amateurs have enjoyed in order to cut costs for themselves — all in the name of “competitive balance.” Much ink, both physical and digital, has been spilled on when and how it would happen, what form it would take, and what the league would have to give up in order to get the players to agree to it. We will not retread those discussions here; instead, let’s talk about how a worldwide draft would shape how teams approach the draft.
At the moment, teams are left choosing between high school and college players. Although there are exceptions to the rule, high school players chosen in the draft tend to be more raw, “toolsy” prospects. College players, meanwhile, are more developed and, generally speaking, closer to their ceiling. Preference for one or the other seems to be on a case-by-case basis, as different executives enter the draft looking either to fill their ranks with high-upside or high-floor players.
More so than any other sport, one can analyze a team’s draft philosophy in a particular year. Take the Yankees for example. They loaded up on power arms two years ago in order to amass as many pitching prospect “lottery tickets” as possible.
Throwing international amateurs into the draft will add in an entirely new dynamic, and one that is not as easy to map onto the “high school vs. college” dichotomy that currently exists. International amateurs are, on the whole, riskier prospects than those found in the MLB Draft, due in large part to age. Many of these prospects sign at 16, well before their bodies have finished developing. As such, it is likely that they will generally fall in the draft compared to their high school and college counterparts.
Teams that have top picks in the draft will likely prefer the “safer” American prospects, as they are both older and better scouted. Only a team with a top farm system, one brimming with multiple players on the cusp of the big leagues, would take the risk of a high-upside 16-year-old. On the flip side, teams picking towards the end of the first round would likely jump at the opportunity to select top-tier prospects, those who would traditionally not fall to that spot in the draft.
If this becomes the model that teams will follow, it will benefit clubs like the Yankees, that have consistently picked at the back of the first round. While top picks in the draft are not as indicative of success in baseball as in other sports, the surest way to get high-profile elite prospects is still towards the top of the draft. The introduction of the international draft would certainly deepen the amount of elite talent in the pool and make it possible for teams at the bottom have the option of selecting them, so long as they were willing to take the risk.