With baseball on hiatus, numerous ideas are being floated right now between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association for what the season will look like if it resumes. One rumor that made the rounds late last week was that the two sides were discussing eliminating the amateur draft and international signing period. currently scheduled for June and July, respectively.
With college baseball, and the vast majority of high schools around the country cancelling the majority of the season, teams are worried about getting the latest scouting reports on players to whom they would offer seven-figure signing bonuses. Yet this is not an impossible situation, as a tremendous amount of background work is done the summer before. Just a few days after this year’s draft, the next wave of rising prospects are scheduled to begin their summer showcases. Teams currently have extensive scouting reports on more than enough prospects to fill a 40-round draft.
In addition to the work done last spring and summer, the college season was already underway, with teams getting in around a month of games before the season was ended. Scouts love to see how players who come out strong finish, especially for the top conferences like the SEC, Big-12, and ACC. But with extensive amounts of analytics and advanced video technology, the teams can break down players in a small sample size better than ever before. Some teams even insist that they can pick players better by just breaking down their analytics.
Cancelling the international signing period would seem ridiculous at this point. While players are not allowed to sign their contracts until July 2nd, most already have a deal in place. The scouting of players at the international level begins when they are 14 years old or younger. It is already known where most of the best players are going to sign. The leg work is largely done in this environment. The Yankees are favored to sign a couple of the better catchers available, if you are curious.
With roughly $400 million in signing bonuses handed out annually to players taken in the draft and signed during the international signing period, there are reasons that the teams would like to find savings in a season where revenues are certain to take a hit. MLB has put an end to scouting both domestically and internationally for an undetermined period of time due to the obvious health and safety concerns. The limitations on scouting in the months leading up to the draft could make some teams hesitant about committing their full bonus pool to the players.
Cancelling the draft would send more players back into the draft for the 2021 season, and make many players fall down the draft. Teams would love to get second-round talents for third or fourth-round prices the year after saving, but it will result in one less year for many players inside of a major-league franchise.
Just last year, the book The MVP Machine detailed the many aspects of the arms race that is being waged in the area of player development. As much as teams want to save money, it will also mean that many of the coaches and systems they have implemented will go underutilized for the next year.
The majority of players taken in the draft head to the short-season minor leagues that were recently targeted by Rob Manfred for contraction. While no minor league teams know when their seasons will start, without a draft, it puts the short-season leagues in jeopardy. Rob Manfred has taken the plan crafted by disgraced Houston Astros General Manger Jeff Luhnow and continued to run with it, even after suspending Luhnow from baseball for his other terrible decisions.
There is legitimate concern for the financial well being of numerous minor-league teams beyond the short-season leagues this coming season. Without a lucrative television deal, the minor leagues need sponsors and fans to come out and support their clubs. When the season resumes, many of these teams are going to face financial hardship that comes with a reduced schedule already. Pulling the rug out from numerous teams that count on players from the draft would totally reshape the minor leagues as teams fold and are forced to sell or cease operations.
Major League Baseball should continue with the draft, and international signing period as it is currently planned—even if under altered circumstances. There is a tremendous amount of talent that has already been extensively scouted and is ready to join the professional ranks this year. Stopping these players from joining the professional ranks would hit the minor leagues for the next several years with the potential collapse of numerous franchises. With teams spending more than ever on coaching and player development it makes no sense to deprive them of a season of coaching and developing their next wave of prospects.