The MLB Draft — like the season at large — was lying in limbo with the uncertainty caused by the outbreak of COVID-19. MLB and the player’s association came together recently to iron out an agreement on a wide variety of issues immediately facing both sides regarding the delay on the season, and a modified version of the draft became one of the resolutions they agreed to.
The draft will look significantly different than it has in years past, as MLB has the right to reduce it down to a minimum of just five rounds. Not accounting for competitive-balance and free agent compensation picks that would be just 150 players, compared to the typical pool of around 1,200 players selected. It’s possible that MLB goes a bit longer, perhaps around 10 rounds, but considering the cost-saving aspects that the league is worried about, it’s likely that they take full advantage of what they bargained for.
That means that an incredible amount of potential draftees will be left behind this year, and next year will be impacted as well, as the minimum amount of rounds only increases to 20. There will be a huge wave of undrafted players left to fend for themselves, and while the NCAA has decided to give an extra year of eligibility to this year’s class of baseball players many will be stuck between returning and going ahead with their professional careers.
This could have been an ideal opportunity to test out a widespread amateur free agent market, but reducing costs have been the highest priority for owners in this negotiation. Undrafted free agent signings have been limited to no more than $20,000 per player, and there is no room for teams to spend over the maximum if they have leftover funds in their bonus pool like they previously have. Over 1,000 players will soon be facing a difficult choice: accepting an opportunity to play professionally but on a salary that in all likelihood isn’t going to cover the costs of living, or return to their college programs where rosters could be getting cramped as a new wave of freshmen come in to take playing time and risk dropping their own stock.
The impact on the Yankees from these modifications is surprisingly minimal. Although the team doesn’t own their second or fifth round picks due to surrendering them in free agency, the Yankees have found little success with draft picks beyond the first five rounds over the past decade. The only player on the Yankees major-league roster that was drafted by the team past the fifth round is Jonathan Holder, and he was taken in the sixth round.
Obviously, it’s too early to judge the success of their more recent late-round picks, but it’s safe to say that the Yankees have been more efficient with their early-round picks and international signings to keep their farm system afloat. New York could even benefit off of having the ability to negotiate directly with most of the players in this year’s draft, but the incoming players have very little room to bargain.
Potential players aren’t yet part of the MLBPA, so they had no-one to argue for themselves in this instance and were likely to get a shorthanded deal. Even still, this year’s prospects are going to have to fight a significantly uphill battle to make it, even compared to the normal standards of becoming a professional athlete. There’s already been a longstanding discussion over how poor the experience of living in the minor leagues is, and now an entire class of players may be joining their ranks at the bottom of the barrel.