It’s probably hard to remember at this point – heck, I’ve had to do a lot of memory-refreshing – but back when MLB was negotiating/determining certain aspects of the 2020 MLB season way back in March and April (this was all before those ugly, public negotiations), they actually set down certain expectations for the 2021 MLB Draft in addition to the dramatically altered 2020 draft.
Anticipating that revenues would be hammered not only this year but also next year, and also anticipating/desiring that affiliated minor league clubs would be cut from 160 to 120 next year, MLB laid out that next year’s draft was going to be shorter than the 40 rounds previous. No, it wouldn’t be quite as short as this year’s five-round affair, but we knew it was going to be changed.
Some of those details are now coming out this week:
Some unsettled changes include pre-draft events run by MLB in the months before the draft for players whose seasons have already ended. Summer showcase season will shift a bit and have some new events. Sophomore eligible date has moved, so new college sophomores are 2021 eligible
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) September 1, 2020
July 11-13. Atlanta. Between 20-40 rounds.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) September 1, 2020
So what we’re likely to see is a draft between 20 and 30 rounds, which really isn’t all that inappropriate (most clubs have said for a while that 40 rounds was too many, and you could see it in the volume of players signed, and some of the throwaway picks late). But we’re also going to see signing bonuses for undrafted players once again capped at just $20,000, so it’ll be important to get the guys you really want within those 20-30 rounds.
The draft will take place far later than usual, going July 11-13. That is currently scheduled to be the Sunday through Tuesday of the All-Star break, which would definitely give the league a better opportunity to “own” a moment on the calendar and spotlight what is otherwise a really tricky draft to get people into. I kinda don’t love overlapping two marquee events – just for me, personally, as a hardcore fan – but I can see the wisdom in it for the sport overall.
This also provides a little more time and opportunity for medical and additional scouting combines and showcases after the amateur seasons and before the draft. It’d be fun to have some showcase tournaments before the draft, no?
As for what it’ll mean in terms of the rest of the calendar, it’s going to mean serious stress for front offices in July, trying to work on trades and the draft at the same time. Historically, we don’t see trade rumors tick up until after the draft is completed in the first half of June, because front offices are really, really focused on getting the draft right. With the draft so much later, it might mean rumor season REALLY gets condensed into that second half of July.
Amateur programs and coaches have wanted a later draft for a while – it allows them more flexibility in season scheduling and then also doesn’t overlap with the College World Series – but it wasn’t really practical because the draft had to take place before the short-season minor leagues got underway.
… which, you can probably connect those dots: the move of the draft, in turn, confirms that those short-season leagues are going away. This isn’t news if you’ve been following the plans to reduce affiliations from 160 to 120, but this is the first official movement that actually shows it is happening. You can now plan that MLB organizations will, in fact, have only four full-season affiliates next year (AAA, AA, High-A, Low-A), as well as rookie ball and Dominican Summer League. No more other short-season leagues or affiliations. No deal is final between MLB and MiLB, mind you, but, well, it’s happening. This draft news locks it up.