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Tay’s Takedown: Shortening of MLB Draft could deny collegiate players chance to go pro in 2020

Rob Manfred – MLB’s commissioner since 2015 – announced in April that the 2020 draft would be reduced from its standard 40 rounds to anywhere between five and 10 rounds. The draft is likely to take place anywhere between June 10 and July 20, with the official word expected to come from the league office one month before draft day. (Creative Commons photo by Arturo Pardavila III via Flickr)

By Jared Tay

May. 7, 2020 2:33 pm

When it comes to the four major North American sports and their respective drafts, one sport sticks out like a sore thumb.

Both NFL and NHL prospects can be drafted in one of seven rounds, and for the NBA, teams have two rounds to pick their newest rookie classes. But for MLB, teams select players from 40 rounds of drafting.

Clearly, one of these things is not like the others.

For a sport in which the majority of players find themselves in some type of major league affiliate farm team, professional baseball needs – and thrives on – the sheer volume of players it drafts from both high school and college.

But in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, MLB said in April it will cut the length of its draft from the typical 40 rounds to anywhere from five to 10 rounds. The draft’s shortening – while potentially saving millions for major league teams in signing bonuses – is set to bring negative consequences that manifest themselves most severely among collegiate baseball players.

The draft will inevitably have to be shortened, but MLB should mitigate the pressure on collegiate programs and their athletes by promising to do 10 rounds – the upper limit of its proposed reduction.

The shortening of the draft means that the vast majority of players who would have otherwise signed pro contracts will miss out on that opportunity in 2020. The top prospects will almost certainly be fine in a shortened draft, like UCLA baseball’s junior center fielder Garrett Mitchell, who was projected to be a top-10 selection by CBS Sports in April.

For the mid- to late-round prospects, however, the road to a professional contract won’t be so straight in 2020. For Bruins like junior right-handers Zach Pettway and Holden Powell, the 2020 season was their time to show scouts they were ready for pro ball.

There is always a risk of going undrafted for collegiate players who declare for the draft, but the 40 rounds of a typical draft give prospects a cushion and a sense of security.

(Daily Bruin file photo)
Three players from UCLA baseball – junior center fielder Garrett Mitchell and junior right handers Zach Pettyway and Holden Powell – were likely to try their hands at the 2020 MLB Draft following their junior campaigns. With the shortening of the draft, however, their plains remain uncertain. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Only 317 of the 1,217 players picked last year went in the first 10 rounds, meaning there are hundreds of ballplayers who might be forced to lay their careers on the line if their respective schools don’t have room to welcome them back to their rosters.

The shortening of the MLB draft by close to 80% means that collegiate baseball players are going to be forced to make a near-impossible decision. But with the lengthening of the draft to its longest possible form, collegiate players have only a higher chance of being drafted.

Inevitably, though, a larger number of college baseball players are going back to school in the fall. With the shortened draft, not only will newly recruited freshmen join collegiate programs across the country, but veteran players – seniors in their fourth or fifth year – will be there as well.

Some top-tier high school seniors who would have considered skipping college for the minor leagues will probably go undrafted, and others might be more willing to honor their academic commitments even if they do get picked.

And while coaches will obviously have a lot of talent at their disposal for the 2021 season, the overcrowding of collegiate rosters means more competition for playing time and fights for roster spots and scholarships.

Amid the coronavirus cancellations that effectively put a pause on the sporting world, it seems that college baseball players got the short end of the stick. Not only was their season cut short, but summer leagues – like the Cape Cod and Northwoods leagues – have had their seasons called off or postponed.

With the shortened MLB draft, scores of middle- and late-round talents are going to be denied their chance to go pro in 2020.

It’s just not fair.

MLB has the chance to relieve some pressure on collegiate baseball players by allowing for the most number of draftees it can in a shortened draft.

Because in a world in which so much is uncertain, with so much seemingly out of our control, MLB is in a unique position to take action. It controls the fate of hundreds of amateur players.

It’s MLB’s responsibility to give ballplayers across the country a little normalcy – a feeling that’s recently been so elusive and hard to come by.

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Jared Tay | Sports senior staff
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
Tay is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the baseball, men's soccer, men's tennis, cross country and women's tennis beats. Tay was previously a contributor on the men's tennis beat.
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