The Major League Baseball Entry Draft kicks off today in Seacaucus, New Jersey, beginning the process of turning hundreds upon hundreds of baseball prospects into future big leaguers and legends. For many, it's the culmination of a journey that began playing ball out back in a back yard, street, driveway, or field. For others, it's merely the next stage or the beginning of a long road to immortality.
The MLB Draft is unlike any of the other three major North American sports in both numbers and eligibility. More people will be picked today than in the NFL, NBA, and NHL combined. Last year, franchises selected 1,215 players across 40 rounds. Not all of those players chose to sign contracts (including the first overall selection), and not all of the ones that did are guaranteed to ever advance further than the lowest levels of Minor League Baseball.
As I did last year, let's begin with a discussion of eligibility. In order to be selected, a player must be a resident of the United States, Canada, or a United States-controlled territory. Anyone from other countries are not eligible but are free agents that can sign at any time. The only exception is if a player is a member of an NCAA team.
Players from four-year colleges are eligible after completing their junior years or after their 21st birthdays, and junior college players can be drafted at any time. That's some that will have an impact on this year's draft; in 2013, the Toronto Blue Jays picked high school graduate Phil Bickford with the 10th overall pick but failed to sign him. Last year, Bickford played as a freshman with Cal State Fullerton before heading to the Cape Cod Baseball League for the summer. Following the summer, he transferred to the Community College of Southern Nevada in order to be eligible for this year's draft after two years instead of three. He projects for a first round pick again in '15.
The draft order is determined by the reverse order of last year's previous standings, with supplemental picks and compensatory picks thrown in for good measure. For example, the Houston Astros failed to sign Brady Aiken, the first pick overall last year. As a result, they were compensated by receiving the second overall pick this year.
A franchise can receive compensatory or supplemental picks based on free agency as well. If a team offers at least the equal of the average of the 125 richest contracts in baseball, they are eligible for compensation if the player signs elsewhere. Teams that trade players in their final year of the contract receive nothing, and teams acquiring those players receive nothing if that player leaves at the end of the year.
Those compensatory picks usually get tacked onto the back end of a round, referred to as the "sandwich round." For example, Colorado outfield Michael Cuddyer signed with the New York Mets in the offseason. As a result, the Colorado Rockies received a compensatory pick. Unlike last year, where free agency had downstream impacts by teams replacing departed players with big time free agents, it's pretty straight forward this year. For example, the Boston Red Sox signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez netted the San Francisco Giants the 31st overall pick and the Los Angeles Dodgers the 35th overall pick. Confusing, huh?
When a player is selected, he is automatically under the control of the franchise. Each team is allocated a "bonus pool" from which they can use to sign their draft picks. That pool is based on draft position and the team's number of picks. Exceeding the bonus pool for signees can result in luxury tax penalties, including the forfeiture of draft picks for up to two years. This is designed to keep bonuses down and promote the minor league development of players. Teams are also no longer allowed to offer major league contracts to draft picks, with the exception of players who have scholarships in other sports.
It used to be that teams had all summer to negotiate contracts with prospects, and they lost control of those athletes when they set foot back on college campuses during the school year, known as the "draft-and-follow" procedure. In 2012, the deadline shifted to July 15th. That means teams feel more of a sense of urgency to sign their players; they have roughly a month after the draft to watch them develop in summer leagues before being forced to pull the trigger (on both sides).
If the player does not sign, he has the rest of the summer to remain a free agent, meaning he can still sign with the team if he really wanted to. The negative to that is that there is no longer a high signing bonus, and free agents in baseball seldom receive big money deals. Once that player sets foot back on campus, however, he can no longer be signed by an MLB franchise until he is redrafted, if he is redrafted.
Teams who do not sign their players cannot redraft prospects unless the player consents to the re-selection. Players who do not return to college can be signed at any time up until the final week before the draft. The last week before the MLB Draft is considered the "closed period," where clubs may not sign new players.
The MLB Draft is one of the most complex and interesting parts of the sports calendar. We'll be back in a little bit to profile some of the Eagles potentially going in this year's draft, a look at the summer roster invitees, and, of course, if any BC athletes are selected over the course of the next three days!