According to two MLB-affiliated area scouts, there is growing optimism within scouting circles and big league front offices that the MLB Draft will be ten rounds this year, not five.
Two weeks ago, MLB and the MLBPA agreed on an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement that would allow the 2020 MLB Draft to include as few as five rounds. The new agreement also allowed for the 2021 MLB Draft to include as few as 20 rounds. Loss of revenue due to the current work stoppage was the primary rationale behind cutting the draft rounds. Slicing the length of the draft would effectively save each organization a few million dollars. It’s not much, and these organizations are multi-billion dollar entities. Alas, money is money.
The two area scouts both confirmed the growing optimism is a product of a potential big league season starting in June. The narrative in those two team circles is if baseball is being played in June, and minor leaguers are at team facilities with the big league clubs, injuries, call-ups, and the subsequent development taking place will be enough to encourage front offices to expand the draft to its maximum number of ten rounds this year.
“The mood surrounding the draft changed when the leak of baseball in May got out,” one NL Central scout said. “I think if we get baseball soon, we’ll get a bigger draft too, and I’m not the only one in the building that feels that way.”
The issue of whether organizations will have room for more minor leaguers in their farm systems without players graduating and being promoted isn’t something scouts are concerned with. In fact, both agreed an affiliated minor league baseball season in 2020 is a long-shot in and of itself.
The sentiment surrounding a longer draft is if/when owners start seeing revenue streams again, their reluctance to spend will wane and things will begin to shift. And that’s not just one scout’s opinion, it’s a message from the top.
“That’s what we’re being told,” the NL Central scout said. “We’ve been told to keep busy. (NL Central General Manager; name withheld) is confident there will be ten rounds.”
There’s similar sentiment coming from one AL Central area scout.
“We’re operating under the assumption there’s going to be ten rounds, and we’ve been told that’s seeming more likely,” he said. “Fingers crossed. Most of us area scouts won’t really matter if the draft is five rounds, so...”
Indeed, it’s a good point. Area scouts for big league organizations are stapled into a region and are tasked with knowing every name in their territory. Unfortunately, in a five-round draft, most draft boards will mirror each other in a lot of ways. The opportunity to convince your organization to reach for a local kid won’t be so easy.
There still remains the opportunity for teams to sign players scouted by their people after the draft, but with bonuses capped at $20k, that too will be a tough ask.
“There’s some older guys that I know will be interested in getting a shot,” the AL Central scout said. “You hope the work you’re doing will useful, but I don’t know this year.”
A ten-round draft would be beneficial for just about everyone. Adding five rounds to the draft this year would cost the Mariners, and every other organization for that matter, just $1.5 million extra in signing bonuses this season. It’s a small price to pay for access to players that undoubtedly have the talent to impact an organization at the big league level.
The Mariners alone have 12 players on their 40-man roster drafted after the 5th round - nearly one-third of their roster. 10 of those 12 players were drafted in rounds 6 through 10. Simply put, there’s a lot of value to be had in expanding the draft to ten rounds.
“Let’s just get baseball going again,” the NL Central scout said. “Sure feels like sports would cure a lot right now.”
The 2020 MLB Draft is slated to take place on June 10, but can be moved back to July 20 depending on when MLB would like to hold the event. Whether the event will be five or ten rounds remains to be seen.