ASU’s Spencer Torkelson is expected to be one of the top picks of the 2020 MLB draft. (Photo: ASU Athletics)

Last week, Major League Baseball and the players’ union clarified what the 2020 draft will look like.

Sort of.

It will occur, but the dates are still in flux. Reports say it could happen as early as June 10 or as late as July 20. The number of rounds is also uncertain, but it will last a minimum of five rounds.

As of now, the signing deadline has been set for August 1.

“I hesitate to guess [on how many rounds], but there will be some push for only five rounds from a cost-containment standpoint, but if that happens, major league baseball will be losing out on a lot of potential talent that could have an even greater value from a cost perspective,” said J.J. Cooper, executive editor of Baseball America.

If the draft does last ten rounds, baseball could conceivably keep the current signing bonus slot structure in place. However, players who don’t get drafted will only be eligible for bonuses of up to $20,000, compared to $125,000 in normal times.

“At the end of the day with the very strict non-drafted free agent bonus limits, there are many players that will not sign,” said Cooper.

Teams will also be allowed to defer a portion of whatever bonuses they do pay at the top of their classes into 2021.

Top-tier talents, players picked within the first five rounds, likely won’t see a big change to the money available, nor will it make a major dent in teams’ overall draft expenditures. The top five players in each of the Padres’ last three drafts have earned nearly 80% of the team’s total spend. Just six of the 120 players drafted in that time collected 62% of the bonus money.

CJ Abrams at-bat during spring training

CJ Abrams was San Diego’s top selection in 2019. (Photo: David Jay)

The draft has gone through multiple iterations since Major League Baseball established it in 1965. Current rules adopted in 2012 allocate a dollar amount to each draft slot in the first 10 rounds. Bonuses paid to players selected in those 10 rounds, and any amount over $125,000 paid to a player in later rounds, can total up to 105% of a team’s total bonus pool.

In recent years, the Padres have consistently drafted college seniors with little leverage and low bonus demands in the eighth, ninth and 10th rounds. Those players have agreed to deals at a fraction of the $100,000 – $200,000 values attached to their slots, with the Padres redeploying the savings both to early-round picks and high school players who’ve fallen out of the top rounds because of signability concerns.

The team’s most notable day three overslot success in the A.J. Preller era is Hawaiian lefty Joey Cantillo, drafted in the 16th round in 2017. He bypassed the University of Kentucky when the Padres agreed to the equivalent of a fourth-round bonus.

Such maneuvering likely won’t be part of the 2020 draft.

Information imbalance

While high school and college seasons ended across the country last month and players likely won’t play formal games again before selection day, clubs know about enough players to get through an abbreviated draft.

“The day they shut down all activities because of COVID-19, I spoke with many scouts who said that they could draft 20 rounds tomorrow,” said Cooper. “So the information is there. The problem is that it is not as complete as it would normally be.

“Most of the college guys that are going to be drafted, teams have reports on them dating back to high school.  For the high school guys, they have been seeing them since last summer and for many of them longer than that.”

Although the NCAA ruled that players will get an extra year of eligibility, the shortening of the draft could dramatically cut the amount of money anyone taken after the first five or 10 rounds in next year’s draft can negotiate. In 2019, 15 Padres day three draftees secured bonuses of at least $50,000, including $435,000 for 14th-rounder, left-handed pitcher Bodi Rascon, $160,000 for catcher Jared Alverez-Lopez, and $135,000 to college left-hander Mason Feole.

“It’s going to be really interesting because I think there could be quite a few players that want to get into pro baseball and get a foothold,” said Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline.

“Because the NCAA gave players another year that means you will have double the junior class coming out and there just isn’t enough playing time in college ball for everyone, or you could get pushed further down in the draft.”

As part of the negotiated plans, the 2021 draft will last a minimum of 20 rounds. Future drafts will be subject to the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. If the draft does end up shorter going forward, it may create one silver-lining for low-leverage players who are currently chosen in later rounds.

“One potential advantage is with fewer rounds for the first time a lot of good players can actually choose where they want to go,” said player agent Josh Knipp.  “In the past, if a team took one of my guys in the 25th round, there really isn’t a whole lot of leverage.

“Now, we might have a place where five or six teams are interested in one of our guys and we can tell our clients you might want to consider these guys because they pay their players a little more and they have a history of developing players for the major leagues.

“Then again, there are some teams we aren’t even going to talk to if there is anyone else.”

Posted by John Conniff

John grew up in Poway and has written for MadFriars since 2004. He has written articles for Baseball America, FoxSports San Diego, the El Paso Times, San Antonio Express-News, Amarillo Globe-News, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and Pacific Daily News in addition to appearing on numerous radio programs and podcasts. He can also break down the best places to eat for all five of the affiliates. There is no best place to eat in Peoria, Arizona.

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