In sports, the draft is one of the more exciting events of the year. For the NBA and NFL, the number one overall pick slides right into the starting lineup and makes an immediate impact.
Peyton Manning was the first overall pick in 1998, and he turned the Colts from 3-13 to 13-3 in 1999. Likewise, the 1997 Spurs (20-62) took Tim Duncan first overall and he turned them around in 1998 (56-26). These guys are obviously some of the best to ever play their respective sports, so their impact is not surprising. The MLB Draft, however, is unlike these leagues in many ways.
Although it’s not the most publicized event in sports, the MLB Draft creates hope for many franchises. And it not only shapes the future of major league ballclubs, but the entirety of minor league baseball as well. The first-ever nationally televised baseball draft was held in Secaucus, New Jersey in 2009 with only one attendee. Who was it? Mike Trout. In contrast, the NFL Draft has 58 players attend almost every year. The MLB Draft is by far the least popular among all others, but it sure is a foundation-forming moment for all 30 teams .
The Ingredients of a Special Event
There were 1217 players selected in the 2019 MLB Draft. 1217 players got to live out their dreams and receive that magical phone call from a major league ballclub. In comparison, the NFL has 255 total players drafted across seven rounds. The NBA? 60 total players across two rounds. The 40-round draft creates a much bigger opportunity to find late-round steals. The first-ever MLB draft was in 1955, and since then only 15 first rounders have been enshrined in Cooperstown. The NFL has had 14 first overall picks placed in their Hall of Fame with a total of 118 first-round picks.
This diversity in MLB selections provides a much more strategic draft process. Teams do not necessarily take the most talented player at each draft position, but the player that will most benefit their team in the long run. The reason that the MLB draft is so special is because of just how hard it is to project baseball players. Baseball has the minor leagues and is the only sport that features a minor league other than hockey. The minor leagues enforce good drafting, as an extremely small percentage of players drafted will be able to progress all the way through the ranks. But how do MLB teams draft in the first place? And why is it so different than other sports?
Amobi Okoye is probably an unfamiliar name to many of you. I had never heard of him before doing research for this article. Okoye, who played seven seasons, is the youngest player ever drafted into the NFL at 19 years and ten months. In fact, there have only been two teenagers ever drafted into the NFL, with Tremaine Edmunds joining Okoye in 2018. This is because the NFL does not allow high school players to enter the draft. They have a rule set up which states you are unable to enter the draft until you are three years removed from high school. The NBA recently followed suit with a similar rule. Players cannot be drafted until one year removed from high school. They changed this rule up in 2006, after studs such as Lebron James and Dwight Howard made their impact known.
Baseball does not follow this path, as high school graduates are fair game among selections. The high school selections are slowly diminishing as more players go to college. A limited 13% of players drafted in 2019 were in high school, and with the Coronavirus limiting high school recruiting and scouting even more than usual, teams do not want to take the risk so that 13 percent should go down even more.
Teenagers, as you know, are very unpredictable. Quite a few aren’t even done growing yet. With this knowledge, MLB teams know that they are taking a risk when they choose to take a high school kid that has maybe never worked a day at a job before. High school baseball players are nowhere near the level of pro guys, except maybe Bryce Harper. The teams know this, and so they take players that are still projects to be worked on. A lot of players are taken based on potential and raw talent, even without a polished skillset.
Although the NFL and NBA drafts do select players with potential in mind, their draft picks are also expected to benefit the team immediately, especially the early-round selections. As you can see by the 2007 Cavaliers team, one player can truly carry a basketball team all the way to the Finals. MLB teams have the luxury to allow their draft selections to develop their skills in the minor leagues. NBA and NFL teams don’t have a farm system where their players can develop so each selection must take up a place in their active roster, or at least the practice squad. There are roughly 6000 minor league players right now across all teams which means there is more than enough room to take a player with star potential.
Why is this Important?
This abundance of not only MLB Draft prospects, but available spots open new worlds of opportunity. Players without refined skills may not be given a chance in the NBA and NFL because those players must be placed on the pro roster. However, with each MLB team having about 200 minor leaguers, plus 25 on the active ball club, new possibilities are born.
This simple fact is why the MLB Draft is not only one of baseball’s hidden gems but in all of sports. Despite flying under the radar, it presents the very most opportunity for players to live out their dream. A minor league system really ensures that it really is the best 25 players on each team. Baseball is a constant tryout, with new young guys being brought in, and diminishing veterans being shipped out. The average top three round draft pick stays in the minors for three to four years. This means that teams don’t have to rush and can take their time developing their players into elite caliber. This is simply the MLB Draft, baseball’s under-publicized gold mine for young, and often unexpected talent.
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