Scouts have not been able to watch college players since mid-March, and the NCAA has granted an eligibility waiver for 2020 baseball players. College rosters for the next few years could become more crowded, and minor league cutbacks may eliminate the need for a normal influx of players. The standard 40-round draft will be shortened to only five rounds this year—and the landscape for baseball prospects is in uncharted territory.
A Shortened Draft: What does it mean?
The five-round draft this year will have an unavoidable effect on players signing professionally. With $20,000 set as the max signing amount for free agent contracts, it means a would-be-sixth-rounder would have to settle for less than a tenth of the 2019 sixth-round pick value to go pro. Highly-touted players with leverage could easily turn that down.
Fewer players will leave college due to a shortened draft. Some college seniors will also stay, but high school seniors of 2020 will become college freshmen. Given the eligibility waiver and a five-round draft, an incoming freshman could be filling a spot that doesn’t need to be filled anymore.
In a standard year, NCAA Division I programs can split 11.7 full scholarships on a roster and can carry 35 players. The NCAA Student Assistance Fund can ensure scholarships for ‘double seniors’ who stick around are covered, so they won’t take money from someone else.
They would easily take playing time, however. Locker rooms could be crowded over the standard limit of 35 next year. All of these implications could cause an incoming-freshman to choose a different route: junior college.
The NCAA and NJCAA are different governing bodies, and both have different policies surrounding the draft. Junior college players can be freely drafted, regardless of age or their eligibility year. The high school senior already committed to [insert College World Series finalist] could instead pursue a school like San Jacinto College (TX), where six draftees in 2019 tied or outnumbered half of the schools in the PAC-12. That player would otherwise have to wait until 2023 for their first shot at a “normal” draft, assuming the draft reverts back to normal.
A player can still commit to a four-year school after attending a junior college. For 2020 high school seniors, that transfer would occur after four-year schools have a chance to settle their rosters back to normal.
Incoming freshmen can commit to a junior college even if they have already signed an NCAA Letter of Intent.
(Good news for Colorado residents, in an obscure, roundabout way: The Junior College World Series is hosted in Grand Junction. It will be interesting to follow how many junior college players are drafted in the coming years.)
What it means for the Rockies
The Lancaster JetHawks and Grand Junction Rockies are reportedly up for elimination this year in minor league reduction proposals. Assuming MLB is looking to keep things competitive for all teams, it is reasonable to think a realignment would be in order to ensure all teams have an equal number of affiliates. With the Rockies claiming two of the 42 potential affiliates be cut, perhaps Colorado would ‘add’ a different team to make up for two lost. (The Cubs don’t have a single affiliate on the cut list and could ‘lose’ one, for example.)
It would hardly be a minor league ‘switch’ like Triple-A Colorado Springs to Albuquerque was: 42 teams being eliminated means at least one level of the minors would be reduced. This suggests an entire team of current minor leaguers would need to be cut.
How it applies to the draft: This could mean teams will be averse to bringing in lots of new guys this year beyond the five rounds of draft picks. MLB organizations haven’t been able to watch their current minor leaguers since March, let alone scout other prospects that could be coming in.
The Free-Agent Signees: $20,000 Max Contracts
Some of the top collegiate summer leagues could be playing within a few weeks, however. The Northwoods League and Coastal Plain League have delayed their seasons, but haven’t canceled them outright. Depending on how many free-agent deals are available (and if the leagues are able to play), those games could be running rampant with scout interest. With such limited action this spring for college teams, many top players could be eager to play this summer—both for visibility, and to satisfy a long-awaited desire to take the field again.
The number of contracts distributed can be largely dependent on the status of the minor leagues, but the $20,000 cap could be a means to acquire talent at a fraction of the price. College players have had their athletic eligibility clock paused—but not their academic clock. Some players may have recently graduated, which could prompt them to sign with less hesitation.
Other summer leagues have officially cancelled their seasons, like the Cape Cod Baseball League and New England Collegiate Baseball League.
The June 10-11 2020 MLB Draft can serve as much-needed relief for baseball-hungry fans—but for NCAA schools, their rosters could become flooded. High school seniors might take the biggest hit, missing out on their one true chance at the draft before going to college. Junior college programs could be thriving, as the NCAA might see an exodus of already-committed baseball players.
The alleged minor league cutbacks, however, could change the draft for years to come. Colleges will eventually return back to a state of roster normalcy—but the need for 40 rounds of draftees could vanish.