MLB Announcement Changes Landscape of College Baseball

The pro baseball league has dramatically reduced the 2020 draft from previous seasons

Posted on May 9, 2020

James Cleary
  By James Cleary, SportsPac12

Changes are coming. On Friday, May 8th, Major League Baseball announced that the 2020 MLB draft would consist of only five rounds instead of the normal 40. In a typical year, over 1,200 players from the high school and college ranks will hear their name called at some point during the two-day draft.

In the year of COVID-19, that number will be reduced to 150.

While the number of players drafted to the MLB will be dramatically lower, players that want to sign as free agents will still have the ability to do so. The MLB has decided to put a $20,000 cap on free agent signing bonuses which makes an extra year of college ball really attractive for many players that would have been drafted in later rounds.

The impact of a shortened MLB draft will be felt throughout the baseball world and the Pac-12 is not immune. During a normal year, coaches will often recruit and sign players that are likely to be reasonably high draft picks out of high school. Many of those recruits end up signing MLB deals straight out of high school and never wear the uniform of the school they committed to.

While this is still an option, it is much more likely that Pac-12 schools are going to lose few high school commits, if any, to the MLB in 2020. With each MLB team having only five draft picks (except for some possible trades), it is extremely unlikely that any team will use a pick on a player they are not certain they will be able to sign. The result will be MLB teams staying away from high school players who have expressed an interest in playing college ball.

UCLA closer Holden Powell is the top relief pitcher in D1Baseball’s positional power rankings. | Greg Bullard/UCLA Athletics

Another element MLB teams must consider is that their ability to scout high school talent has decreased dramatically in 2020. It is highly risky to spend millions of dollars on an 18-year old player you have not been able to see play against high level competition in general—especially when you add in the fact that you are unlikely to have seen the kid play since he was 17. The risk increases even further.

Although the same can be said for a lot of college players, the reality is a third-year college player has a lot more on film and scouts have had an opportunity to see him play a lot more than any high school players. Simply as a method to reduce risk, I believe we are going to see one of the heaviest college-player drafts in history.

Even if the draft is dominated by college players, the reality is fewer college players are going to be signed to the MLB than normal. Because all players have the ability to come back next year—even seniors (see my previous article)—we are going to see a tremendous roster jam for college teams. Most teams in the Pac-12 conference will lose one or maybe two players to the MLB draft.

OSU’s Adley Rutschman and Cals’s Andrew Vaughn went in the Top 3 of the 2019 MLB Draft. | Pac-12 Conference

All teams will have a full recruiting class plus any players that would have gone to the MLB on a normal year. The impact of these loaded rosters will raise a multitude of questions that will need to be answered at some point.

  • Will coaches make more cuts for guys that won’t be contributing early?
  • Will incoming freshmen be able to compete on teams that have little to no turnover from a year ago?
  • Will some coaches choose to build for the future and get rid of seniors in favor of providing opportunity to younger guys?
  • How will universities deal with the extra cost of larger rosters, more scholarships, lost revenue from winter championships and spring sports, and maybe even lost revenue from football?

With so many unanswerable questions, it is clear that the MLB shortening their draft to only five rounds will have a lasting impact on college baseball. One positive that Pac-12 baseball fans can take away from this announcement is that their favorite team will probably get better because of it.

More players, more experience, and more competition will be the themes for every Pac-12 team when they are given the clearance to resume playing ball.

—Recent James Cleary Stories—