How The Draft Works
Thursday, June 7 (from 2 p.m. to approximately 8:30) and Friday, June 8 (from 11:30 a.m. until the end)
(The event could possibly stretch into Saturday, June 9, though baseball officials swear they will wrap up on Friday.)
Major League Baseball's first-year player draft is held every June, and this year it begins on a Thursday for the first time in years, changing from its usual Tuesday beginning.
Most of the draft is conducted as a conference call by MLB with the 30 major league clubs. The clubs take turns selecting players in reverse order of their win-loss percentage from the previous season, regardless of league.
For the first time ever, this year the first round of the draft will be conducted live in Orlando and will be broadcast by ESPN2.
The draft will last no more than 50 rounds, but it could theoretically be shorter. Each club is allowed to select for 50 rounds but is not required to do so. In recent years, just a few clubs have dropped out before the end of the 50th round, but more clubs are expected to do so because of changes that eliminate the draft-and-follow process.
The Devil Rays have the first pick this year for the third time in franchise history. Their previous No. 1 selections were both high school outfielders: Josh Hamilton in 1999 and Delmon Young in 2003.
For the first time, there's actually a "where" for the draft. To allow for a television broadcast, the event will be held at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., near Orlando.
The draft begins at 2 p.m. Eastern on June 7, and teams will have five minutes to make selections in the first round—again, for television purposes.
After that, the picks will move in rapid succession. A team continues drafting players until it passes, finishes making picks or the draft ends.
The scout responsible for a player's selection will generally contact the player by phone immediately after the selection. No team may draft a player unless the player's name is registered with the commissioner's office.
The team that selects a player has the sole negotiating rights to the player and must submit a written minor league contract within 15 days of selection. Failure to do so no longer makes players free agents, however. The rule was changed after the 1996 free-agent fiasco, when several players took advantage of a loophole to become free agents and sign for much larger deals.
The most significant rule change with this year's draft involves a universal signing date. All draft picks must now sign by Aug. 15, or they go back into the draft pool. In previous years, players who went to junior college or simply did not return to school were eligible to sign with the team that drafted them until a week before the next year's draft.
Teams get extra picks through free-agent compensation or for failure to sign draft picks from previous drafts. (You can click here
to get a detailed breakdown of this year's adjustments and more information about free-agent compensation.)
There are no extra selections due to unsigned picks this year, but that could change. To encourage teams to take a harder line on signing bonuses, MLB pushed through a rule change for unsigned picks in the first three rounds, beginning with this draft.
If a team doesn't sign a pick in the first or second round, it gets a pick in essentially the same slot in the next draft. Previously, unsigned first-rounders merited a pick at the end of the supplemental first round. Unsigned picks beyond that drew no compensation. So if the Pirates didn't sign the No. 4 pick this year, they would get a pick just after No. 4 next year (which would be labeled as 4-A).
Unsigned third-round picks will merit a supplemental pick between the third and fourth rounds next year. The hope from MLB's perspective is that teams will be more willing to walk away from a draft pick (and exorbitant bonus) if they know they will get an equivalent pick the next year.
Major league Rule 4 governs which players are eligible for the draft. These rules are detailed, but the basic criteria are as follows:
A player is eligible for selection if he is a resident of the United States or Canada and has never signed a major league or minor league contract. (Contracts with independent professional leagues don't count.)
Residents of Puerto Rico and other territories of the United States are also eligible for the draft. Also considered are players who enroll in a high school or college in the United States, regardless of where they are from originally.
The basic categories of players eligible to be drafted are:
• High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college;
• College players (from four-year colleges) who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old. College players who have dropped out of school can apply for the draft by writing the commissioner's office no later than March 20;
• Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed;
• Anyone who is 21 within 45 days of the draft date.
A player who is drafted and does not sign with the club that selected him may be drafted again in a future draft, whenever he meets the eligibility requirements. A club may not select a player again in a subsequent year unless the player consents to it in writing.
A player who is eligible for the draft and is passed over by every club becomes a free agent and may sign with any club, until one week before the next draft or until the player enters or returns to a four-year college, or returns to a junior college.
A player who is a fifth-year college senior may sign a minor league contract as soon as he finishes his last class in college.