If you're not an MLB draft nut, tonight's draft (7 p.m. ET, MLB Network) might seem a little unusual.
Yes, there's the same lectern with a commissioner announcing picks as there is for the NBA or NFL drafts. Some of the top performers in college baseball will go at the top of the draft, just like you see in the NFL or NBA drafts, but other than that, there are more differences than similarities between the three drafts.
1. The MLB Draft is much, much longer.
The NBA draft is a one-day event. Two rounds and 60 picks and it's all over. More than that, the draft's talent is extremely weighted to the top of the draft. A top-three pick is expected to become an immediate franchise-changing talent, while a late first-round pick rarely makes an impact, at least quickly. Second-round picks are longshots to even make the roster. Each team generally picks between two or three players who will try to make its 15-player roster.
For TV purposes, the NFL draft is now stretched over three days, but at seven rounds and 253 picks, it's still tiny in comparison to the MLB draft. Each NFL team generally picks between seven and 10 players who will try to make a 53-man roster.
The MLB draft is massive. When it's over, teams will pick 1,215 players for the 2017 MLB draft, stretching over three days and 40 rounds. Each team will draft more players than it carries on its 25-man MLB active roster, which is no surprise because none of these players are heading straight to the big leagues. The first two rounds will be picked on Monday night. Teams will then select rounds 3-10 on Tuesday and Wednesday is a never-ending string of picks as teams pick 900 players for rounds 11-40.
2. The players are much further away.
As the 2017 MLB draft begins, not one player from the 2016 MLB draft is currently playing in the big leagues and only four first-rounders from the 2015 draft are in the bigs.
Because the MLB draft allows high school and college players to be drafted, it often takes five or more years for draftees to reach the majors and even longer to make an impact. Brewers outfielder Lewis Brinson is a very solid prospect who made him MLB debut this past weekend. He was a 2012 first-round pick who is in his sixth pro season. Braves righthander Mike Foltynewicz is just getting established in Atlanta's rotation this year as a 2010 first-round pick.
3. The signing bonuses are open to negotiation.
Nowadays there is no real negotiation when it comes to NBA first-round picks. There is a hard cap and a fixed formula that means that the player knows what he's going to make the moment he's drafted. The NFL has a little more flexibility, but it's still minimal, as each team has a fixed pool of money that can be spent on rookies, and contracts are largely based on where the player was picked in the draft.
Each MLB team has a fixed amount it can spend (without losing draft picks, a penalty that no team has ever been willing to do), but they have much more flexibility in how they spend their allotment. So a team can draft a first-round player that seems to be a reach at their spot, but they do so knowing it will save them money they can use to acquire a high-priced player later.
That also means that the top-ranked players don't always go at the top of the draft.
4. Teams can't trade picks.
Technically, teams can trade their competitive balance picks and sometimes do, but those are a very, very small number of picks in a 40-round draft. This lack of trades changes strategy significantly. In the NFL draft, if a team is picking fifth, but the player it badly wants is a safety who is by consensus considered the 15th best player in the draft, it can trade down from five to the teens, acquire extra picks and still likely get the player it wants.
An MLB team in the same situation can't trade down. So it has a choice. It can either take the player it really likes and try to save money on the bonus to spend later, or it can take a different more highly-ranked player.
And that means there's also no trading up. So if a team really, really wants the top pitcher on its board, but it picks 10th, there's no way to move up to land that player. Teams picking in the 20s often stop scouting the top players in the draft early in the spring once it's been established that there is no chance they will fall to their pick.
5. Drafted players don't have to sign
In the NFL and NBA drafts, high school players are (now) ineligible. College players who are underclassmen must declare for the draft. If they remain in the draft until it occurs, they have given up NCAA eligibility and have "gone pro" whether they are drafted or not.
In the MLB draft, a player can be picked as many as five times before signing. Players are eligible after their high school senior year. They can be drafted, but even after being drafted they can either sign or opt to go to school.
At that point, a player who goes to a four-year institution is with one exception ineligible to be drafted again until after his third year in school. But even then, a player picked after his third year in school can opt to return to school again.
That one exception is players who turn 21 within 45 days of the end of the draft are eligible to be drafted whether they are in their third year of school or not. Usually this rule applies to sophomores, but in a few exceptions freshmen have been eligible as well.
A player who goes to a junior college can be drafted at the end of any year of their junior college career. So conceivably, a player can be drafted in high school, after a freshman year at a junior college, again after their sophomore season at a junior college, then after a redshirt year at a Division I school, again after their redshirt junior season and then after their senior season.
Slot bonus rules means that most teams now sign all their top 10-round picks and most of their picks in the top 15 rounds. But very few teams ever sign everyone they draft and some draftees will never even receiver a significant bonus offer from the team that picked them.
6. Draftees can make a lot of money or very little.
Because there are no fixed slots for bonuses, the money a draftee can make varies dramatically. The top picks in the draft get signing bonuses of $6 million or more, and everyone in the first round who signs will end up as a millionaire. But there are also seniors and other players later in the draft who will sign for $1,000—such as Brock Stassi, who reached the majors this season—or even less in bonus money for the opportunity to play pro ball.
Generally high school players have the most negotiating leverage, followed by draft-eligible sophomores, juniors and then the senior signs, who with few exceptions don’t make much on their signing bonus.