Image credit: Jacob Wilson (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)
A convincing argument can be made that the A’s, Pirates and Tigers could win in this year’s draft lottery by losing out.
After posting the worst record in the majors in 2023, the A’s are one of three teams with the best odds to land the No. 1 pick in this week’s draft lottery. The A’s have an 18.3% chance of getting the No. 1 pick, the same odds as the Royals and Rockies. The Pirates have a 3.0% chance of the first pick, while the Tigers have a tiny 1.6% chance of winning the No. 1 pick.
While admittedly much can change between now and draft day, the 2024 MLB draft is currently viewed as one of the thinnest at the top in years.
And that’s why losing could be winning, especially if a team like the A’s falls in the draft order like they did last year.
See the 100 best players in the 2024 draft class heading into the winter.
Under the collective bargaining agreement’s rules, no revenue sharing paying team can receive a lottery pick in back-to-back drafts. That has ensured that the highest the Nationals can pick this year is 10th overall after they landed the No. 2 pick last year.
But the CBA also specifies that revenue sharing recipients cannot have three lottery picks in a row. The A’s, Pirates and Tigers all landed top six picks last year. The Pirates landed the No. 1 pick; the Tigers picked third.
Luck was not on Oakland’s side, as the A’s landed the sixth and final lottery pick even though they were one of three teams with the best odds in the lottery. Under the pre-lottery system, the A’s would have picked second.
Oakland selected shortstop Jacob Wilson with the sixth pick. While he’s a solid prospect, the A’s had the misfortune of picking sixth in a stacked draft that was viewed as having five players in the top tier.
If something like that happened again, the A’s could find themselves locked out of the draft lottery in 2025, which is currently viewed as being a better draft class than this year.
The same would be true for the Pirates or Tigers if they land a top six pick this year.
In the case of the Tigers and possibly the Pirates, there’s some hope that they could make that a moot point by landing a spot in the 2024 playoffs. The draft lottery is only open to non-playoff teams. In the case of the soon-to-move A’s, that seems highly unlikely.
Now there’s a value to picking sooner rather than later, and we’re not suggesting that the A’s would be better off picking fifth in 2025 rather than first overall in 2024. But draft talent is not equally distributed from year to year. While the 2023 class looked to be a great one for quite a while, scouts and front office officials are much less enamored so far with the 2024 class.
At this time last year, Dylan Crews was the clear 1-1 candidate, while Wyatt Langford and Jacob Gonzalez provided additional intriguing college bats. High school outfielders Max Clark and Walker Jenkins were viewed as potential 1-1 candidates as well, while Chase Dollander, Rhett Lowder and Paul Skenes ensured there were plenty of top college arms as well.
By draft day, Crews, Skenes, Langford, Clark and Jenkins had established themselves as the consensus top five.
Last year the Twins landed the fifth pick despite having a less than 1% chance of winning a top six pick. They were slated to pick 13th if they didn’t land a lottery pick. The fifth pick meant they could draft Jenkins. They won the lottery.
This year, there’s much less certainty at the top of the draft, with many evaluators hoping that some players step forward this spring to stake clear claims to the top spots in next July’s draft.
In addition to the Nationals being ineligible, two of last year’s lottery pick winners (the Rangers and Twins) made the playoffs. The Rangers went from winning a lottery pick to winning the World Series in less than a year. They are quite happily picking at the very end of the first round in 2024.
So while the A’s, Pirates or Tigers will be hoping to hear they land the No. 1 pick when the lottery results are announced, a strong argument can be made that it would be better to finish with the seventh pick in 2024 rather than the fifth or sixth. The talent difference may be very modest in picking a spot or two later, and the opportunity to once again win the lottery in both the 2025 and 2026 drafts may be worth waiting a few picks later in 2024.