MLB Targeting International Draft As Soon As 2020

Image credit: 2019 Oakland A's signee Robert Puason (Photo by Stacy Jo Grant)

Major League Baseball is discussing a 20-round international draft concept, with a goal of implementing the draft as soon as 2020, with 2021 another possibility.

MLB officials met yesterday with international club personnel in Miami and told them that owners are in support on an international draft and want it in place as soon as possible. MLB solicited feedback from international scouting officials on its draft concept, so a lot of the specifics—including the number of rounds, when a draft would begin and other details—are still likely to change.

An international draft is subject to collective bargaining with the MLB Players’ Association, so once MLB finalizes an internal proposal, the union would need to sign off. The two sides are currently in midterm bargaining over the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which runs through the end of the 2021 season.

Based on what MLB told team personnel yesterday, the most recent draft concept would be 20 rounds, with teams allowed to trade picks. Every pick would have a hard slot value, so if a team drafts a player and the slot value is $1 million, that player would sign for $1 million. Picks in the top three rounds would be protected for clubs, so if a team drafted a player in one of those rounds who didn’t sign, it would potentially receive compensation in the following year’s draft.

After the 20th round, teams can sign nondrafted free agents for up to $25,000. The age when players become eligible to sign would still be 16. However, while the current system centers around July 2, the annual opening of the international signing period, the draft would be held in August.

One of the bigger twists in MLB’s latest draft concept is the draft order. Instead of replicating the order of the June draft, which would reward the team with the worst record the previous season with two No. 1 overall draft picks, the teams picking at the top of the draft would rotate annually by division. So one year, for example, the teams in the National League East would get the top five overall picks. The next year another division would get the top five picks, and it would rotate every six years.

While trainers for international players and many international scouts were opposed to a draft when MLB and the union were discussing it in the last CBA negotiation, that sentiment has shifted. There is now a more split camp among both trainers and scouts about an international draft, with many of them now more receptive to the idea as a way to slow down the acceleration of early agreements that has players committing to teams when they are 13 and 14 years old.

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