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MLB & USA Baseball Announce Pre-Draft Combine, Return of PDP League For 2021

The landscape of amateur baseball as it relates to the draft continues to shift.

On Monday, Major League Baseball and USA Baseball jointly announced several amateur events to take place this summer, most notably the first-ever MLB Draft Combine.

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MLB and USA Baseball also announced the return of the Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) League for the 2022 high school class. The PDP League was initially launched in 2019 and was held in Bradenton, Fla., but was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2021 PDP League is set to take place from July 22 through Aug. 1 and will feature the top 96 high school players for the 2022 draft. The event will continue to serve as the primary identification event for the 18U National Team and will be hosted in Cary, N.C.

The inaugural draft combine will take place from June 20-28 and—according to a press release—will “feature top high school and college baseball prospects, as identified by MLB Clubs, who will have the opportunity to participate in a series of medical and performance assessments as well as educational programming designed to prepare them for a career in professional baseball.”

Like the PDP League, the combine is also slated to be hosted in Cary, N.C., at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.

As part of the combine, the top 88 high school players eligible for the 2021 draft will be selected to participate in a showcase tournament taking place from June 20-26. The tournament will feature eight games and a pro-style workout. 

While the event is unlikely to be similar to the NFL combine—given the nature of assessing strengths and weaknesses for each sport—MLB teams have long wanted a medical combine prior to the draft which could shed light on player health before a team commits draft capital to players. 

While many of the top pitchers in the draft have previously been able to take part in a voluntary MRI program, very few healthy players advised by top agencies choose to do so. From the player perspective, there is very little to gain by sharing medical information when healthy, with the possibility of an asymptomatic issue arising in an MRI that could be a sign of increased injury risk.

Currently, teams need to offer 60% of slot value to get their pick back if a player opts into the MRI program, but if the player does not opt into the program that number is 40%. A similar incentive structure for opting into a pre-draft combine would seemingly be necessary to get broad buy-in from the player side.

Organizations would rather know about a player’s health issues before committing a draft pick and bonus pool money. 

The most notable recent medical issues in the draft surrounded first-round picks Brady Aiken (2014, Astros) and Carter Stewart (2018, Braves). Both players wound up not signing with the teams which drafted them initially after medical issues surfaced after they were selected. Aiken signed with the Indians as the 17th overall pick in 2015 after a post-grad year with IMG Academy, while Stewart signed a six-year, $7 million contract with Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan. 

Medical and performance assessments for players are scheduled to take place from June 24-28. Both the combine and the PDP League are voluntary and will be free of charge for participants.

MLB also noted that “all participants of the newly formed MLB Draft League will have the opportunity to participate in combine assessments and evaluations through special events in Draft League communities during the month of June.”

Additional details for both events will be announced at a later date.

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