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Sources: 2021 MLB Draft To Be Held Later In The Summer

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with additional details.

The 2021 draft is set to be held July 11-13 in Atlanta, Baseball America has confirmed from multiple front office sources.

After a five-round draft in 2020, Major League Baseball has told clubs that the 2021 draft will likely contain between 20 and 30 rounds. The draft is required to be at least 20 rounds under the agreement reached between MLB and the MLB Players Association in March.

The draft’s move to July will tie the event into all-star weekend. July 11 is the Sunday before the All-Star Game, which allows MLB to include draftees in one of the biggest weeks of its season.

The move will also be cheered by college coaches. In the past, the draft has taken place during the NCAA Tournament, leading players to get drafted during games.

Coaches have long decried the distractions that come with having their best players dealing with the competing concerns of the draft and performing in postseason games at the same time. 

The later draft date also provides more opportunity for the New Baseball Model college coaches have proposed. The proposal includes a later start date to the Division I season as well as a later finish. Without the draft getting moved back, it would have been impractical.

Moving the draft later in the summer was not previously possible because of short-season and Rookie-level leagues, whose seasons begin in late June. MLB has made clear it intends to scale back the minors to 120 full-season clubs beginning in 2021 and eliminate short-season and Rookie-advanced leagues, which would make that concern immaterial.

No working agreement for the 2021 season has been reached yet between MLB and and Minor League Baseball, but MLB’s most recent proposal to MiLB did not include a provision for short-season or Rookie ball outside of the team complexes in Florida, Arizona and the Dominican Republic.

A later draft date provides the opportunity for a high school showcase and/or a combine prior to the draft. With a July draft date, it will be possible to have a Tournament of Stars-style high school event with the current year’s top prep prospects competing before the draft.

Such an event would also offer the opportunity to implement a medical combine, something teams have long wanted to help avoid draft scenarios where teams learn about medical concerns after the player is drafted. MLB is currently soliciting feedback from clubs and hopes to have more details on pre-draft programming soon.

The later date also extends the cutoff for eligibility in the draft. If a player turns 21 within 45 days of the final day of the draft, then they are eligible. With a July 11 draft date, that means players who turn 21 on or before Aug. 27 would be eligible. Kentucky outfielder John Rhodes—who turns 21 on Aug. 15—is one such player who previously wouldn’t have been eligible for the 2021 draft, but now is.

While sources believe nothing will change in terms of how the draft order is determined, commissioner Rob Manfred has the right to modify the order in a season shorter than 81 games, as agreed to with the players’ union in March. A final decision on the order will likely not be announced any time soon.

Players passed over in the 2021 draft will be subject to the same $20,000 maximum signing bonus that applied to nondrafted players in 2020. All players—whether drafted or signed after the draft—will be paid up to $100,000 within 30 days of signing. On July 1, 2022, 50% of the remainder of their signing bonus will be paid, with the final 50% owed on July 1, 2023.

To accommodate the later draft date, the 2021 signing deadline has been moved from July 9 to Aug. 1.

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