Baseball America's draft content is powered by

Subscriber Mailbag: Comparing The Secondary Draft To The Primary Draft

Andrew from Austin, TX asks:

Draft history question instead of current draft, but something I’ve been wondering for a while: back when there were multiple phases (January & June/secondary phases), how were non-primary June draft players considered in comparison with the primary June draft? Were 1st rounders in January and secondary phases on par with their draft round in the main draft, or would only a few of those players have been at the top of the draft in the primary June phase? Or is that something that varied by year and player? tl:dr: My old high school had an alumnus drafted (after his college career) in the first round of a June secondary draft. Would it be disingenuous to claim him as a first round draft pick in program history notes?

This is an interesting question. I would say that he is a first-round pick, but admittedly in a smaller draft than the normal June regular draft.

If you go back to the original draft in 1965, as BA founder Allan Simpson explained in his outstanding Baseball America Ultimate Draft Book, MLB was worried about getting sued about establishing a draft. So in an attempt to forestall any lawsuits, MLB set up a number of drafts to add players after various different points in their amateur careers.

There was a June phase, a January phase and an August phase. The August phase was only for American Legion baseball players, so they could play their American Legion seasons before signing with pro teams. Only 10 players were taken in that first American Legion draft. It lasted just two years before it was eliminated.

But for more than 20 years, there were January and June drafts, and both of those drafts were divided into regular and secondary phases.

The idea of the June and January phases at the start was to provide different drafts for players who became eligible at different times. The college eligibility rules we know of now didn’t apply then, and a number of the first four-year college players who were drafted were still teenagers. 

The January regular phase was originally set up for recent high school graduates, junior college players and players who were 21 or older. For both the June and January drafts, there was a secondary phase for players who had already been drafted (without signing) at some point before.

The January phase was always smaller than the June phase because of the much smaller group of eligible players, and the secondary phases were always smaller than the regular phases as well. When you ask if they were on par, there were top players in those drafts, but it was just different eligibility pools. It’s hard to compare it to today, since it was such a different system.

That multi-phase draft system continued until 1986. In 1987, there was one unified draft for the first time. The junior college players, who had populated much of the January draft, were now subject to the draft-and-follow system. Teams could draft a player in June, but they could continue to scout the player through a full junior college season before opting to sign the player in a window between the end of their junior college season and a signing deadline before the next June’s draft.

That first January secondary draft phase had a controversial Hall of Fame pick. The Braves selected Tom Seaver with the last pick of the first round of that January secondary phase. Seaver was eligible for the secondary phase because he’d not signed as an eighth-round pick of the Dodgers in the June regular phase in 1965. Seaver was eligible for the January draft because he was 21.

The Braves reached an agreement with Seaver on a $40,000 signing bonus, but they did so on Feb. 24, which was after Southern California’s 1966 season had already begun. By MLB rules, players were not eligible to sign once their team’s season had begun. 

Because he was ineligible to sign, commissioner William Eckert nullified the Braves deal with Seaver. But because he had signed it, the NCAA ruled Seaver was ineligible to play for Southern Cal. 

The Seavers threatened to sue, and to avoid a lawsuit challenging their just-developed draft system. MLB decided to hold a lottery for teams to sign Seaver with the provision that all teams bidding had to agree to give Seaver a $50,000 or larger bonus. The Mets, Phillies and Indians all applied and the Mets won the lottery.

Seaver signed with the Mets, flew through the system and helped the Miracle Mets win the 1969 World Series. 

That first 1965 draft had a lot of quirks. MLB teams’ Triple-A, Double-A and Class A affiliates all played a role in draft order. Only the first three rounds of the June draft were considered the MLB/Triple-A phase. After that, teams picked their fourth- through seventh-round picks in order of their Double-A affiliate’s finish. Then the Class A draft went for the remainder of the draft, with teams who had more Class A affiliates getting to pick more often than teams with fewer Class A affiliates. 

It only took one year before MLB realized that was a bad idea. But the system set up in 1965 has largely continued for nearly 60 years.

Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone