The Pros and Cons Of Moving The 2021 MLB Draft To July
In late August, Baseball America reported that the 2021 draft was being pushed back to July 11-13, the latest it has ever been held. The event will take place in Atlanta during All-Star Game weekend.
While moving the draft back on the calendar might seem like a minor tweak, the ramifications and ripple effects that it has for amateur players, college teams and both amateur and pro scouting officials are plentiful.
The most obvious benefit of the new system is avoiding a scenario where college players are drafted in the middle of a College World Series run.
“We’ve had players who are playing and get drafted in the middle of a game,” one Power 5 Conference college coach said. “Like, we’re about to play and you just got drafted in the second round. Congrats. Did you really even get to enjoy that moment with your family?”
For scouts, it means they can breathe easier after recommending a college player who will get millions of dollars.
“There’s always the worry about injuries during the College World Series,” one scouting director said. “Some of the pitchers, as they are playing to win this thing, the amount of pitches and innings that they throw—you kind of just hold your breath after you have already drafted them. It’s going to be a little bit more peace of mind with that being done.”
With no overlap between the NCAA Tournament and the draft, and also no conflicting major league regular season games taking place at the same time, it’s now easier to see the draft becoming more of an event people want to watch.
“Hopefully it can have a little more fanfare to it,” said the scouting director, mentioning opportunities for more first-round picks to be in attendance. “If somehow they could get it to be as big as the NFL or as big as the NBA (draft) . . . I don’t think it will be as big, but if they can make it even close, I think it will be great.”
While everyone interested in the draft is hopeful that the new system creates more interest, it’s not a guarantee. What is certain is that the later draft date allows for more predraft programming that could benefit both teams and players.
One clear benefit would be that certain cold-weather areas would have wider evaluation windows.
Events like predraft showcases or workouts featuring the top draft-eligible prospects become possible after the spring season is played, which could help players who were hurt or underperformed earlier in the spring.
Teams are also excited about the possibility of implementing a medical combine that would give them more information on the health of players before they were drafted—a feature of drafts in other sports.
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But moving the draft back isn’t all good news. For starters, many college coaches were quick to point out what a later draft does to their recruiting calendar, both in the short and long terms. Players who were previously expected to be with a program for three seasons are now 2021 draft-eligible.
Recruiting coordinators have previously spread out scholarship money and roster spots with certain timelines baked in, only to have those plans blown up with a new Aug. 27 age cutoff for eligibility. While that could be dismissed as a minor, short-term issue that will disappear in a few years, another issue persists.
“If you get crushed by the draft, what is the signing deadline going to be, Aug. 1?” asked the college coach. “At the earliest? That is nice, but if school starts on the 15th, you have 15 days to find another player. It’s pretty late. It’s tight, man. Especially when you get into scholarship renewals that are traditionally done on July 1.”
Scouting departments will also be made uncomfortable, because the window to evaluate the next year’s draft prospects is condensed. As major league teams continue to shrink scouting staffs, teams will have to decide how best to scout underclassmen and also deal with the competing coverage special assignment scouts have with the draft and trade deadline just 15 days apart.
Do you pull some amateur evaluators off the 2021 draft class and have them focus on getting history with 2022 players before the draft takes place? Do your scouts spend more time on the draft and less on the trade deadline? Do your current scouts simply get burnt out and overworked?
Those are win-lose propositions where the simplest solution for teams with resources and a commitment to scouting is to simply hire more evaluators to do the work. But in an industry that has continued to shrink scouting staffs, it seems unlikely to happen across the board.
“But I do think it’s going to take a lot of creative scheduling to make sure you can work two classes at one time,” said the scouting director.
With so many moving parts at so many different levels, letting the new draft play out will be the only real way to understand how the landscape has changed.
“I think we can sit here and think about all the hypotheticals, but until you go through it once or twice, you don’t really know the pros and cons of everything,” said the college coach. “There’s always going to be something you didn’t think of.
“I mean, I think the intentions are great. Hey, let’s get this draft when it’s not during a regional or a super regional.”