Too Much Of A Good Thing? Pairing MLB Draft, Futures Game Creates Sensory Overload
One could argue that Sunday, July 11, 2021, was one of the greatest days in Baseball America history.
For those who love prospects and the draft, there has never been a busier day. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet of tools, skills and talent.
July 11 was the day of the 2021 Futures Game. Take 50 of the best prospects in the game, put them on one field and watch one of the best batting practices one can see all year, followed by a seven-inning showcase of the best pitchers and hitters battling it out.
The one-year absence because of the coronavirus pandemic made the Futures Game’s return even sweeter. Batting practice was every bit as good as anyone could have hoped.
Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez made everyone stop and pay attention as he drove balls out to center field. Seeing Tigers outfielder Riley Greene effortlessly reach the second deck in right field at Coors Field was worth the trip to Denver itself. Not to be outdone, Braves outfielder Michael Harris showed plenty of pop.
The chance to see Reds lefthander Nick Lodolo and Rays righthander Shane Baz throw perfect innings, and Cubs outfielder Brennen Davis homer twice, also made the game an excellent way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Complaints for such an awesome event are few, other than the fact that it’s a shame that the game is limited to seven innings, which meant that some pitchers barely dug their cleats into the mound before they were being lifted to ensure the next pitcher got into the game.
Why is the game seven innings? In part to make sure the game doesn’t intrude on what has now become the main event of All-Star Sunday.
Shortly after the Futures Game ended, the 2021 draft began, with the Pirates selecting Louisville catcher Henry Davis first overall. For the first time ever, the draft was held on site at the All-Star Game, and for the first time it was held with a large throng of fans in attendance.
Fans cheering the picks and booing commissioner Rob Manfred provided a new experience for an event that just a couple of decades ago was a conference call held in secret because Major League Baseball tried to suppress word of which players were picked in which rounds.
We got to see a wild, unpredictable and jumbled first round in which players’ asking prices seemed to play as much of a role as talent.
But when the draft wrapped two days later, it seemed that many in the industry were saying that maybe it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, after all.
The combination of a longer prep time for the draft—compared with its traditional June date—plus the Futures Game, plus the draft itself, plus the three-week signing period leading up to the Aug. 1 deadline, plus the MLB trade deadline, left many front office executives we talked to wondering when they would next get to take a breath. As a result, they worried that maybe something would be missed along the way.
It has meant that the scouting season for the 2022 draft is being compressed and disrupted. On the Friday before the Futures Game, the High School All-American Game was played at Coors Field. Elijah Green, Termarr Johnson, Druw Jones and Nazier Mule were among the players showing what they could do in a preview of next year’s draft.
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There were plenty of scouts there, but not many scouting directors. As one director noted, it was difficult to bear down on the class of 2022 until they had the 2021 class drafted and signed.
With the July draft date and Aug. 1 signing deadline this year, most of the premier summer events, including the Cape Cod League and USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, were either winding down or already done by the time the 2021 draft cycle was complete.
The draft changes for 2021 had proven to be a fertile ground for some area scouts. One noted that he could get insights about 2022 players predraft at a time when agents were largely busy with their own 2021 clients. But for crosscheckers, special assignment scouts and scouting directors, the consensus seems to be that moving one draft back makes prepping for the next one more difficult.
Holding the draft as part of MLB’s All-Star Weekend festivities seemed to bring it more attention. TV ratings for the first night of the draft were up 69% from 2020’s ratings; an average of more than one million viewers tuned in to watch. That likely ensures that the draft will remain a fixture of All-Star Week.
And All-Star Week as a whole was a massive success as far as drawing eyeballs. For all the complaints about the decline of baseball, it’s worth noting that the Home Run Derby drew more TV viewers (7.1 million) than the NBA All-Star Game (5.9 million viewers). The MLB All-Star Game drew 8.2 million viewers, besting both the NBA All-Star Game and the NFL Pro Bowl (7.9 million viewers).
But the addition of the draft right after the Futures Game does seem to diminish the Futures Game. In addition to prospect fans who love it, there are plenty of people inside baseball who find the Futures Game to be a perfect start to all-star festivities, giving them a chance to see the next wave of MLB talent on one field in a power-packed day.
This year, it was too close to the start of the draft for anyone involved in the draft to give it much attention. The Futures Game also takes on more of a transient feel as the opening act to the draft, because as soon as the game ends, many who are interested in the Futures Game quickly pivot to the three days of the draft.
Figuring out a way to get a little more separation between the Futures Game and the draft, two of the jewel events on baseball’s yearly player development calendar, would be beneficial for fans and scouting departments alike.