What A Player Needs To Know Before The MLB Draft
For every player who is preparing for the 2019 draft, here’s some advice from the scouts and agents/advisors who have gone through this process many times.
When you’re waiting to hear your name called, the draft can seem like it drags on forever. The endless run of picks on Day 2 and Day 3 of the draft can seem be endless if you’re unsuccessfully waiting for the phone to ring.
But the moment that phone rings with a scout on the other end of the phone, time speeds up dramatically. In the span of less than a minute, a player will often be asked to make a decision that will affect the rest of their life.
“It moves so fast once you get past the top guys,” said one agent.
Know Your Number
If there is one piece of advice multiple experts give to first-time draftees, it’s this: Don’t make decisions during that phone call. Know your number before that phone rings. This advice has been spelled out in detail to many potential first- and second-round picks—and later round picks as well—by advisors. This is not close to everything a player needs to know before the draft. There are many reasons a player can use an agent/advisor, especially if they are a potentially high draft pick, and this story is not intended to explain how a player can get their best bonus possible.
This is aimed more for the Day 2 or 3 player who is trying to figure out if they are going to get drafted, and if they do, if they will sign. Every year, there are players who screw up this important moment.
When that phone rings, the area scout (or crosschecker) on the other end of the phone is trying to learn a key piece of information: Is the player signable at the price range that the team is looking at for the pick coming up? The player can explain that those parameters work and he will sign. The player can say he won’t sign for that amount, but would sign for a different, larger amount. He can also say that he won’t sign for any amount.
Any of those answers are useful both to the player and to the team on the other end of the phone. But if the player’s answer is some version of “I’m not sure,” it is very likely that that’s the last time the player will hear from that scout.
“Someone will call you and ask if you will sign a contract for X. If you say let me think about it, they will move on to the next player,” a crosschecker said.
Teams have many players on their boards. Especially once the draft moves into Day 2, the difference between where a team values one player and another is often quite minor. In the current draft system, teams know that they lose the bonus allotment for any top 10 round pick they fail to sign. So before they make a pick, they want to know the parameters involved in what a player is looking for financially.
“When guys are iffy, they drop or go on the other board,” said the same crosschecker.
So if there’s one piece of advice for any player who potentially is going to get drafted, scouts and agents/advisors agree. Know your number and be decisive.
Figure out what amount ensures you’d be happy to sign and give up college baseball (or additional college eligibility) if you received it. Know the amount that if you get offered less than that, you’d be happy to say no and go to college. Both options can work out wonderfully for players. Figure out what that dollar amount is before the draft ever begins. Because once the phone rings, it’s too late to try to figure that out.
"I think the most important thing a player needs to feel going into the draft is be 100 percent content with however the draft goes for you with the signability you put out. If the player and his family decide on $X, but don’t get $X, be elated for the opportunity for a college career or remaining years of college eligibility. Too may times kids/parents set a number, but really would take something less. But the number they set could push them out of the draft all together. And then they are asking why? When they really had the desire to sign, and would have signed for less than the number they put out," said a second scout.
Getting to that number is not easy. It’s understandably a difficult decision. In the span of a few minutes, a player (and his family and potentially his advisor) are going to make a decision that will significantly affect the rest of his life. And that’s why it’s useful to examine everything and set parameters before the draft begins.
Those numbers can be very different depending on the player. One player may need $500,000 to give up on going to college. Another may need $5 million. Someone may be happy getting $150,000 to give up a final year of college eligibility while someone else close to his degree may feel like anything less than $500,000 isn’t worth making it harder to finish a degree.
It’s worth remembering that telling a scout any of these things shouldn’t be a difficult conversation. Scouts want clarity.
“You are not going to offend me if you tell me you want $5 million. OK. That’s cool. I won’t be shocked. My feelings won’t get hurt. It’s emotionless for me,” the crosschecker said.
Whatever that number is, it’s key that a player understand what that means. Sometimes a player may enter the draft with one number, but when a tangible offer arrives for more money than that player (or his family) has ever seen, their perspective suddenly changes.
“You can prep as much as you want. It is different when the money is real,” said a third agent.
Every year, we at Baseball America hear stories of players who put out lofty bonus demands in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, only to go unpicked. Then a few rounds later, they are calling scouts, saying they will sign for half or less of what they were asking for just a few hours before. In many cases, they end up signing for less than they could have gotten initially with a more realistic asking price.
When The Phone Rings
In addition to decisiveness, clarity is important as well. Imagine two different conversations:
In one, the scout on the phone asks, “If we take you in the fourth round, will you sign for $X?”
In the other, the scout says, “We are planning to take you in the fourth round and offer you $X if you will sign for that.”
One is a feeler to determine signability; the other is a (non-binding) promise that the team will pick and offer the player that amount to sign.
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Saying yes to the first question only means you’ve kept yourselves in consideration for the pick. The other theoretically means you will be drafted in the fourth round. But to the player, those two conversations can often seem very similar.
Want to get clarity? If you get the first question, feel free to ask “does that mean if I say yes that you will draft me?” Just be prepared that the answer to that question may be an indecisive “maybe.”
There are many of these conversations going on all around the country at the same time. One agent said he was once on the phone with an area scout for one team. The scout was trying to line up a deal to sign one of the agent’s players for slot money in a certain round. While that call was going on, he got another call. It was another scout for the same team trying to line up the same deal in the same round for another player the agent represented.
Do realize there are no guarantees from these phone conversations. The person on the other end of the phone is an area scout or crosschecker. They are not the person who makes the selection. Even if they believe that their team is going to take you with their next pick (or a later one), they aren’t the final decision maker. Plans change if something unexpected happens elsewhere.
There have been a number of players over the years who believed they were going to get a large bonus as a later round pick because an area scout promised them it would happen. So they then floated an astronomical asking price to other teams to scare them away. Sometimes that pays off in landing a large contract. Other times, circumstances change and the player goes unpicked. Even if the area scout promises the team is going to pick a player, he’s not the one who makes the pick. If the scouting director decides to pick someone else, there’s nothing the area scout can do.
“As an area scout or crosschecker, we’re the middle man. We’re not making the decision, we’re telling the kid what our decision-maker is telling us to tell them. And we’re telling our scouting director or the GM what the kid is telling us,” said a crosschecker.