The New York Mets will certainly feel the pain, but nobody will feel the effects of the shortened MLB Draft more than the players who go undrafted.
On Friday, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic announced that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to a shortened draft for 2020. The draft will shrink from 40 rounds to just five rounds. Most reporters saw this unprecedented drop coming, though they hoped MLB would go for the more ambitious 10-round plan.
By dropping 35 rounds, MLB has made it so that 1,050 players who would normally be drafted will now go undrafted. College baseball will feel the effect worse than anyone.
College teams will see unprecedented numbers of returning players. High school players will be flooding college teams like never before. It’s going to create chaos across the NCAA.
The only way to counteract that is with undrafted free agency. The teams who have excellent scouts who can find the gems deep in draft classes will excel. High school players looking to avoid college, and college seniors who don’t want to return will be jumping ship.
The New York Mets will have the chance to take advantage of the situation. Losing scouts like Jon Updike, who found Pete Alonso and Jacob deGrom, could come back to bite them.
MLB teams are going to save a fortune with the draft being cut. After the first five rounds, undrafted free agents can only sign for a maximum of $20,000. That’s obscene considering that the slot value doesn’t go that low for MLB draft picks ever. Even rounds 11-40 have a slot value of $50,000.
These kids need that kind of money. Minor League Baseball players are being paid under $10,000 a year in many cases. Without their signing bonuses, MLB is depriving these kids of having any sort of life.
There are already stories of players living six people to a one-bedroom apartment, or working three jobs to make ends meet. That shouldn’t be happening at all, and now MLB is just making it worse.
This shouldn’t affect the Mets though. They only gave one player drafted after the first three rounds a signing bonus worth $20,000 or higher in 2019. They instead spent the majority of their draft pool to sign their first three picks Brett Baty, Josh Wolf, and Matt Allan.
Look for not only the Mets, but all of MLB to take a similar approach in 2020. Taking players they normally wouldn’t and spending money they normally wouldn’t.
That may be great news for the 150 players who end up getting drafted, and the MLB owners will save serious coin. It’s a dreadful and inhumane way to treat those who will go undrafted. Many of these guys never had the chance to improve their draft stock because they didn’t get to play baseball in 2020.
History after Round 5
The Mets have had rough luck with players outside the top five rounds in recent years. Only four of their top-30 prospects were drafted outside the top-five rounds. The most notable one being fast-rising starting pitcher Kevin Smith who was drafted in the seventh round.
Nevertheless, the roster is filled with players taken outside the top-five rounds. Justin Wilson, Seth Lugo, and Brad Brach were all selected in the 34th round or later. Lugo is the only one who was drafted by the Mets.
Robert Gsellman was a 14th round pick. Most astonishingly, Dellin Betances and Jacob deGrom were both picked outside the top-five rounds. Betances was an eighth-round pick and deGrom was a ninth-rounder.
Imagine Jacob deGrom going undrafted because the ninth round didn’t exist and he chose another career instead. That’s something that could happen in the 2020 MLB Draft. The next elite pitcher gone from baseball before he ever throws a pitch.
The most notable position player on the Mets taken after the fifth-round is Jeff McNeil. The Long Beach State graduate wasn’t drafted until the 12th round. McNeil is an All-Star and was one of the breakout stars in baseball in 2019. Under the five-round draft, it’s entirely possible he’s either playing for someone else or not playing baseball at all.
The Mets’ scouting department isn’t known for its ability to find talent late in the draft, but they have their moments. Now the Mets are being robbed of that and will be forced into a free-for-all to sign players they otherwise could have drafted.
That gives an advantage to many of the major media market teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox who have universal appeal across the country. Why wouldn’t players want to sign with their favorite teams?
It also gives an unfair advantage to the best teams in baseball. The whole point of the draft is to spread the talent around the league evenly and create parity. The undrafted free agent battle this year is going to do the opposite. Players will likely flock to teams known for winning creating an imbalance in talent in the league.
That could leave so many teams who already struggle in the draft, like the New York Mets, with a bare cupboard. That’s not fair.
In truth, the only people who really benefit from the five-round draft are the few teams with money to spend and a winning pedigree. The Mets don’t fit either criterion right now.