Monday marks the first day of the three-day Major League Baseball draft, which is taking place in MLB Network’s studios in Secaucus, N.J. The MLB draft draws nowhere near as much attention as the NFL or NBA draft, which makes sense when you consider the reasons why, such as its length of 40 rounds or the years it can take for a draft class to have any sort of impact. Regardless, its importance cannot be overstated. The success of Kris Bryant for the Cubs just two years after being drafted or the emergence of the first-place Astros after years of rebuilding are just two examples of how the draft can serve as the launching point to change a franchise.
The draft, however, also owes its lack of hype in part to its complexity. In order to begin appreciating the draft, it’s important to explain to fans of the Mets why their team has no first-round picks or help out Rockies fans when they hear their team got a steal with its competitive balance pick.
MLB Draft Complexities: Free Agent Compensation and Competitive Balance Picks
The best way to initially think about the draft is that all 30 teams get a first-round pick in reverse order of the standings, giving the Diamondbacks the top slot this year. However, in the MLB’s quest to ensure parity in the game, it has two rules in the draft — compensation picks and competitive balance picks — to help out small-market clubs and those that lose free agents.
Any team that loses a free agent that received a qualifying offer gains an extra pick, and the team that signed away that free agent loses its highest non-protected pick. This is why the Mets lost their 15th overall pick after signing outfielder Michael Cuddyer and why the White Sox, who signed closer David Robertson, kept their ninth overall pick. The top 11 picks were protected, so the Sox lost their second-round pick.
Competitive balance picks aim to give teams in the smallest markets an extra pick. All the teams that qualify under certain rules get entered into a lottery where 12 names are drawn. Six get picks after the first round while six get picks after the second, and these are special because they’re the only picks that can be traded. The way all this maneuvering shapes up this year is that there are 26 first-round picks, then 10 compensation picks, six competitive balance picks, the second round and then six more competitive balance picks.
Rounds four through 40 all proceed normally in the initial reverse order, so if you understand the first three you’re ready to go. Now, concerning the top players in the draft, there is no consensus top pick. However, to know who the choices are, here are some of the names you can expect to be taken within the top 10.
Prospects to Watch:
The first batch of prospects to watch out for is a trio of shortstops: Dansby Swanson from Vanderbilt, Alex Bregman from LSU and Brendan Rodgers from Lake Mary High School in Florida. All are actually quite similar: great hitters, strong fielders and good base runners. However, if they make it to the MLB, you might not see them at shortstop. Swanson was at second base before this season, and while Bregman and Rodgers can field well, questions have been raised about whether they can remain at short because of their range and athleticism, respectively. All could move or prove to be good enough to stay.
Swanson and Bregman are two of the four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the best college player of the year, and the two other finalists could go in the top 10 as well. Carson Fulmer, Swanson’s teammate at Vanderbilt, is one of the top pitchers in the draft and is the 2015 SEC Pitcher of the Year. Then there is Andrew Benintendi, a center fielder for Arkansas. He led the SEC in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, and he is tied for third in the nation in home runs.
Fortunately, you still have the chance to watch these guys in action. Apart from Rodgers in high school, all four guys are still fighting for a championship. Swanson and Fulmer are playing Illinois this weekend in the Super Regionals in their quest to repeat their title from last year. Benintendi and Arkansas are up against Missouri, and Bregman and LSU are battling UL Lafayette.
The last intriguing storyline of this year’s draft is the fate of Brady Aiken. The left-handed high school pitcher failed to sign with the Astros as the top pick last year. After agreeing to a $6.5 million signing bonus, the Astros saw something in an MRI of his elbow that troubled them and dropped their offer to $3.1 million. Although the Astros sent Aiken a higher offer just before the signing deadline, Aiken never agreed and went to pitch at the IMG Academy in Florida. However, he did injure his elbow and got Tommy John Surgery at the end of March. Although he clearly has the talent of a top-five pick, the murky medical information on him means he could be drafted anywhere in the first round through the third. Fortunately, the last bit of compensation in the draft protected the Astros by giving them a pick in this year’s draft. This year they got the second pick in the draft to go along with the fifth pick they had already.
Monday night will feature the first 75 picks, while Tuesday will start with the third round and Wednesday will cover rounds 11 through 40. While lacking the storylines of a Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston, you should still make sure to check out whom your favorite team grabs, because they could save your franchise down the road.
Robert DePaolo is a rising senior in the College. The Wind-Up appears every Saturday.
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