baseball

MLB Undrafted Free Agent Season Might Get Wild

Shortened 2020 Draft could mean big things for big league clubs but bigger things for college teams

With the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft being cut to just five rounds instead of the usual 40 there were 1,050 fewer amateur players selected than usual. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be playing professional baseball this year (or whenever the game returns).

All those players are now free agents.

After the draft, MLB instituted a 48-hour moratorium where no free agent signings could take place. That expires at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday (San Diego time) and things are expected to get a little wild.

All 30 big league clubs can sign as many draft-eligible players as they want. HOWEVER … the cap on any signing bonus is $20,000. In 2019 the suggested bonus money for 6th round picks was between $237,000 and $301,600. Even the last player selected in the 10th round had a slot value of $142,000.

That’s a massive drop off and it’s put both players and teams in a brave new baseball world that nobody really knows how to handle yet.

“It’s a new deal this year and a new system,” says Padres General Manager A.J. Preller. “Our focus has really been on the first five rounds. I think we’re going to use the next few days to see who’s made it through the draft and then really get started when the quiet period is lifted.”

The Padres have their big board of players they’d like to add to the farm at a severe discount. But they’re negotiating against every other team and have one of the game’s strongest minor league systems so they’re not sure how many they can get.

“That’s the question. I mean, there’s no number in mind. It’s about just finding the right fit with these players as we go through this process,” says Padres Scouting Director Mark Conner.

The undrafted players do have a little bit of leverage.

“There will be guys who are ready to start their pro career and go out,” says Conner. “There will be guys who want to take the option of going back to their four-year schools, and there will be guys who want to go the junior college route.”

The NCAA will allow even graduating seniors the option of returning to school to play a final season that was washed away by COVID-19. But the biggest impact could come from an influx of top-end high school talent. Many of the prep stars who would have been drafted and signed are deciding to stay with their scholarships, which is a boon to programs like San Diego State.

“We held a couple of guys, some really high-end high school guys,” says Aztecs Head Coach Mark Martinez.

The Aztecs had a top-25 recruiting class and it’s looking like it won’t have any professional defections, a development that should improve the program both short-term and long-term.

“It shows that we can hold some high-profile kids that are coming to school, where in the past those kids might be thinking, well I’m going to go ahead and sign and forgo San Diego State,” says Martinez. “Now we’re in a position that San Diego State’s a landing spot for professional prospects.”

College teams can still only keep 35 guys on their regular season roster but will have around 45 for the fall. Next year’s depth at the NCAA level could be incredible.

“Those 40 to 45 guys … there’s gonna be some vicious competition at some positions,” says Martinez. “It’s gonna be fun to watch.”

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