NEW YORK – Baseball’s amateur draft is about to enter the next phase of its ongoing development — same as all those young prospects picked every year.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 version was ticketed for a move to Omaha, Nebraska, to coincide with the College World Series. The idea was to stage a bigger television event with more elite players on hand, like Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson and Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin.
Of course, the COVID-19 outbreak scuttled the CWS and sent draft headquarters back to mostly empty MLB Network studios this week in Secaucus, New Jersey. Major League Baseball owners and players agreed to slash 40 rounds to five, beginning Wednesday night with the first 37 picks. The remaining 123 will be made Thursday.
MLB Network and ESPN will both produce broadcasts Wednesday, the first time multiple networks will provide live coverage in prime time. Much like the NFL draft in April, remote cameras will show premier prospects and club executives in their homes or offices.
For months now, scouts benched at home with no prep games to attend have been relegated to evaluating video and meeting on Zoom.
“I’ve slept more this spring than I have in other springs, so I’m a little more rested. That’ll help,” Tampa Bay Rays senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler said with a chuckle. “It’s just a different challenge.”
Next year, teams can cap the draft at 20 rounds if they choose. MLB also has proposed cutting the minimum number of minor league affiliations from 160 to 120, allowing each organization to drop at least one.
So with owners intent on streamlining farm systems, and the current labor agreement set to expire after 2021, it seems reasonable to think the June draft that began in 1965 might never look the same.
Perhaps 20 rounds (or even fewer) will become the norm.
At the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha.
A look back at some of the biggest busts, best decisions and pivotal moments that mark the evolution of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft since center fielder Rick Monday was selected first overall 55 years ago by the Kansas City Athletics out of Arizona State:
ON SECOND THOUGHT
Monday became a two-time All-Star who played 19 big league seasons and hit 241 home runs — plus a momentous one that put the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 World Series. But with the top pick in the second June amateur draft in 1966, the New York Mets swung and missed.
They went for high school catcher Steve Chilcott, who never made the majors. Next, the A’s grabbed Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson from Arizona State. Not only was Mr. October the 1973 World Series MVP in Oakland’s seven-game victory over the Mets, he also starred in three Fall Classics for the crosstown New York Yankees, leading them to two titles.
Other regrettable 1-2 choices: Matt Anderson (Tigers) over J.D. Drew (Phillies) in 1997; Matt Bush (Padres) over Justin Verlander (Tigers) in 2004; and Mark Appel (Astros) over Kris Bryant (Cubs) in 2013.
BACK-TO-BACK HOME RUNS
Hall of Fame third basemen George Brett and Mike Schmidt came off the board with consecutive picks early in the 1971 second round. Brett went 29th overall to the Kansas City Royals out of high school in California, then Schmidt at No. 30 to the Philadelphia Phillies from Ohio University.
“One of the most exciting times in my life,” Schmidt said in an email last week.
The sluggers stayed connected at the hip for almost two decades, too.
Each won his league’s MVP award in 1980, when Schmidt and the Phillies beat Brett and the Royals for their first World Series championship. Good friends, they retired neck-and-neck in a key (and disputed) category.
“George and I finished with the same number of career RBIs — 1,595. But when he realized that, he hired someone to go back through his career and find an RBI,” Schmidt wrote. “He succeeded and now has 1,596. Anything to top me. My comeback is that I hit the roof of the Astrodome with 2 on base and settled for a single, that’s 3 RBIs. ... I should have 1,598.”
As recently as the 1990s, teams could keep making picks as long as they wanted in an unlimited draft.
Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza was famously selected during the 62nd round in 1988 by the Dodgers. Right-hander Clay Condrey lasted until the 94th round in 1996, when the Yankees took him with the 1,730th overall choice out of Angelina College in Texas. Condrey didn’t sign with New York but eventually went 18-12 with four saves in 179 games for the Padres and Phillies, winning a World Series ring as a useful member of Philadelphia’s 2008 bullpen.
A quick Google search identifies Condrey as the lowest-drafted player to reach the majors.
The draft was trimmed to 50 rounds in 1998 and 40 in 2012.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
Long held by conference call at the commissioner’s office in New York, the draft relocated near Disney World in Florida with afternoon broadcasts by ESPN2 in 2007 and 2008. The event went prime time in 2009 on the new MLB Network and has remained there since.
Stephen Strasburg was the no-doubt No. 1 pick to Washington in 2009, considered one of the top pitching prospects ever. All that hype came to full fruition a decade later, when he was the World Series MVP as the Nationals won the franchise’s first championship last year.
The lone amateur to show up at that first draft in Secaucus was a little-known high school outfielder from southern New Jersey who waited until the 25th pick for then-commissioner Bud Selig to announce his name: “Michael Trout.”
Surrounded by family and friends in an imitation dugout, Trout went to the Los Angeles Angels with a selection they received as compensation for losing free agent Mark Teixeira to the Yankees — and right after the Angels took another high school outfielder, Randal Grichuk, at No. 24.
“It was nerve-wracking for me,” said Trout’s father, Jeff, who played in the minors for the Minnesota Twins. “I didn’t know if we were going to sit here for three days.”
Of course, Mike Trout quickly made an unmistakable name for himself. He reached the majors at 19 and blossomed into the greatest player of his generation, with seven top-two MVP finishes in eight full seasons so far.
TOP OF THE CHART
Detroit picks first Wednesday for the second time in three years, after selecting Auburn right-hander Casey Mize in 2018. Alex Rodriguez (Mariners, 1993), Chipper Jones (Braves, 1990) and Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners, 1987) rank as the most successful No. 1 selections. Al Chambers (Mariners, 1979), Shawn Abner (Mets, 1984) and Bryan Bullington (Pirates, 2002) are among the biggest busts. Before Appel, the only top overall picks who failed to reach the majors were Chilcott and left-hander Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991).
The last player to go straight from the draft to the majors without a minor league stop was Cincinnati pitcher Mike Leake, selected eighth overall out of Arizona State in 2009. Padres outfielder Xavier Nady, chosen 49th from Cal in 2000, is the only other player to do it this century.
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report.