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Elephant Rumblings: 2020 MLB draft will last 5 rounds

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Oakland Athletics 2019 Draft Room
Kantrovitz, Alderson, Forst, Beane
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

Good morning, Athletics Nation!

The latest piece of the puzzle has been put in place for the 2020 season, as the league has decided to limit the MLB draft to just five rounds this summer.

Normally the draft lasts 40 rounds, but there was no question that it would be shortened from that during a time when all American sports are shut down completely by the coronavirus pandemic. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that there had been discussions about doing 10 rounds, but instead it will be cut to five, which is the lowest number allowed per an agreement made by the two sides weeks ago.

Ramifications will be many. A normal draft sees around 1,200 amateur players invited into the pros, but now there will be only 150. Teams can sign unlimited undrafted players after those five rounds, but only for up to $20,000 each, which might not be enough to entice some amateurs to leave school — for example, the slot values of the A’s 6th-10th round picks last year ranged from $243,000 down to $142,000, and beyond the 11th round the slot limit used to be $125,000.

While those middle/late rounds bring extremely low odds for each individual player, collectively they do have an impact. In his writeup, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic notes (via Sportradar) that, of the thousand or so players who entered the pros via the draft and played at least one MLB game in 2019, nearly half of them were taken in the 6th round or later. Of course, those players can still go pro if they want to essentially forego a signing bonus; or they can also stay in school, wait a year, and try again in 2021, when the draft will be at least 20 rounds. But even still, this will be quite a bump in the road for a career path already fraught with risk.

There’s a lot more to unpack in this news, so we’ll likely do another post about it in the next couple days, but those are the basics. Five rounds for the 2020 draft, to feed into a minor league system whose season looks like it will probably be canceled entirely. Some of this is unavoidable due to the circumstances, but it’s fair to wonder if this extremely restrictive plan is the best way to go about things. In the words of Scott Boras: “We probably should have bought a billboard that said, ‘Go play other sports after Little League. Goodbye.’”

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