Major League Baseball will kick off its 2021 amateur draft on Sunday evening. For the first time, the draft will coincide with the All-Star Game festivities, right down to being hosted in the same city (Denver, Colorado this year). Check out our latest mock draft here.
CBS Sports recently published its pre-draft top 50 list, highlighting the prospects widely considered to be the best in the class. A theme throughout the top 50 is the concept of signability, or whether a player is willing to ink a contract ahead of the August 1 deadline. Signability is one of the unseen movers in the draft, as it tends to dictate who slips and who rises.
By way of example, there were three notable college football prospects on the top 50, in Will Taylor, Bubba Chandler, and Lonnie White Jr. Teams undoubtedly have a feel for what amount of money it will take for each of those three to abandon the gridiron for the diamond on a permanent basis. As a result, they could each go much higher (or lower) than the public consensus, based solely on their financial asks.
A more casual observer might wonder, how does this whole system even work? Are teams limited in how much they can spend on a player? And what happens if the player doesn't sign? In the name of community service, we've answered some of the most frequently asked questions below.
1. How does the bonus slot system work?
Essentially, MLB "recommends" a bonus amount for every pick in the first 10 rounds. The highest value belongs to the No. 1 pick ($8.4 million), with that number decreasing by roughly $6 million over the course of the first round. Those values add up to give teams a total pool of money that they can allocate how they see fit -- even if it means going over or under a given "slot" value.
2. Are there penalties if a team overspends?
Duh. How else would MLB suppress the draftees' negotiating leverage? Teams are aggressively taxed on their overage up to 5 percent. After that, they stand to forfeit future draft picks. Predictably, no team has gone over the 5 percent threshold since the hard slotting system was implemented nearly a decade ago.
3. What happens if a player doesn't sign?
From a team perspective, it means that the player's slot value is deducted from their overall bonus pool. It also means, depending on when the player was selected, that the team receives a compensatory pick in the following draft of the original pick spot plus one as atonement. (This applies only to players chosen in the first two rounds.)
From a player perspective, it can mean a couple different things. A player attending a junior college can enter the following year's draft without issue. A player going from high school to a traditional four-year college, however, has to wait until after their junior year to re-enter the draft … unless they qualify as a draft-eligible sophomore based on their age. Jack Leiter, for example, is eligible this year instead of next year because he turned 21 in April.
There's also the Carter Stewart route. Stewart didn't sign after being taken eighth in the 2018 class. He subsequently signed with Japan's Fukuoka Softbank Hawks as a means of getting a bigger payday upfront.
4. How often do first-round picks go unsigned?
You might wonder, how often do teams misfire on these decisions? Probably not as frequently as you'd expect.
Every first-round pick in the past two classes has signed. You have to go back to 2018, Stewart's class, to find examples of players who didn't sign. Coincidentally, two of the unsigned players from that year, Matt McLain and Gunnar Hoglund, are likely to come off the board this first round as well.
Over the past five drafts, there've been only three players who didn't sign after being selected in the top 30 of their class. In other words, when a player is selected on Sunday, take it as a nod that they're going to turn professional.