The COVID-19 pandemic has forced MLB to make several rule changes on the fly to ensure the abbreviated 60-game season could be completed safely and entirely. That has led to the universal DH, seven-inning doubleheaders, and the extra-innings tiebreaker rule becoming a reality, even if only for one year.
The shortened season has also thrown a wrench into the 2021 MLB Draft. Each year MLB sets the draft order in reverse order of the previous year's standings. There's no lottery. Because this is such a short season though, the March agreement between MLB and the MLBPA allows commissioner Rob Manfred to revise next year's draft order.
Here is the exact language from the March agreement:
In the event that each Club plays less than 81 regular season games in 2020, the Office of the Commissioner shall have the right, after conferring in good faith with the MLBPA, to modify the Draft order.
As our R.J. Anderson noted earlier this month, MLB and Manfred have several options to set the 2021 draft order, including using combined 2019 and 2020 records. For teams that had good to great 2019s but poor 2020s, like the Red Sox and Nationals, that could be the difference between a very high 2021 first-round pick or a middle of the pack 2021 first-round pick.
No official decision regarding the draft order has been announced but, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, it is "highly likely" the 2021 draft order will be set using the 2020 standings only. That's good news for the Red Sox and Nationals, who are now in position to receive top five selections following their disappointing seasons.
Here are the top-five selections with six days remaining in the 2020 season:
- Pirates: 16-39
- Rangers: 19-35 (4 GB)
- Red Sox: 20-34 (5 GB)
- Diamondbacks: 20-34 (5 GB)
- Nationals: 21-32 (6.5 GB)
Had MLB used combined 2019-20 standings to set the 2021 draft order, the Red Sox would have instead held the No. 14 pick and the Nationals would have held the No. 19 pick with six days to play.
Given the standings, this is a big week for the Pirates. Their magic number to clinch the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft is three. Any combination of Pirates losses and Rangers wins totaling three from here on out clinches the No. 1 pick for Pittsburgh. The Pirates have held the No. 1 pick four times previously, using them to select Jeff King in 1986, Kris Benson in 1996, Bryan Bullington in 2002, and Gerrit Cole in 2011.
The 2021 draft class is headlined by a pair of Vanderbilt right-handers: Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker. Leiter is the son of longtime big leaguer Al Leiter, and last year Rocker threw maybe the greatest game in college baseball history, a 19-strikeout no-hitter with his team facing elimination.