Major League Baseball's latest effort to popularize its amateur draft has succeeded in frustrating front offices, if in few other discernible ways.
When the league moved this year's draft back from its usual June slot to coincide with July's All-Star Break festivities, the design was to give the draft additional exposure; this way, it didn't have to compete with regular-season games for eyeballs or headlines. As well-intentioned as the change may have been on the league's side, baseball operations personnel who spoke to CBS Sports have been critical of its unintended consequences.
"It's affecting amateur coverage, pro coverage," a National League executive said. "At some point, you have to have meetings -- and not just meetings with your scouts, but meetings with your front office, the executives, the general managers ... it's more than talking with your scouts and getting a pulse, 'OK, we like him in the first round, we like him in the second round,' or whatever."
Under MLB's new schedule, three important events -- the draft (July 11-13), the signing deadline (August 1), and the trade deadline (July 30) -- are packed into a three-week window. Predictably, that sprint has left front-office types feeling overwhelmed and underprepared for what lies next, with one source describing their workload as "basically never ending."
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"Moving [the draft] to the All-Star Break added a month of prep that we didn't need and put everyone behind for the trade deadline," one American League talent evaluator said. (It's unclear if teams will behave in more conservative manners at the deadline because of the delayed draft.)
The new schedule has disrupted the familiar rhythm of scouting departments, too. Under the old format, teams would have their pre-draft meetings in May, make their selections in June, and then begin the cycle anew. That meant sending their scouts to the Perfect Game showcases in the days that followed the draft, before then concentrating their efforts on Team USA, the Cape Cod League, and the summer's other prominent showcase events.
This year's late draft did more than disrupt the flow; it altered the pipework. Clubs were holding pre-draft meetings during Team USA's scrimmages, limiting their first-hand looks. The Cape Cod League, a wooden bat summer league populated by collegiate underclassmen, had a slew of draft-eligible players partaking as a means of raising their stock at the last minute, an opportunity not afforded to past classes; once the draft wrapped up, those types departed, making room for a new wave of players who fit the conventional profile. Scouting departments, then, have been trying to juggle multiple classes at once.
"It's terrible," one veteran National League scout told CBS Sports. "I worry that people can't do their jobs because everything is so jammed together."
Whereas the draft used to be the realm of the scouting director, one executive speculated that general managers have taken a greater role in the decision-making process in recent years. The later draft forces them to split or alter their focus in a way that they didn't have to in the past. The same goes for other individuals involved in both arenas, like analysts, special assignment scouts, and hybrid-role scouts. (Some organizations have taken steps toward combining the amatuer and pro scouting roles as a means of reducing costs.) Area scouts, or the group that focuses on amateur players, figure to be the least impacted.
One executive who spoke to CBS Sports pointed out that the late draft could have negative ramifications for draftees and teams alike. Many of the players selected haven't played in games in more than a month. Asking them to now report to professional affiliates in time for the minor-league season's final stretch could expose them to greater injury risk. (As one source put it: "You're ramping up guys … who the hell knows what's going to happen after that?")
To make matters worse, industry sources were skeptical that MLB can make its draft into an event, à la the National Football League's or the National Basketball Association's. Those league's draftees are more prominent because of the popularity of college football and basketball; they're also more relevant to the teams' short-term outlooks; conversely, MLB's top picks will be doing well to reach the majors on a full-time basis before the 2024 season.
It's unclear if MLB will reexamine the July date for the draft heading forward. The sources who spoke to CBS Sports were in agreement that they would like the draft moved out of July, though split on when they'd like it to be held. One argued for August, noting that it would come after the summer leagues and the trade deadline. Alas, the signing deadline would have to follow soon thereafter, with colleges nearing the start of their fall semesters.
Another front office member preferred the offseason, in part because of the potential for greater attendance at the scouting combine, and in part because of the workload disparity.
"Baseball is the only sport where the draft is going on in-season. You want to make MLB's draft an event like other sports, and if we're comparing everything as if it's the same, then moving the draft to the offseason would align with that," they said. "What are we all doing in October, talking about arbitration guys? C'mon, we're not doing sh--, nobody cares about the Rule 5 [draft], nobody cares about the non-tender deadline."