Diamond Notes: MLB Draft Rule Changes

MLB Draft rule change

By: Austin Alexander-January 5, 2007


If you have followed the MLB draft in the past, you are likely familiar with the lengthy holdouts, outrageous signing bonuses and maybe you have heard of a little term called the “Draft and Follow,” or DNF’s. For years you’ve heard success stories of how a player was taken in the lower rounds of the June draft and emerges into the Major Leagues. Many of these players were DNF’s. A recent rule change has abolished this plan that has college coaches and professional scouts with mixed opinions.

Before this year, an organization could draft a high school player who attended a junior college and retain his “rights” up until five days before the next year’s draft. They could do the same thing with a junior college freshman.

For instance, in 1996 Orlando Hudson was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays out of Darlington High School in the 33rd round. They did not sign him so he enrolled at Spartanburg Methodist College and the Blue Jays followed his progress throughout his freshman year, eventually determining he was not ready to sign. Hudson went back into the draft and was taken again by Toronto, this time in the 43rd round. He returned for his sophomore year, they followed him again and decided he was ready. At the conclusion of his college season, and days before the 1998 draft, Hudson signed with Toronto and the rest is history. Now he is a two-time Gold Glove winner in the Major Leagues.

DNF’s are usually reserved for the second day of the draft, usually between rounds 25-50. From club to club, philosophies differ toward DNF’s. Some organizations would collect as many “follows” as they could, others opt to stop drafting players as early as the 40th round. DNF’s, generally put, are players who have a pro “tool” but lack the “polish” to sign a contract. The thinking is that an additional year could help ready the player for professional baseball. The majority of DNF’s, however, never sign or have a career in pro ball.

Quick fact. Last year, five high school players in South Carolina were selected in the June Draft. Wren’s Jason Place went in the first round and signed with the Boston Red Sox. The other four were taken on Day 2 and are all in a junior college right now as DNF’s.

Some late drafts are “favor” picks. One notable “favor draft” is Mike Piazza (right) taken in the 62nd round by the Dodgers in 1988. Piazza’s father and Tommy LaSorda were close friends, of course that one worked out for everybody!

The draft used to have an unlimited amount of rounds, it has since be reduced to 50 rounds.

Another scenario we’ve seen occur time and again is a player holding out for weeks, months and, often times, all year for the contract they desire. Meanwhile, negotiations become grueling and college coaches remain in limbo as to whether the player will attend class and be on his team that year.

No longer will we see long, drawn out contract disputes or DNF’s. Recently a rule change was made requiring players to sign by August 15. This gives players just a little more than two months to negotiate and sign or move on and attend, or return to, college. At that point, the club that drafted them loses the rights to that player and he re-enters the draft*.

Obviously opinions on the rule change span the spectrum depending on which side of the ball folks are on. The consensus among four-year college coaches is that new regulation benefits them; junior college coaches, for the most part, are not in favor of the new rule. Pro scouts remain divided on the matter.

Diamond Prospects surveyed those most effected by MLB’s decision to adopt the rule. Let’s take a look…

*Note: If the player attends a four-year school, he is only eligible for the draft if he is 21 years old or has completed his junior year. A junior college player remains eligible for the draft each year he is at a JUCO.


A Junior college head coach comment:

As for how it will effect my job, it will not. As for effecting our program, it is hard to tell but I believe it will hurt us in the long run, because now we will not have that one tiny bit of information to sell to a kid that the four-year schools did not have. As for how it will play out with the players, it will lower the number of guys being drafted. And the guys that are Draft and Follow players are usually "raw athletes" who just happen to play baseball. They are not polished baseball players, but they are athletes and everyone knows you can teach an athlete to do things, but you cannot teach someone to be an athlete. With athletes not in the game of baseball, the game will be destroyed.

I personally think for this state, which in my opinion is a sleeper state in terms of baseball talent, due to the large number of players that play more than just baseball, it might take some athletes out of the game on the college levels. Most of your draft and follow guys are athletes who play baseball. With a draft and follow they might choose to stay in baseball at the next level. Without it, they will choose to go into another sport at the collegiate level, because of all the collegiate sports, baseball has the least amount of money to offer players, due to Title Nine and Gender Equity rulings over the last 20 years. Collegiate baseball will lose an awful lot of "raw" athletes. Those raw athletes will choose to play basketball, football, soccer, or track in college, because those sports will be able to offer better packages for tuition, etc. This, in time, could hurt the professional level of baseball because they will not have those raw athletes to train!

Obviously the people making this decision on the professional level do not grasp the entire picture. They do not understand the effects Title Nine and Gender Equity concerns have had on the lower levels of athletics and especially the game of baseball. If they did understand this, they would not make a ruling that will eventually cut out a certain portion of players from this glorious game called baseball.


A National League Scout comment:

My thoughts are that the rule is fine, we just do not have “control” (of a player). As far one who has had many DNF’s, I have no control over how they improve or fall off. I wish I had. I have had coaches who work with me well, very poorly and some have no intention to let the kid go after one year. For me, for the most part, DNF’s were always "Choke and Swallow"…!


A National League Scout comment:

I like it. Scouts and organizations won’t take “fliers” any more and it should also cut down on favor drafts since they become more of "sign" drafts.


A Division I Recruiting Coordinator commented:

I’ve coached at a junior college and am now on the four-year side of it so I see both sides. I think it will effect the quality JC’s out there who have routinely brought in DNF’s. Some kids chose a JC because they might be, or were, drafted as a DNF and want to sign quickly as opposed to waiting three years. I know they will still have the opportunity to sign after each year but some kids will go to a JC to get drafted even if they never sign, just for the prestige that comes along with being selected. We also highlighted the high volume of players in the program that had been drafted as a selling point. It never hurts to tell recruits that you have ten drafted players on your roster or that you’ve worked with 50 players who have been drafted before. That sounds awfully interesting to a 17 or 18-year old kid.

The August 15 deadline is nice for four-year school. No longer will we have to baby-sit our draftees on the first day of class to make sure their tail is sitting in a desk! Unfortunately, by that date most schools are within a couple of weeks of starting school, it really does not give us the time to replace a quality player who signs at the last second.

I believe the new rule will hurt junior colleges more than help the four-year schools.


A National League Scout comment:

After thinking about it for a while, I think the change will benefit everyone involved. I like it, because it will force the scout to be even more aggressive in pushing to sign a player that he really likes. For the player, the same options will be there if they choose to attend a junior college. It might actually be better for the player choosing to go to junior college because then there will be no restrictions in terms of talking to all of the MLB teams.


An American League Scout comment:

We’ve always been a club that was rarely around in the 50th round anyway. Looks like there will be more organizations shutting it down early with us. My guess is that less than half of the clubs will actually draft 50 players this year.


A National League Scout comment:

I don’t think the Draft changes will make a big difference. I’ve always had a number of DNF’s and liked that we could draft the player, follow the player and potentially sign the player…on the flip side it will cut down the time we spend chasing guys who, for the most part, will not make the necessary jump for us to sign them.


A Division I Recruiting Coordinator commented:

It will effect me. You won’t have DNF’s floating around junior colleges like in the past. Recently we have had a lot of success signing players who were DNF’s but remained at a JC. I have used draft lists as my “hit list” for future recruiting classes, it’s always been a useful tool as a starting point for me to plug holes brought on by the draft or graduation.


A National League Scout commented:

It will alter how we treat the backend of the draft. We’ve actually had a great deal of success drafting and then following players. We have a good many players in our minor league system that were DNF’s that blew up during the year we had them “under control.” There is no way we would have gotten each of them if they re-entered the draft in the year that we signed them. We’ll adjust.

Regardless of where baseball’s brass sit on the subject, this rule change will add a different dimension to the culture of college and professional baseball, good or bad…only time will tell.