We already know that the 2021 draft will undergo one notable change, as the draft will be held during the All-Star break in July rather than its normal spot a month earlier in June. In regards to the draft order, however, it appears the status quo will be in effect, as ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reports that teams’ 2020 records are “highly likely” to be used to determine the order of selection.
With only 60 games in the 2020 season, there had been speculation that the 2021 draft order could be based on a larger timeframe, such as perhaps a combination of teams’ records from both the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The league had the right to change the order as part of the agreement reached last March between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA about a wide range of issues related to how baseball operations would proceed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, though Passan notes that a change to the normal draft order might only have occurred had the 2020 season been interrupted or halted from proceeding whatsoever.
The Pirates carry a 15-39 record into today’s action, four games “ahead” (so to speak) of the 19-35 Rangers for the game’s worst record. This would be the fifth time Pittsburgh has held the first overall pick, previously selecting first in 2011 (Gerrit Cole was their pick), 2002 (Bryan Bullington), 1996 (Kris Benson), and 1986 (Jeff King. Should the Rangers finish with the second-worst 2020 record, picking second in the 2021 draft would represent the team’s highest draft selection since way back in 1974, when Texas took right-hander Tommy Boggs second overall.
The Pirates and Rangers are followed in the standings by the Red Sox and Diamondbacks at 20-34, with Boston earning the #3 pick in this tiebreaker since the Sox had a worse record in 2019. The Nationals round out the current top five with their 21-32 ranking, perhaps benefiting the most of any team from the unaltered draft order since naturally they would have been picking much lower in the first round if their 2019 record was factored into the determination.
On the other side of the equation, the Tigers (currently slated for the seventh overall pick) probably feel dismayed that 2019 records won’t be a consideration. Detroit’s league-worst 47-114 mark last season earned them the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, and they would still be in line for the first overall pick in 2021 had the 2019-20 records been combined. Though the Tigers are surely pleased to have landed Spencer Torkelson first overall in this year’s draft, the team didn’t really achieve full value from their prime spot in the order given that the 2020 draft was only five rounds long and . As per the March agreement, the 2021 draft will be at least 20 rounds long and teams should theoretically have something of a more normal scouting and evaluation process for prospects.