Major League Baseball on Monday announced that it has teamed with Prep Baseball Report to form the MLB Draft League — a new summer league that will allow the nation’s top draft-eligible players to compete in a 68-game season beginning next year. The league will be headed up by former MLB scout Kerrick Jackson, who resigned from his post as the head coach at Southern University to take this newly created position.
Five teams, all of them former minor league affiliates, have been brought aboard as the founding five clubs in the league: the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the State College Spikes, the Trenton Thunder, the West Virginia Black Bears and the Williamsport Crosscutters. Talks with a sixth team are in the works, per the league’s press release, with an announcement hopefully coming in the near future.
The Draft League is made possible by MLB’s previous decision to push the annual amateur draft back from early June to instead coincide with the MLB All-Star break in mid-July. Per today’s announcement, the 68-game schedule will include an annual All-Star break centered around the MLB draft, so it seems as though the idea is for play to continue once these players have been drafted. That, conceivably, could help to offset some the elimination of short-season Class-A leagues. Big league scouts will be able to watch the league in person, and the MLB adds that they’ll also be able to evaluate participants via “state-of-the-art scouting technology.”
Jackson appeared on MLB Network this morning to discuss the league and clarify some of the timing and scheduling aspects (video link). The league will commence in early June and run into August. MLB’s goal will be to attract as much top draft-eligible talent as possible, though Jackson acknowledged that some programs which qualify for postseason play will push back against sending their players to participate in the Draft League.
There are some murky areas that have yet to be defined in full. It’s not clear, for instance, whether every MLB team will want its draft signees to continue playing in the league, although that ostensibly could help to offset the loss of some Short-Season Class-A leagues. Jackson alludes to the fact that the league expects some players to pull out of the league after being drafted, noting that “after the draft, we’ll be able to take some kids — some of the seniors and some other guys looking to get those free-agent opportunities and put them in that mix.”
The initial hope is for a six-team league with 30-man rosters, per Jackson, creating 180 roster spots in the league’s first iteration. Depending on how things progress down the line, MLB may look to eventually install additional teams in the league. For the time being, it doesn’t appear as though there will be separation of college and high school talent.
Suffice it to say there are some logistics that need to be sorted out or at least clarified, but the broader takeaway is that the inception of the Draft League will ideally give teams and fans a new level of access to prospects in the days and weeks leading up to the draft. Doing so should create greater marketing opportunities and, hopefully for MLB, draw some extra eyes and attention for the draft itself. The Major League Baseball Draft has never been seen as an event on par with the NBA or NFL drafts, after all. However, there’s no getting around the fundamental difference that prospects selected in those other sports’ drafts will frequently jump directly onto the active roster of their new clubs, while virtually every player selected in the MLB draft is at least a couple of years from MLB readiness.