The concept of a draft for amateur international talent has long been on Major League Baseball’s agenda, as the league has seen a draft as a way of further overhauling the way teams acquire (and how much they spend on) international talent. The owners proposed an international draft to the players as part of CBA negotiations, and MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince has the details about the specifics of what the league wants.
The proposed int’l draft would be 20 rounds long (including extra Competitive Balance Rounds for smaller-revenue teams) and have a hard-slotting system with assigned prices to every pick. The June amateur draft, by comparison, has recommended slot prices for every selection but teams are permitted to sign players for any amount, as long as teams don’t exceed their overall draft bonus pool. This flexibility wouldn’t exist in the international draft, though the top picks would still bring home a significant amount — Castrovince writes that the top pick in the int’l draft would receive $5.25MM.
That $5.25MM figure is larger than any bonus given to a player in the 2021-22 international signing period. However, that number only represents what the top pick would receive, thus limiting the amount of money any other top prospects in the int’l class would land under a draft system. Also, $5.25MM is still less than any of the recommended slot prices for any of the top seven picks in the 2021 amateur draft.
While international prospects aren’t officially union members, the MLBPA is likely to take umbrage at the idea of a hard-slot bonus system, given the strict limitations it puts on an individual player’s earning potential. From the league’s perspective, less money would go to the blue-chip prospects at the top of a draft class, but more money would go into the class as a whole. Castrovince writes that under the draft proposal, the top 600 players would receive $172.5MM in total bonuses, up from the $163.9MM for the top 600 bonuses given to players during the 2019-20 international signing period.
The league also sees the draft framework as a way to get more money into the hands of the actual international prospects themselves, rather than the buscones who often act as unofficial agents, handlers, and trainers for these players. As recently illustrated by Maria Torres and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, there is no small amount of corruption in the current int’l signing system, and MLB’s argument is that a draft would end the practice of teams reaching unofficial agreements with buscones on prospects years before they’re old enough to be actually be signed. On the other hand, the counter-argument could be made that a draft simply restricts a prospect’s decision-making in another form, and that the issues with the buscone system could be solved if the league took a harder crackdown on enforcing existing rules on scouting international players.
In the draft proposal, teams would still not be permitted to select players under the age of 16. All prospects are subject to mandatory drug testing. The league also isn’t changing the list of countries that qualify as sources for international prospects in a draft, though Castrovince writes that “in an effort to grow the game, clubs would receive supplemental selections for drafting and signing players from non-traditional international baseball countries.”
Beyond the players selected over the 20 rounds, teams could also sign any eligible int’l prospects that weren’t selected, similar to how a flurry of signings of non-drafted players routinely follows the conclusion of the June amateur draft. Notably, teams would also be required to make all 20 of their picks rather than pass on any selection, though teams are allowed to trade any of their picks.
The signing deadline would take place three weeks after the end of the draft. The exact timing of said draft isn’t specified, whether it would take place around July 2 (the traditional opening of the international signing period), in January (when the last two int’l signing periods have opened due to the pandemic) or perhaps another spot on the calendar entirely.
In another interesting wrinkle, the order of the draft wouldn’t be tied to a team’s finish in the previous regular season. Instead, the 30 teams would be broken up into random groups of six, and then each group of six would be rotated through the draft order over a five-year period. For example, the Phillies, Blue Jays, Mariners, Dodgers, Brewers and Tigers could be all drawn together in one group and assigned the first six picks in a hypothetical 2023 international draft. For the 2024 draft, those same six teams would then be shuffled down to the 7-12 spots, while another group of six clubs got their turn at the top of the board.
The idea is, as Castrovince writes, to give all 30 teams “equal access to international talent over the life of the CBA.” It is fair to speculate whether the MLBPA could use this same logic in their other negotiations with the league over changes to the June amateur draft, since decoupling the draft order from regular-season record whatsoever would certainly seem to solve the union’s concerns about teams tanking. However, the two sides seem to have agreed in principle on the idea of a lottery for at least some of the top picks of the amateur draft, even if the owners and players have yet to settle on the exact number teams involved in the lottery.