First Year Player Draft for Dummies, or Fans Like Me

Bob Levey

I know enough about baseball, but every year at draft time I hide my head in the sand and wait to hear the names of the guys the Astros take. I ignore the hype and the lead up predominantly because it seems so complicated. Here's a quick rundown of the first year player draft for fans like me.

Tomorrow the MLB Rule Four First Year Player Draft will begin. Here at Crawfish Boxes it's felt like draft day for quite a while. A good number of the other writers have been face down in research, analyzing and profiling the players expected to go in the top ten or twenty picks of the draft. They had mock drafts and looked at other "what if" situations. With the Astros picking first overall again this year, the excitement level of the scouting and sabermetrics nerds has been quite high.

Meanwhile, I've been laughing and questioning why they spend so much time and energy on something that they have no control over. They've spent countless hours on who says what and who does what and who stacks up against who. Me? I've been sitting back living by the Astros fan motto - you know, "In Luhnow we trust."

Good arguments have been made for learning about the potential picks. Whether the Astros take the guy or not, you have some familiarity with them and it's always good to know about the competition or the best of the best in the sport that you love. And apparently for those that invest time in that sort of thing, it's fun.

One of the reasons I steer clear of draft craziness and hoopla is simply how complicated the draft seems. Its rules and regulations and stipulations aren't nearly as well known or understood as the draft rules in the other major sports. Then there's the fact that whoever the Houston Astros sign, they aren't going to be playing at Minute Maid Park for quite some time. Baseball's different that way - players aren't drafted and immediately playing in the spotlight.

I decided I can at least fix one of those things. I can learn a bit more about the MLB first year player draft rules - how it works. With a little more knowledge perhaps I'll follow along. So here goes - my answers to common misconceptions and questions about the mlb draft.

Worst picks first, right? Yes, the order of the draft is determined by simply reversing the order of the overall standings for the previous year. If two teams have identical records, the order of those two teams is determined by their records of the year before that. And there's no trading of draft picks in baseball as there is in other sports. The Houston Astros had the first pick last year and have it again this year.

It's high school and college kids, so who's eligible? First the draft is for any citizen of the US or Canada who has previously not signed with a major or minor league ball club. This was always confusing to me, but any high school player who has exhausted their eligibility. Players at a four year college are eligible after they finish their junior year or if they are at least 21 years old. Any player from a junior college is eligible to be drafted.

When do players have to sign by this year? More than who gets drafted, I find who signs to be the best part of the draft. Players must sign by July 12th at 5pm ET. The deadline does not apply to college seniors who have until August 15th to sign.

Do teams draft for depth of position? The draft gurus here at Crawfish Boxes say the same thing that Jeff Luhnow himself said to me last year - You draft the best player you can get with no regard for his position. If you think about it, it makes sense - by the time a drafted player generally makes it to the majors, you have NO idea what your needs will be - a lot can happen between now and a player developing. A farm system full of "best player available" types is a farm system you can rely on for years to come.

How much bonus pool money does each team get? Here's where the draft loses me generally. But it's a hot topic so let's figure it out. Each year each club is assigned a "signing bonus pool" before the draft. The pool is calculated based on the club's position of picks in the first 10 rounds of the draft. Each pick in the first 10 rounds has a certain value, take all of each clubs pick values, add them, and you've got the signing bonus pool. By the way, any player picked after the 10th round doesn't count against a club's signing bonus pool as long as it's $100,000 or less - anything over counts against the pool.

Clear as mud? Good, now we can talk about what happens when a team goes OVER their bonus pool. Yes, MLB assumes that teams will break the rules. If a club goes over their bonus pool, they pay a "tax" on the overage amount and are possibly penalized in future drafts. Here's the breakdown:

  • 0-5% - 75% tax on overage
  • 5-10% - 75% tax on overage and loss of 1st round pick
  • 10-15% - 100% tax on overage and loss of 1st and 2nd round picks
  • 15%+ - 100% tax on overage and loss of 1st round picks in next two drafts

For the full breakdown on who can spend what in this year's draft, check out SBNation's Team Budgets and First Round Values.

Is that it? Well, I'd argue there's a whole lot more to the draft itself, but these are the things that seem to be the most confusing and mysterious about the MLB draft. Of course, the toughest part is patience. We'll all sit with bated breath for Bud Selig to say, "And with the first selection in the 2013 MLB draft, the Houston Astros have selected...." and the name that the guys around here have been debating.

But after that name is called, the player signed and the fanfare over, we will all go back to cheering on the guys playing in Minute Maid Park and will have to wait for the 1.1 draftee to head to the minors, develop and work his way to major leagues.

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