What a draft pick can lose when he says no to the MLB

BY foxsports • June 1, 2015

By Joseph Coblitz

The Major League Baseball amateur draft is coming around on June 8th this year and more than 1,200 high school and college baseball players will likely be selected from the amateur ranks to pursue the ultimate American dream, being paid millions of dollars each year to play a game. While very few of those drafted will actually achieve this, those not drafted don’t even have the opportunity to attempt the ultimate, yet there are still those who will stare the gift horse of life straight in the mouth and say, “no, I’m ok where I am, I don’t feel like being paid to play baseball right now.”

In the 2014 draft, 314 players of the 1,215 players drafted declined to sign with the team that picked them, 285 of which were being drafted for the first time, by far the most that didn’t sign since the draft dropped from 50 rounds to 40 in 2012. There may be many reasons for a player to refrain from signing into the professional ranks, the primary one generally being that the player wants to either go to college (if in high school) or continue with their degree program (if already in college) often with the goal of moving up higher in the draft to increase their guaranteed money after signing. Since such a low percent of draft picks actually make it to the Majors (14% of those drafted in 2000 have made it to the Major League Level), this makes sense as long as the chances of being drafted again are near 100% and there is a high probability of being drafted higher the second time.

To the first point, the chances of being drafted again are very near 100%. Since 2000, only 91 players who didn’t sign after being drafted for the first time didn’t eventually get drafted again, just 2.6%. While it isn’t always the next season (there is no point in wasting a pick on a freshman in college if he said no as a high school senior), chances are you will be drafted again either way. While it has only been two years, that number drops to 1.8% since the draft dropped to 40 rounds, eliminating the most fringe level prospects who would be most unlikely to be drafted again.

The answer to the second question, whether players draft stock will increase or not, is much more difficult to answer and much more variable. Looking at the years between 2000 and 2010 as most of these players should be out of the draft pool there are more than 3,440 unique events of a player being drafted a second time. Of these, the biggest difference between picks ranges from Buster Posey, who moved up 1,491 places between 2005 and 2008 and Brad Cuthbertson, who dropped 1,268 spots between 2005 and 2006.

On a more macro scale, 714 of those redrafted (21%) were picked 100 or more places below their original pick, while 2,201 were chosen 100 or spots higher (64%). Another 175 (5%) were picked within a single round of their original selection (+/-30 picks). For the sake of some color, the chart to the right shows the average change between draft picks for those who didn’t sign. In general, there is a pretty decent correlation between the lateness in the draft and the chance a player will be picked higher the second time, but that makes sense.

If someone is picked in the first round, they can either maintain that position or drop. Chances are, between injuries, performance failures or lack of belief that he will sign after already declining once, a player will drop the second time around and that is shown as each round between one and 15 shows an general downward slide. It isn’t until the very late rounds, from twenty on, that players can expect a significant improvement in their stock.

The final column in the chart shows how many players went unsigned per round. For the eleven seasons checked, only 16 first round picks didn’t sign and there were similar rates for the first eight rounds. While a general upwards trend exists throughout, this increases significantly after the 15th round and by the final 20 rounds, only 69% of all draft picks from 2000 to today signed a deal compared to 86% in all other rounds.

Essentially, what this shows is what agents have always known. Players drafted within the 20 rounds are generally going to be treated with greater priority by the drafting team than those picked in the final 30 rounds, so there is little reason not to sign if chosen. These players guarantee at least a chance to prove themselves simply by joining a Major League franchise and remove the small risk of not being drafted again or the large risk of hurting their own stock with injury or poor play.

For those drafted in the final 30 (now 20) rounds, the opposite is true. There is very little risk of not getting drafted again once your name makes it onto the board and chances are you will be chosen much higher the second time around. In addition to the greater money allotted for higher rounds, low round players are often overlooked and, in the case of high school seniors, playing a few years of college could actually help not only get you drafted higher, but will help you move through the minor league system faster as well.

This is just a glimpse into the broad aspects of the drafts and the reasoning a player may have in not signing with a Major League team the first opportunity they have. Coming soon, in part two, we will discuss the monetary angle to see why a highly drafted player would risk millions of dollars to live another year in the amateur ranks.

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