The 2021 MLB draft will move from June to July 11-13 and will be held in Atlanta as part of the All-Star Game festivities, according to a memo obtained by ESPN that MLB sent to clubs Monday about changes to the draft. The draft has been held in early to mid-June for decades.
A number of benefits for clubs and the league arise from moving the draft. Holding it at the All-Star Game — in conjunction with the Futures Game and after the College World Series — allows the league to own the marketing and promotion of all of the young stars, likely having many of them on hand when the league gathers for the Midsummer Classic.
In addition, a bigger gap between the end of most amateur seasons and the draft allows MLB to create more programming, such as high school and college showcases, games, and leagues, in addition to a medical combine, all geared toward getting information to clubs before they make their selections.
It hasn’t been finalized, but the memo says MLB expects the 2021 draft to be between 20 and 30 rounds. The 2020 draft was just five rounds, breaking a long-standing trend of 40-round drafts. In the March agreement, it was decided 20 rounds was the minimum length for the 2021 draft.
Another important factor is changes in the minor leagues. Assuming the minor leagues can operate as they did before the coronavirus pandemic, there will not be short-season leagues operating outside of the “complex leagues” level in 2021, or those based at spring training facilities and team complexes in the Dominican Republic. This would eliminate one or two minor league teams for each MLB club, each with a couple dozen roster spots.
With fewer roster spots for draftees, clubs would be able to customize their approach to the draft and early pro development. Many clubs have told the league they prefer a customizable, gradual onboarding to professional baseball careers, preferring an all-encompassing orientation leading into fall instructional league and more simulated game-type environments.
Another item in the memo notes an Aug. 1, 2021 signing deadline. There hasn’t been any decision made about how the league will adjust the draft order, but the commissioner has the option to do so if fewer than 81 games are played in 2020, per the March agreement. Passed-over players will still be capped at $20,000 bonuses; clubs still can’t trade competitive balance picks; and the same deferral of signing bonuses used in the 2020 draft will be used for 2021. Clubs can pay drafted prospects up to $100,000 within 30 days of the contract being approved, 50% of what’s remaining by July 2, 2022, then the remainder by July 1, 2023.