How the MLB Draft Is Different From the NBA and NFL Drafts

Major League Baseball is looking for new players to add to the teams’ existing rosters. The MLB draft is one way the franchise recruits young talent to each of the league’s 30 teams. The draft has specific procedures, rules, and regulations that safeguard new players and prevent bidding wars. While many other sports leagues conduct drafts, like the NFL and the NBA, they differ significantly from the distinctive MLB draft. The MLB draft is another staple within a sport known for its quirky traditions, superstar players, iconic stadiums, and exciting team dynamics.

What Is the MLB Draft?

In Major League Baseball, teams have an opportunity to draft new rookie players each year. This tradition started in 1965, with teams choosing players in reverse order of the previous season’s standings, switching between National League and American League teams. For example, if the lowest-performing team from last season in the National League gets the first draft pick, the corresponding American League team would get the next pick. This pattern continues throughout each round so that each team has a chance to choose a player.

The association would host three separate drafts in the early years of the MLB draft. The MLB draft allowed teams to find rookie players without outbidding other teams’ offer of a high signing bonus. Now there is one draft with new and improved rules to treat players fairly and give teams a fair chance of changing their roster for the upcoming season.

How the MLB Draft Works

The MLB draft is a bit complex since the rules recently changed due to the 2022 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that players negotiated. The MLB draft is 20 rounds, but the first round of the draft is a lottery for teams that did not make it to the previous year’s postseason. This lottery awards six teams the top spots. This new system ensures that the three lowest-performing teams have equal chances of receiving the top spot. Teams with low-performing players, free agents, or those who want to give their roster a face-lift appreciate this arrangement.

The MLB has precise eligibility requirements for players who participate in the draft. If you want to be eligible for the draft, you must meet these criteria:

  • You must reside in or attend an educational institution in the United States, Canada, or a U.S. territory.
  • You can’t have signed any previous major or minor league contracts.
  • If you’re in high school, you’re only eligible after you graduate and before you start college.
  • If you attend a four-year university, you’re only eligible after three years of enrollment or after you turn 21.
  • You can get drafted at any time if you’re in junior college.

Compensatory Picks and Free Agents

Even though the official MLB draft has only 20 rounds, some teams may have the opportunity to draft additional players through compensatory picks. When a player becomes a free agent — like Freddie Freeman, who became a free agent after playing for the Atlanta Braves — teams can offer an updated contract to that player. But if the free agent decides to sign a new contract with a different team, as Freeman did by moving to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the player’s old team can pick another player from the draft to fill the void left by the free agent.

But this arrangement can be pricey for teams. A team can only receive a compensatory pick if it made its former player an offer worth the average of the 125 most expensive contracts currently active in the MLB. Additionally, players who remain without a team after the 20-round draft automatically become free agents. These agents have the liberty of signing with whatever team they choose until one week before the next draft. This format gives players and teams more time to strategize, negotiate salaries, and build an impressive roster.

Signing Players After the Draft

After the draft, MLB teams don’t have to sign drafted players right away. As long as teams meet the July 15 deadline for signing new players, they can extend the process as long as they want. An exception to this rule exists: If a team drafts a junior college player, the player cannot sign until his college baseball season finishes. The season could extend past the deadline since college baseball occurs in the winter and spring.

Additionally, drafted players must receive a minor league contract. Newly drafted players cannot accept major league contracts. Again, an exception to this rule exists: If a team drafts a college baseball player who received a scholarship for his sport, the player is immediately eligible for a major league contract. This process rewards college players who worked hard in school and have exceptional talent.

How the NBA Draft Works

The National Basketball Association has operated a player draft since 1947. Before the draft begins, a lottery determines the order. Fourteen teams that didn’t make the postseason compete for the top spots. For example, in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic won the top pick, meaning the team went first in each round. Systems are in place to ensure that the lowest-performing team receives one of the top five spots in the draft to maximize fairness. The rest of the teams follow in reverse order of the previous season.

The draft typically occurs in June. Sixty players become selected during two quick rounds. Eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • College players who completed their four-year eligibility and international players are automatically eligible.
  • First- and second-year student-athletes must declare eligibility.
  • Any international players younger than age 22 must declare eligibility.
  • If you just graduated high school, you must wait one year after graduation and turn 19 during the draft year to be eligible.

Players who don’t get drafted after the two rounds become available for team tryouts. However, players must be eligible for the draft to sign with the NBA, even if they don’t get chosen during the draft.

How the NFL Draft Works

One of the most widely watched professional sports drafts is the NFL draft. This draft lasts seven rounds and takes three days to complete. Teams make their picks in reverse order of how they finished in the previous season. The Super Bowl championship team of the prior year chooses last. Teams that did not make it to the postseason fill the first 20 draft spots. Slots 21-32 get filled using the playoff teams’ postseason statistics to assign slots.

A team has seven minutes in the first round to choose players, and the time decreases as the draft goes on. Once the draft is complete, a team may decide to sign the player or trade the individual to another team. Trading can occur during the draft; the public may not know some results until days later. The NFL also has compensatory free agent picks, where teams can fill empty spots on their team during the third to seventh rounds of the draft. Players must meet the following eligibility requirements for draft consideration:

  • Players must be out of high school for three years.
  • Players must have used their college eligibility.
  • The individual needs NFL approval if a player wants to enter the draft in his first or second undergraduate year. This point also applies if the player wants to use all his eligibility.
  • Players are only eligible in the year immediately following the end of their college eligibility.

Why the MLB Draft Is Different

One factor that sets the MLB draft apart from the NBA and NFL is the relatively low-risk nature of the MLB draft. While players drafted in the NFL and the NBA start as professionals in the upcoming season, most MLB teams have well-developed rosters of seasoned, skilled players they rely on instead of the fresh-faced rookies. In the MLB, it’s easy for teams to trade players, and players can usually take advantage of their free-agent status. While some teams rely more heavily on the draft, many MLB teams don’t need to pressurize the draft.

Other details that set the MLB draft apart include the number of rounds (far more than the NBA and NFL combined), the eligibility requirements, and the lottery-based first round. Additionally, the MLB draft occurs right in the middle of the season, while the other sports draft new players during the off-season. Each sport has its own rules and regulations when it comes to signing drafted players as well.

The 2022 collective bargaining agreement, which resulted in a lengthy player lockout and a trading freeze, produced a few changes that will affect the MLB drafts in the future. The new regulations are player-focused and provide more leeway for free agents who want to maneuver to new teams. While the MLB draft is notoriously low-risk, baseball fans understand the importance of rookies to a team that needs a fresh lineup. Rookies launch teams into both popularity and success.

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