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The First-Year Player Draft, also known as the Rule 4 Draft, is Major League Baseball's primary mechanism for assigning amateur baseball players, from high schools, colleges, and other amateur baseball clubs, to its teams. The draft order is determined based on the previous season's standings, with the team possessing the worst record receiving the first pick. In addition, teams which lost free agents in the previous off-season may be awarded "compensatory" picks.

The first amateur draft was held in 1965. Unlike most sports drafts, the First-Year Player Draft is held mid-season, in June. Another distinguishing feature of this draft in comparison with those of other North America major professional sports leagues is its sheer size: the 2006 draft lasted 50 rounds and 1,503 players were selected. In contrast, the NBA Draft lasts for only two rounds (60 selections) and the NFL Draft for only seven rounds (256 selections if no picks are forfeited).

The First-Year Player Draft has historically had far less media exposure than its counterparts in the other leagues for three primary reasons:
  • High school and college baseball, the primary sources of MLB draftees, are not nearly as popular as college football, college basketball, and, in Canada and certain parts of the U.S., college and junior hockey. Consequently, most prospective top draft picks were unknown to the casual sports observer at the time of their draft. However, this is slowly changing: NCAA baseball has enjoyed a spike in popularity in the 2000s and top collegiate baseball players have enjoyed greater media exposure, though still far below their basketball and football counterparts.
  • Unlike top draft picks in the NBA and NFL, all of whom are expected to make immediate impacts, top MLB draftees are nearly always assigned to the minor leagues for several years to hone their skills. The entire 2007 first round (64 players) totaled one inning of major league playing time as of the end of the 2008 season; as of the 2009 season, the vast majority of 2008 first-rounders were still assigned to minor league organizations. In contrast, every NFL 2008 first rounder has played in the NFL by 2008.
  • While most NBA and NFL draftees will eventually reach their respective leagues, the vast majority of players selected in the First-Year Player Draft will never play in a single MLB game, including many first-rounders. For example, only 31 of 53 first-round draft picks in the 1997 draft eventually made a big-league appearance, and only 13 of those 30 appeared in more than 100 games as of 2009. In 1997's sixth round, only five of the 30 players selected eventually made a big league appearance, and only two of those five (Tim Hudson and Matt Wise) played more than 40 innings in the majors. Further illustrating the unpredictability of the draft's middle and later rounds, none of the 30 players selected in the 18th round would ever reach the major leagues, but the 19th round eventually produced an all-star and World Series MVP, David Eckstein.

The 2007 Draft was televised live for the first time in the draft's history on Thursday June 17, 2007 from 2:00pm until 6:00pm EDT (1800 - 2200 hrs UTC). The Draft coverage took place at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complexmarker in Orlando, Floridamarker.

Before the draft

Major League Baseball has used a draft to assign minor league players to teams since 1921. In 1936, the National Football League held the first amateur draft in professional sports. A decade later, the National Basketball Association instituted a similar method of player distribution. However, the player draft was controversial. Congressman Emanuel Celler questioned the legality of drafts during a series of hearings on the business practice of professional sports leagues in the 1950s. Successful clubs saw the draft as anti-competitive. Yankees executive Johnny Johnson equated it with communism. At the same time, Pulitzer Prize winning sports columnist Arthur Daley compared the system to a "slave market."

Prior to the implementation of the First-Year Player Draft, amateurs were free to sign with any Major League team that offered them a contract. As a result, wealthier teams such as the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals were able to stockpile young talent, while poorer clubs were left to sign less desirable prospects.

In 1947, Major League Baseball implemented the bonus rule, a restriction aimed at reducing player salaries, as well as keeping wealthier teams from monopolizing the player market. In its most restrictive form, it forbade any team which gave an amateur a signing bonus of more than $4,000 from assigning that player to a minor league affiliate for two seasons. If the player was removed from the major league roster, he became a free agent. The controversial legislation was repealed twice, only to be re-instituted.

The bonus rule was largely ineffective. There were accusations that teams were signing players to smaller bonuses, only to supplement them with under-the-table payments. In one famous incident, the Kansas City Athletics signed Clete Boyer, kept him on their roster for two years, then traded him to the Yankees just as he became eligible to be sent to the minor leagues. Other clubs accused the Yankees of using the Athletics as a de facto farm team, and the A's later admitted to signing Boyer on their behalf. Finally, it was the biding war for Rick Reichardt, who signed with the Los Angeles Angels for the then outrageous bonus of $200,000 that led to the implementation of the draft.

Major League clubs voted on the draft during the 1964 Winter Meetings. Four teams -- the New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Mets -- attempted to defeat the proposal, but they failed to convince a majority of teams, and in the end only the Cardinals voted against it.

The draft

Major League Baseball's first amateur draft was held in June 1965. Teams chose players in reverse order of the previous season's standings, with picks alternating between the National and American League. With the first pick, the Kansas City Athletics took Rick Monday, an outfielder for Arizona State Universitymarker.

Originally, three separate drafts were held each year. The June draft, which was by far the largest, involved new high school graduates, as well as college seniors who had just finished their seasons. A second draft was held in January for high school and college players who graduated in the winter. Finally, there was a draft in August for players who participated in amateur summer leagues. The August draft was eliminated after only two years, while the January draft lasted until 1986.

Early on, the majority of players drafted came directly from high school. Between 1967 and 1971, only seven college players were chosen in the first round of the June draft. However, the college players who were drafted outperformed their high school counterparts by what statistician Bill James called "a laughably huge margin."In 1978, a majority of draftees had played college baseball, and by 2002, the number rose above sixty percent. While the number of high school players drafted has dropped, those picked have been more successful than their predecessors. In a study of drafts from 1984 to 1999, Baseball Prospectus writer Rany Jazayerli concluded that, by the 1990s, the gap in production between the two groups had nearly disappeared.

Economic impact

Initially, the draft succeeded in reducing the value of signing bonuses. In 1964, a year before the first draft, University of Wisconsinmarker outfielder Rick Reichardt was given a record bonus of $205,000 ($ in current dollar terms) by the Los Angeles Angels. Without competition from other clubs, the Athletics were able to sign Rick Monday for a bonus of only $104,000. It would take until 1979 for a drafted player to receive a bonus higher than Reichardt's.

Player salaries continued to escalate through the 1980s. In 1986, Bo Jackson became the first draftee to sign a total contract (signing bonus and salary) worth over $1 million ($ in current dollar terms). Jackson, a Heisman Trophy winning football player for Auburn Universitymarker, was also the first overall choice in the National Football League Draft, and was offered a $7 million ($ in current dollar terms) contract to play football for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

High school players possessed additional leverage, as they had the option of attending junior college and re-entering the draft the next year. Agent Scott Boras routinely exploited this advantage to increase the contracts of his clients. In 1990, Boras client Todd Van Poppel signed a $1.2 million ($ in current dollar terms) contract with Oakland Athletics, after committing to play for the University of Texasmarker. The following year, Boras negotiated a $1.55 million ($ in current dollar terms) contract for Yankees first round pick Brien Taylor, who had said he would attend junior college if he didn't receive a contract equal to Van Poppel's. By June 2009, a figure as high as $50 million was floated for pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

Increasingly, teams drafted based on whether or not a player was likely to sign for a particular amount of money, rather than on his talent. This became known as a "signability pick." Before the 1992 draft, team owners unilaterally decided to extend the period of time a team retained negotiating rights to a player from one year to five. In effect, the rule prohibited a high school draftee from attending college and re-entering the draft after his junior or senior seasons. The Major League Baseball Players Association filed a legal challenge, but Major League Baseball argued that, since the Players Association did not represent amateur players, it was not necessary for the union to agree to the change. An arbitrator ultimately decided that any change to draft articles must be negotiated with the Players Association.

Procedures and rules


In order to be drafted a player must fit the following criteria:
  • Be a resident of the United Statesmarker, Canadamarker, or a U.S. territory such as Puerto Rico. Players from other countries are not subject to the draft, and can be signed by any team (unless they are current members of college teams in the aforementioned countries).
  • Have never signed a major or minor league contract.
  • High school players are eligible only after graduation, and if they have not attended college.
  • Players at four-year colleges are eligible after completing their junior years, or after their twenty-first birthdays. The exception to this is Division III schools, where players can be drafted before their junior year.
  • Junior and community college players are eligible to be drafted at any time.

Draft Order

The general draft order is the reverse order of the previous year's standings. If two teams finish with identical records, the previous year's standings of the two teams is the tiebreaker, with the team having a worse record receiving the higher pick.

Negotiating Rights

Prior to 2007, a team retained the rights to sign a selected player until one week prior to the next draft, or until the player enters, or returns to, a four-year college on a full-time basis. Starting in 2007, the deadline for signing a drafted player is August 15. A selected player who enters a junior college cannot be signed until the conclusion of the school's baseball season. A player who is drafted and does not sign with the club that selected him may be drafted again at a future year's draft, so long as the player is eligible for that year's draft. A club may not select a player again in a subsequent year, unless the player has consented to the re-selection.

A player who is eligible to be selected and is passed over by every club becomes a free agent and may sign with any club, up until one week before the next draft, or until the player enters, or returns to, a four-year college full-time or enters, or returns to, a junior college. In the one-week period before any draft, which is called the "closed period", the general rule is that no club may sign a new player.

Compensatory Picks

Teams can earn Compensatory picks in the draft based on departing free agents. Free Agents are ranked by the Elias Sports Bureau based on their previous two years of playing, and against players of similar positions. Players are categorized as either Class A or Class B, or they fall into the category of all other players. Below is a description of each free agent class and the compensation the free agent's former team received when the player signs with a different team.

• A Class A free agent is ranked in the top 20 percent of players at his position. A team that signs a Type A player gives its top draft pick to the club that the player is leaving; that club also receives a supplemental pick in the "sandwich" round between the first and second rounds.

• A Class B free agent is ranked below the top 20 percent but in the top 40 percent of players at his position. A team that loses a Type B player receives a supplemental pick, but the signing team does not lose a pick.

• All other players, who carry no compensation at all. There had previously been a third class of "Type C" players, but that was eliminated in the most recent CBA.

To earn a compensatory pick, a free agent must either be signed before the arbitration deadline in early December, or be offered arbitration by their former team but still sign with someone else.

Compensatory picks that one team gives another via this method are the highest available pick that team has, except that a top-15 pick cannot be lost. If a team owes two other teams draft picks via Type A free agents, the team whose departing player had a higher score gets the higher ranked pick. A team cannot lose picks it has earned via compensation. Also, the first 15 picks in the draft cannot be lost via compensation, so a team that is in that rank would give up their second round pick.

The order of the supplemental round between the first and second rounds is determined by inverse order of the previous year's standings. All the Type A picks are done first, and then the order resets for all the Type B compensation picks.

Teams can also earn compensation for unsigned picks from the previous year's draft. If a team doesn't sign a first or second round pick, they will get to pick at the same slot plus one the following year. For example, if the team with the #5 pick does not sign that player, they would have the #6 pick the following year. The regular draft order would continue around those picks. For compensation for not signing a third round pick, teams would get a pick in a supplemental round between the third and fourth rounds. If a team fails to sign a player with one of these compensated picks, there is no compensation the following year.

See also


  1. news - Coming this June: The MLB draft on TV
  2. Before the advent of the farm system, minor league players were under contract to their respective teams, rather than to a parent club. The minor league draft (known today as the Rule 5 draft) was later used to redistribute minor league players already under contract to major league teams.
  3. Staudohar, Lowenthal, and Lima, pp. 27-28.
  4. Hearings before the Antitrust Subcommittee, Committee on the Judiciary,, 85th Cong., 1st Sess. (1957) (testimonies of Chuck Bednarik, Red Grange, Kyle Rote, and Jackie Robinson).
  5. Staudohar, Lima, and Lowenthal, p. 39.
  6. There is some disagreement over who was the first player to surpass Reichardt's bonus. Staudohar claims that Darryl Strawberry's 1980 bonus equaled Reichardt's, but it was actually worth only $200,000 ($ in current dollar terms). Jazayerli credits Andy Benes, who signed with the San Diego Padres for $235,000 ($ in current dollar terms) in 1988. Baseball America lists Todd Demeter, a career minor-leaguer drafted by the New York Yankees, as surpassing the milestone when he signed for a $208,000 ($ in current dollar terms) bonus in 1979.
  8. Staudohar, Lowenthal, and Lima, pp. 32-33.

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