Tuesday, September 27, 2022

MLB Prospect Watch: Nationals, A’s, Tigers fighting for No. 1 pick in baseball’s first draft lottery

Last week, Major League Baseball announced a slew of rule changes that will go into effect ahead of the 2023 campaign, including the implementation of a pitch clock and restrictions on defensive positioning. While those upcoming tweaks are getting all of the attention these days, this is as good of a time as any to remember that this year still has one new twist of its own left to play out: the first MLB draft lottery that will determine which teams make the top six picks in next summer’s event.

The draft lottery was introduced as part of the new collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association. The union pushed for the lottery as a means of curbing tanking and other anti-competitive strategies that had become more popular in recent years, with teams embracing bottoming out in order to improve their draft position. The lottery is unlikely to end those behaviors entirely, but it does introduce an element of chance that can undercut nihilism as an effective approach. After all, the worst team in the majors is no longer guaranteed the top spot; indeed, it might end up picking seventh, depending on how the lottery plays out.

So, that’s why there’s a lottery in place now. How does it work, and what’s the current outlook? For answers to those questions and more, let’s turn to some subheads.

1. How does the lottery work?

If you’re familiar with the NBA‘s lottery, then MLB’s will sound familiar. Essentially, every non-playoff team is afforded a chance at the top pick. Those chances are weighted in accordance with the team’s regular-season record. The worst three teams will have an identical likelihood of landing the No. 1 selection (16.5 percent apiece), with the likelihoods dwindling significantly from there, all the way down to 0.20 percent for the club who finishes the regular season with the 18th-worst record.

As we mentioned above, the team with the worst record is not guaranteed a top-six selection. That team’s chances of landing in the top six are highly favorable, but there is a 19 percent shot that it ends up picking seventh. Since we’re on the subject of remote possibilities, there’s a remarkably unlikely scenario in which the team with the fifth-worst record could pick outside of the top 10. You can rest assured that, were that to ever happen, said team’s front office and fan base would accept it with grace.

We’ll cap off this section by noting that there are some restrictions in place that will prevent teams from following the Philadelphia 76ers’ playbook by trying their hand at the lottery game over and over. As MLB.com reported in March: “Teams that receive revenue-sharing payouts can’t receive a lottery pick for more than two years in a row and those that don’t can’t get a top-six choice in consecutive drafts. Furthermore, a club that’s ineligible for the lottery can’t select higher than 10th overall.”

2. What is the current lottery outlook?

By virtue of having the three worst records in the majors, the Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, and Detroit Tigers have a combined 49.5 percent shot at the No. 1 pick. The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds are the only other teams who would have at least a 10 percent crack at selecting first were the season to end today.

Here’s a look at those five team’s chances of picking at a certain slot, or within a certain range:

Nationals

16.5%

46.6%

71.4%

Athletics

16.5%  

46.6%

71.4%

Tigers

16.5%  

46.6%

71.4%

Pirates

13.2%

39.2%

63.3%

Reds

10%

30.9%

52.9%

Of course, the season won’t end today. That means the next few weeks will be pivotal for clubs like the Kansas City Royals and Miami Marlins, each of whom could conceivably “pass” the Reds in the standings in order to improve their odds.

You can click here to check out Tankathon’s full breakdown of the lottery scene.

3. Who are the top players in the next draft?

It’s too early to say for sure, but CBS Sports highlighted five 2023 draft prospects over the summer who could find themselves coming off the board early on. You can read more about that group here, but arguably the two biggest names worth knowing at this juncture are LSU outfielder Dylan Crews and Indiana prep outfielder Max Clark. Both can really hit, as you would expect from individuals in the running to go No. 1.

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