How MLB draft could be impacted by NCAA’s decision to grant seniors additional year of eligibility

Last week, Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed to some revisions to the upcoming amateur draft. The biggest tweaks were moving the draft to later in the year (likely mid-July); reducing its length from 40 rounds to a reported 5-10; and altering player compensation, with most of the draftees’ signing bonuses being deferred over the next couple of summers.

On Monday, the NCAA announced its Division I Council had approved of an extra year of eligibility for spring-sport senior athletes in response to season cancellations stemming from the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Council ruled against extending the same waiver to winter athletes, many of whom had already completed their regular seasons.

Baseball is, of course, a spring sport. As such, ball-playing seniors will be eligible to return for another season. The NCAA even did everyone a logistical favor by increasing the roster limit size. (It should be noted that baseball is the only spring sport with a roster limit.) Those decisions could, in turn, have an impact on the draft.

The most obvious potential effect is giving more leverage to college seniors. That group tends to serve as the draft’s equivalent to a bargain bin, with teams loading up on them during the latter half of the top 10 rounds. Because college seniors lack leverage — they’re essentially choosing between an assured future in pro ball and becoming an undrafted free agent — they tend to sign underslot deals. This year’s group, at least, will have the ability to go back to school.

There is a catch to this whole thing that may force most drafted seniors to sign anyway. Per the NCAA release, the Council approved a measure that does not require “athletics aid be provided at the same level awarded for 2019-20.” In other words, a senior returning for an additional season may not receive any aid whatsoever. 

We’ll have to see which seniors are willing to take that chance later in the summer. 

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