How Does the MLB Draft Work? A Complete Guide to the Process

Pat Bloom

How Does The MLB Draft Work

Ever wondered how your favorite MLB players made it to the big leagues? The journey to Major League Baseball is a unique path for every player, often beginning with the MLB Draft.

This annual event is a critical step for many aspiring athletes, shaping the future of baseball one pick at a time. Understanding the MLB Draft process can be fascinating.

It involves rigorous scouting, player evaluations, and strategic selections, all while prioritizing player health and safety.

With COVID-19 protocols and best practices like the Pitch Smart pitch count limits in place, the draft ensures a safe environment for emerging talents. Dive in as we break down how the MLB Draft works and the various routes players take to get there.

Overview of the Draft Process

Understanding the MLB Draft process reveals how aspiring baseball players transition from amateur status to the professional leagues.

The Draft Lottery System

In 2023, Major League Baseball introduced a lottery system for the first six picks. This ensures that non-playoff teams have a fair chance at securing higher draft positions.

The 18 teams that did not make the playoffs participate in the lottery, with odds inversely related to their final season standings.

Thus, the three teams with the worst records share equal odds of obtaining the top pick. This system aims to discourage tanking by offering more balanced competition for top prospects.

Rounds and Picks

The MLB Draft consists of multiple rounds, starting with the First Round followed by Compensation Picks and Competitive Balance Rounds.

These competitive balance rounds are inserted between the first and second rounds (Round A) and the second and third rounds (Round B). Teams with lower revenue or smaller market sizes receive additional picks to maintain competitive parity.

For example, in the 2023 draft, teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers had the highest bonus pools, reflecting their lower standings from the previous season.

Additionally, teams can face penalties if they exceed their assigned bonus pools. Overages can incur taxes or result in the forfeiture of future draft picks, maintaining an equitable draft environment.

Eligibility and Entry Into the MLB Draft

Understanding the eligibility criteria is key to determining who can enter the MLB Draft.

Age and Education Requirements

Players must meet specific age and education requirements to be eligible. Typically, high school players who have graduated and are at least 17 years old qualify.

College players are eligible if they have completed three years at a four-year institution or are 21 years old. Junior college players are eligible at any time. This variety ensures a wide pool of talent for MLB teams to consider.

Teams take turns selecting players in reverse order of their win-loss records from the previous season, giving weaker teams a chance to improve. The draft consists of multiple rounds, allowing teams to build their rosters with promising talent.

Declaration and Early Entries

Players intending to enter the MLB Draft must officially declare their intent. Prospects can enter early if they meet the age and education criteria.

International players, those who did not attend high school or college in the United States, follow a separate signing process but can also declare for the draft under certain conditions.

This method keeps the draft flexible and inclusive, allowing a diverse array of talented players to participate.

The Draft Order Explained

Understanding the draft order is crucial for gauging how your favorite team might perform in the MLB Draft. Various factors dictate the sequence of picks.

Factors Influencing Draft Order

The MLB Draft order is primarily determined by the previous season’s standings. Teams with worse records receive earlier picks to promote competitive balance.

The intent is to provide those teams the opportunity to acquire top talent and improve their future performance.

Previous Season Standings

Teams are ranked from worst to best based on their win-loss records, with the poorest team picking first. This reverse order ensures that weaker teams have a chance to improve through access to top talent.

Rounds continue in this manner until all teams have had multiple opportunities to draft new players.

Compensation Picks

These picks occur when a team loses a qualifying free agent to another team and serves to compensate them for their loss. They slot in between regular draft rounds.

Supplemental Picks

These are awarded to teams losing premium free agents or failing to sign drafted players from the previous year.

The draft consists of 20 rounds, with the selection order based on the previous season’s standings. Teams pick in reverse order of their win-loss record, ensuring competitive balance.

Competitive Balance Picks

Competitive Balance Picks add another layer to the draft order, aiming to ensure all teams have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Revenue-Based Allocation

Teams with the lowest revenue or smallest markets receive these picks. The formula used incorporates team revenue and winning percentages.

Two Separate Rounds

Competitive Balance Round A occurs after the first round, while Competitive Balance Round B follows the second round. The number of teams granted picks in each round alternates annually.


Unlike other draft picks, Competitive Balance Picks can be traded. This flexibility allows teams to strategize and maximize their draft potential. Teams awarded these picks also receive a larger sum of international bonus pool money.

Draft Day Procedures

Draft Day marks a pivotal moment in the MLB Draft process. Understanding the selection process and the role of the Commissioner provides clarity on how teams make strategic decisions.

Selection Process

Teams make individual selections in a predetermined order based on the previous season’s standings, with the worst-performing team picking first.

Each team has a designated time limit, usually five to ten minutes, to make their pick. The goal is to choose the most promising players available, who can either be college athletes or high school graduates.

Slot values are assigned to each pick, which dictates the signing bonus allocated for that position. If exceeding their pool, teams face penalties including fines and loss of future draft picks.

Role of the Commissioner

The MLB Commissioner oversees the Draft to ensure transparency and fairness. The Commissioner announces each team’s selection, starting from the first overall pick to the last.

Rules enforcement and mediation of any disputes between teams is another critical role. Additionally, the Commissioner ensures adherence to draft regulations, maintaining the integrity of the process.

Player Negotiations and Contracts

Once selected in the MLB Draft, the player enters a critical phase: contract negotiation. During this period, the player and the team work out the terms of the contract, which includes the signing bonus and overall salary structure.

Signing Bonuses and Salary Caps

The signing bonus is a major component of the initial contract for drafted players. These bonuses come from a predetermined bonus pool allocated to each team based on their draft positions and the number of picks.

For example, in 2021, the bonus pools for the 30 MLB teams totaled $265,769,400. The available amount influences negotiations heavily.

Bonus Penalties

Teams have the flexibility to exceed their bonus pool but doing so triggers penalties.

  • 0-5% Over: 75% tax on the overage amount.
  • 5-10% Over: 75% tax and forfeiture of a first-round pick.
  • 10-15% Over: 100% tax along with first and second-round pick loss.
  • Over 15%: 100% tax and loss of two first-round picks.

Negotiation Period

The negotiation period typically extends up to July 15. During this window, players and teams must finalize their agreements. High school players sometimes have leverage because they can opt to attend college, re-entering the draft later if they prefer.

Agents like Scott Boras have used such leverage to secure significant contracts for their clients. For instance, in 1990, Boras helped Todd Van Poppel secure a $1.2 million contract with the Oakland Athletics.

Players use this time to secure the best possible deals, considering their professional and financial future.

If no agreement is reached by the deadline, teams lose their rights to the player, who can then enter the draft in subsequent years or explore other opportunities.

Common Questions About the MLB Montpellier

Understanding the MLB Draft involves numerous facets. Addressing common questions helps clarify the process for better comprehension.

Trading Draft Picks

Trading draft picks in MLB primarily pertains to Competitive Balance Picks. These picks are awarded to teams with lower revenues or smaller markets. Picks can be traded, unlike regular draft picks, offering strategic flexibility in negotiations.

For example, a team with a Competitive Balance Pick might trade it to another team for a player or financial considerations.

Understanding this distinction is crucial for following how teams manage their draft assets and build their rosters.

International Players in the Draft

International baseball players follow different regulations compared to domestic players in the MLB First-Year Player Draft.

They can be signed by MLB teams from July 2 to June 15 each year, provided they are at least 16 years old before signing.

Each MLB team has a specific pool of money allotted for international prospects, similar to the draft bonus pools for domestic players.

This international signing period offers MLB teams a chance to acquire young talent from around the world, contributing to the global growth and diversity of the league. Understanding these rules is essential to grasp the full scope of talent acquisition in MLB.

Troubleshooting Common Draft Issues

Understanding potential problems during the MLB draft helps navigate the process smoothly. Addressing issues like disputes over eligibility and delays in signing contracts can improve outcomes.

Disputes Over Eligibility

Disputes over a player’s eligibility often arise during the draft. Players might challenge their eligibility status, especially if they believe they are draft-eligible based on age or academic standing.

To handle this effectively:

Verify Documentation

Ensure that birth certificates and school records are accurate and up-to-date. This not only verifies players’ eligibility but also helps scouts and teams make informed decisions. Teams select players based on a combination of talent, potential, and organizational needs.

Consult MLB Rules

Familiarize yourself with MLB’s eligibility rules, especially for high school and international players.

High school players must be at least 17 years old and have finished their senior year, while international players must be 16 and reside outside the U.S. for at least six months. Understanding these prerequisites is crucial for navigating the draft process.

Consider obtaining legal advice if disputes escalate to ensure compliance with MLB regulations. Understanding the intricacies of the MLB draft can be complex, but staying informed is crucial.

Teams take turns selecting eligible players, with the selection order typically based on the reverse standings from the previous season.

Delays in Signing Contracts

Delays in signing contracts can disrupt a team’s draft strategy. These delays may occur due to negotiating terms, disagreements over bonus amounts, or external factors.

To mitigate these delays:

Communicate Clearly

Maintain transparent communication with the draftee and their representatives. This ensures all parties are on the same page regarding contract negotiations and signing bonuses. Additionally, stay updated on MLB draft rules and guidelines to navigate the process effectively.

Negotiate Early

Begin negotiations as soon as possible to address potential sticking points early. In addition, understand the slot value associated with each pick to ensure offers are competitive but within budget constraints. This can pave the way for successful signings and a strong draft class.

Understand Bonus Regulations

Familiarize yourself with MLB’s bonus pool guidelines to avoid unnecessary penalties. Additionally, each team is allocated a specific bonus pool amount, which varies based on their draft position.

Exceeding this limit can result in severe penalties, including fines and loss of future draft picks.

Frequently Asked Questions

When does the MLB Draft take place?

The MLB Draft typically occurs in early July, coinciding with the MLB All-Star break. Specific dates may vary each year but generally fall within this timeframe.

How many rounds are in the MLB Draft?

The MLB Draft consists of 20 rounds conducted over three days. Rounds 1 and 2 take place on Day 1, rounds 3 to 10 on Day 2, and the remaining rounds on Day 3.

Can MLB teams trade draft picks?

Teams are allowed to trade Competitive Balance Picks but cannot trade their regular draft picks. This allows for some strategic maneuvering while maintaining the integrity of the draft process.

What role does the MLB Commissioner play in the Draft?

The Commissioner oversees the draft to ensure it is conducted fairly and in accordance with MLB rules. This includes resolving disputes and ensuring that all procedures are followed correctly.

Are international players included in the MLB Draft?

No, international players have separate signing periods and pools. The rules and regulations for signing international players differ from those for domestic prospects.

What happens after a player is drafted?

Post-draft, teams enter negotiations with drafted players to finalize contracts. This process involves agreeing on signing bonuses and contract terms before the July 15 deadline.


Understanding the MLB Draft is crucial for anyone involved in baseball, from players and agents to fans and team management.

The draft process is complex, involving strategic selections, negotiations, and adherence to MLB rules. With the introduction of the lottery system and the importance of bonus regulations, staying informed is more important than ever.

Whether you’re a high school player or an international prospect, knowing the intricacies of the draft can significantly impact your career.

As the landscape of baseball continues to evolve, being prepared and knowledgeable will help you navigate the MLB Draft successfully. Teams invest heavily in scouting and analytics to identify talent that aligns with their long-term goals.

The draft includes multiple rounds, and each team’s success often hinges on making the right picks and effectively managing their bonus pool allotments.

Photo of author

Pat Bloom

I lead Washington University in St. Louis' baseball team, emphasizing skill development, strategic play, and sportsmanship. Our rigorous training and competitive spirit cultivate discipline and teamwork, preparing athletes for success both in baseball and academics. We embody the determination and sportsmanship that define our university's athletics. LinkedIn

Leave a Comment