The MLB Draft is an interesting phenomena, wherein the fact that it isn’t one at all. There are no shortage of reasons why this is the perpetual case. Why is it that baseball’s draft is such a big deal for the sport, the most intricate and purposeful draft of any pro sport, yet so universally disregarded as well? It’s simply because absolutely nobody knows what’s going on, even the vast majority of dedicated baseball fans. Well, let’s look at it like this; it’s like having a big party, but only inviting yourself. That’s basically what the MLB Draft breaks down to, only the most focused of baseball followers and insiders even have a clue that it’s going on. And for a sport that’s short on attention and spectacle, this is the equivalent to strike out looking…in slow pitch softball.
So let’s not waste a lot of time introducing something that really hasn’t introduced itself fully yet. Here’s all the reasons why the MLB Amateur Draft doesn’t matter outside the 1%. I bring to you, the Draft That Is, But Isn’t, brought to you in part by Major League Baseball….and viewers like you.
Low Profile of Amateur Baseball: There’s really no such thing as a college baseball sensation, and rarely is there one in high school. You have to be ingrained in the sports world semi-deeply just to know the names of Stephen Strasberg and Bryce Harper before they become Draftees over the last few years. College baseball has no pomp and circumstance to it at any point before the College World Series, which is still not a big deal outside of the university and hardcore baseball communities. In high school, there is no Under Armor, McDonalds or Army All-Star Game that puts hot prospects in front of the camera before they head to college. Basically, there is no hype.
Late Blooming Draft: The Draft itself was nothing but a conference call until three years ago. It’s like how the NBA Draft was back in the early 80’s, only with lesser known players being picked up. If there’s no visability, there’s little attraction to the event itself. It’s the anti-NFL Draft.
Also, half of the players that are picked can’t even attend the Draft, because they are still playing in the College World Series. No other sport has a draft while the draftees are still unavailable for their moment. However, they can’t push it back due to seasonal logistics and signing dates. Problems abound.
Delayed Gratification: Once players are selected, there’s no immediate view of them at the pro level, which is problematic. There’s no sport that takes longer for young players to build momentum for popularity than baseball. And that’s because virtually all of them come from nowhere. That’s due to the minor league baseball being the ultimate buffer for post-draft momentum. Even hardcore baseball followers can have a hard time locating a player through the usual seven levels of minor league ball they could be placed in. Even the absolute best players will be put down two to three steps away from their major league parent club, in some Podunk town in West Virginia or Arkansas to develop. It becomes the ultimate case of lost, and maybe eventually found.
MLB Network Impact: If baseball is smart, it will pull its draft off the MLB Network again. The first year that it came on, it was on ESPN. Although it was on a Monday afternoon in the middle of the summer, it still gave the draft a prominent, well-known stage for folks to stumble across it if need be. The MLB Network is a dream comes true for people like me, but that’s the problem: we don’t need to be attracted. It’s finding the casual fan and getting their ears perked up that are needed. It’s hard enough that the Draft comes in the middle of the most popular part of the year for the NBA, and the vast majority of the people that baseball needs to attract are engaged in that still.
In an odd way, the MLB faces the same kind of notoriety struggle that the WNBA faces in getting its players out there. For overall popularity increases in the sport, the casual fan has to have more of an interest in the common player on the way up. The best way to do that is to use the MLB Draft the way movies use trailers: build the buzz, let folks know what’s coming and get the clock ticking towards those hopeful ETA’s. This helps pro baseball’s profile, minor league baseball’s spotlight and gets folks trying to get the jump on each other in both college and high school viewing. Sounds like a classic game of domino rally to push the sport ahead to me.
For more on me trying to figure out what’s going on my sport of truest allegiance, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.