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Understanding MLB First-Year Player Draft Rules

Posted on December 05 2019

The World Series is over, and the Major League Baseball season is done for 2019. Baseball fans now must wait another six months for spring training to begin and the player draft to occur. Frankly, understanding MLB first-year player draft rules can be difficult and complex. Knowing which team is selecting what players and who is eligible might seem baffling.

Here is an explanation that may help new or average baseball fans understand the draft system.

Baseball player hitting ball swinging

How It Begins

Believe it or not, unlike professional football, the MLB (Major League Baseball) first-year player draft is done via conference call! Every June, all thirty major league baseball teams get on the call to make their choices. The teams take turns selecting players; the team with the worst record chooses first. The teams go in reverse order depending on their win-loss record at the finish of the season the previous year. The order does not consider which league the clubs are in. Only their record matters.

Eligibility Criteria

Determining which players are eligible for the draft is governed by Major League rules. The MLB first-year player draft rules are complex and detailed but can be described this way: If the player is a resident of the US or Canada and has never signed a Minor League or Major League contract, the player may be eligible for selection. Residents of US territories and Puerto Rico are also eligible. If the player has enrolled in either college or high school in the US, regardless of where they may be originally from, they are also considered residents and can be eligible for the draft.

However, there are specific groups of baseball players who are ineligible for the draft. Those players are ruled ineligible because they are still attending school.

To be more specific, there are several categories of eligibility regarding school:

If a player has graduated from high school but has not yet enrolled in junior college or college, high school baseball players are eligible.

If a ball player is at least 21 years old, has attended college and has completed his junior or senior year, college players are eligible.

No matter how many years of junior college they’ve completed, junior college players are also eligible.

Rules for Being Drafted

When it’s their turn, each team generally has the right to sign the ball player they’ve chosen until 11:59 PM on August 15. However, the player may enter, or return to, college full time, negating the contract. As long as a drafted player is still eligible for the following year’s draft, and if the player doesn’t sign with the team who selected him, he can wait to be drafted until the next year. In addition, unless the player has consented to the re-selection, a team may not choose the same player again the next year.

Any player who is eligible for the draft but is passed over, now becomes a free agent. Until the player returns to a junior or four-year college full time, he may sign with any club in the league who may be interested.

General Description of Rules

The above rules are just a general description and only the Major League can determine the eligibility issues of a player. If coaches or players have specific questions, they need to contact the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, the Operations Department.

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