(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, seen here)
One of the most difficult questions baseball players face early in their careers is whether or not they should sign out of high school or advance to play collegiately.
In my first column for the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network, I took a look at an old amateur draft rule that allowed organizations to draft-and-follow players in which they had interest. That year-long timeline disappeared with the changes made in 2007. This change immediately had a major impact on the decision-making process for student-athletes.
Now, players and teams must decide on a contract by August 15 of the same year in which the draft took place. This leaves little time for the player to make one of the biggest decisions they’ve ever faced in life: do I sign out of high school or try to increase my draft stock by playing collegiately?
Each individual player will have their reasons for signing a pro contract out of high school or moving on to play in college. Each organization will also have their reasons for using high draft picks on high school players or college players.
There’s really no right or wrong answer to this important question, but I’ve decided to take a look at how the shortened signing period affects the decision-making process.
Multiple Draft Chances
Quite possibly the biggest benefit that stems from the Amateur Draft is that players can be drafted more than once so long as they remained unsigned.
The league keeps a database of all players drafted each year and whether or not that player signed with the organization that drafted them.
Players can be drafted at the end of their high school career, if they attend a junior college, or if they have completed either their junior or senior season at a four-year school. So, when you look at the rules, a player can be drafted at least four times (after high school, in junior college, after junior year and after senior year at four-year school).
This gives players multiple chances to improve their draft stock if they don’t like where they are selected from one year to the next in the draft. This proves to be a big factor in the decision-making process of hundreds of draft picks each year who now have a shorter window to negotiate a contract with the organization that drafted them.
So, if a player is unhappy with where they were selected, or simply wants to play collegiately, he has that option. The player doesn’t have to worry about being ineligible for the draft the following year when they head off to college.
This is a big recruiting advantage for college coaches looking to improve their programs.
Limited Signing Period
As discussed in the column regarding the old draft-and-follow rule, a draft pick now has a matter of two months to decide about their future. With the draft held in the early days of June and the signing deadline August 15, picks have a little over two months to sign on the dotted line or return to school.
With the negotiating window so small many players might make a hasty decision and simply sign for the sake of signing. No one knows if it will all work out in the end, but this is a risky way to look at the future.
Other players have no choice but to sign, especially those who have used up all of their college eligibility on the field. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the pick will sign out of college. Maybe they have other plans for life outside of baseball.
Whatever the reason, the smaller signing period brings with it a lot of uncertainty, discussion, and stress for draft picks.
The Thought Process
So, what does a draft pick have to consider during the limited signing period before making their final decision?
For starters, the player has to figure out what is more important at this point in life: baseball or an education. If the player chooses to attend college he can get the best of both worlds. If the player chooses to sign out of high school he can use his signing bonus to pay for college in the off-season or if baseball does not pan out.
Draft picks must also take into consideration where they were drafted. High schoolers taken in the early rounds of the draft will likely look at signing instead of playing collegiately. It’s difficult to determine where the player could wind up being drafted after playing in college for three seasons as hundreds of other players become eligible for selection.
It’s important for players to look at the contract offer on the table. Does the offer from the organization beat the scholarship offer to play collegiately? If it doesn’t, is it worth it to sign professionally? These are questions that only the draftee can answer and must answer honestly.
The most difficult part of the entire process is that players are not left with much time to make what can be a life-altering decision. That’s why each individual player must look at their own situation, what is being offered (professionally and collegiately), and what their backup plan is in the event baseball isn’t the answer.
This is quite a bit to analyze and stew over in only two months’ time, which is why players are at a major disadvantage these days compared to when the draft-and-follow rule was in place.