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Updated: Apr 25th, 2011
Why the MLB Draft is the Least Watched of All
By: Matt Bomeisl | matt@prospectwire.com

TAMPA - With the NFL Draft beginning on Thursday Night of this week, I felt it was appropriate to look at the amateur drafts in major pro sports and examine why baseball's draft is the least watched of all.  Major League Baseball has done some things to try and make it's draft more of a spectacle, but it needs to go further then some TV coverage of the first round.

The drafting of high school players is the first major issue that cripples the MLB Draft (and the sport itself) and I couldn't be more against it.  It is my firm opinion that the drafting of high school players hurts the sport, it's amateur draft and one of it's critical feeder systems (college baseball) in so many ways.  

As fans of sport, we like to know what's going on.  And if we don't know what's going on, we feel disconnected from the game.  Fans (short for fanatics) don't like to feel disconnected from something they are supposed to be fanatical about.  And when fans feel disconnected, they become fanatical about something else that they can follow with their fanatical friends.  

Baseball creates a large disconnect from it's game more so than any other major sport.  2007 DraftThis is in large part because of it's drafting of high school players and it's very large minor league system.   With these two things in place, the average fan doesn't care about the draft as it becomes too difficult to follow and stay connected to.  The average fan doesn't know half of the players that are drafted because they are high schoolers. As cool as it may seem at first, it would be a little creepy to see a bunch of Cubs fans at your son's high school game with a foam "number 1" hand.  If the average fan does know a particular high school player, they won't hear about him again for 4 or 5 years until he possibly makes the Big Club...That's if he even makes it that far at all.  

So why is the average fan going to take time out of their schedule now to follow along with a draft of such short term insignificance? Why would they pay attention to a draft that is composed of a bunch of players that they've never heard of?

By drafting high schoolers, you are taking some of the most promising prospects and allowing them to skip college altogether.  This rule cripples Division 1 NCAA Baseball and makes it become a watered-down game.  Unlike other major sports, Major League Baseball does very little to support the collegiate game that feeds it.  During the National Championship game(s) in Omaha, Major League Baseball should shut down games on those days so the average baseball fan is forced to watch it.  In comparison to other sports, the NBA does not run any games when the March Madness National Championship is being played for college basketball.  The NBA wants it's fans everywhere watching the college game, supporting it, becoming fanatical about it and learning about the league's future stars.

In baseball, some of the best talent at the collegiate age level isn't even in college - it's in the minors. So the average fan doesn't get involved in one of baseball's most important feeder systems because they know they aren't watching the best talent - only some of it.  People want to see the best talent, regardless of age.  They will watch the Little League World Series because they know they are watching the best kids at that age group.  They will watch the World Baseball Classic because it is the best players at that age in the world.  But nobody watches the Arena Football League in large quantites.  And the experimental WWE X Football League went out of business quickly in part because the best talent wasn't playing in it.  

The college game could appeal to so many more people, but the MLB Draft robs it of it's best talent.  And that talent quietly goes unnoticed and hidden in a vast minor league system where the player could be playing in one of 5 different levels (rookie ball, low A, high A, double A, triple A, etc).  Instead of a vast minor league system, Major League Baseball's most publicized and intriguing feeder system could be the college game, but they fail to utilize it, the stage that it could provide, and the interest it could generate.  

Could you imagine a college game where the best college-aged players in the world were competing in the College World Series in Omaha on ESPN?  Could you imagine brackets and people actually caring about the college game the way they do for March Madness?  Because the average fan would be able to follow the collegiate sport filled with talented prospects, they are more likely to follow the MLB Draft when their favorite college players got drafted. 

Why would fans care about the college game?  Because people have more school pride in their college and alma mater than almost anything else in this world.  The College Football Recruiting Industry has blown up because of this.  The average college football fan now follows college football recruiting more than they ever have.  National Signing Day in football has turned into a spectacle.  This is mainly because fans know that if a high school football player signs with a college, they will immediately see that player at that school for the next 3 to 4 years.  Fanatics can stay connected to the game and watch a player go from high school, to college and to the pros.  That doesn't happen in baseball, and people never stay connected with the game's future stars.

The NFL Draft, and even the NBA Draft, has a large following from it's fans.  But the NFL has gone above and beyond and continues to take steps to make it's amateur draft a major spectacle and fan-friendly.  The NFL draft used to be a one day affair.  Then they split it into 2 days.  Now, they take the first round and put it on primetime TV at night and break it off from the rest of the draft.  Heck, I would be willing to guess that more casual fans watch the NBA teams draw ping pong balls in the lottery than casual MLB fans follow the draft.

In other major sports, the player is drafted on live TV. The commissioner is present at the draft, showing it is a major event, and makes a spectacle out of each pick.  The player is on site, walks up on stage, the casual fan gets to see his new favorite player with his team's jersey and all is well for the now connected fanatics

How many years now do I have to find myself navigating to the MLB website so I can hear audio of an archaic conference call of gibberish to determine who is being drafted:  

"Pick number 567....Dodgers?"

"Dodgers select Number 136427, Ruth.....George.  I believe the player wants to go by first name Babe.  From Baltimore, Maryland."

"Dodgers select #136427 George Babe Ruth from Baltimore, Maryland.  Pick number 568....Yankees?"

Come on.  How fan friendly is that?  How do you expect to have fans follow your sport through 50 rounds of this audio? 

Which brings me to my next point:  timing of the draft.  The NFL Draft allows you to watch the best college players, learn about them, cheer for them or against them, and then watch them get drafted after the season concludes.  The MLB Draft is held BEFORE some of the games future stars are on their biggest amateur baseball stage - Omaha - never allowing the fans to establish a favorite player and watch where he gets drafted.

The next major issue is the draft length:  50 rounds of drafting is just asinine.  By the time the end of the draft rolls around, you've got teams either picking people as favors just to say they did, or skipping their pick altogether.  This ridiculous amount of rounds is needed to fill up a minor league system that has ruined more lives than helped.  Yes...I said it.

I could write an entire book on how baseball has ruined more lives than it has helped, but it is the dark side of the game that nobody ever talks about for some reason.  In a nutshell: Team drafts high schooler.  High schooler chases dream of playing in the big leagues and goes pro.  High schooler is overwhelmed by minor league system, never matures, becomes a career minor leaguer and is eventually released at the age of 28.  High schooler has no college degree and worst of all - no job experience.  High schooler spends the next 3-4 years of his life trying to get a college degree, finally does, and is now 30+ with no job experience competing against people in the real world with 5-10 years of job experience in the same field.  Good luck with that job interview.  But shhhhh, let's not talk about that.

Let's stay focused on the Big League Dream and fill up this oversized minor league system with 50 rounds of drafting players that the average fan has never heard of.

No wonder why football has grown in popularity while baseball continues to decline.

Want proof?  Check out this article:  Declining Crowds Have Teams Seeking Solutions

Do you have feedback?  Leave a comment below, or give us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

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About Matt Bomeisl
After being a 4-year letterman on the Florida Gators baseball team from 2000-2004, Matt started Prospect Wire Baseball in 2005. With the goal of helping high school baseball players achieve exposure the way he was helped in 1999, Prospect Wire has grown into the fastest growing scouting services in America. For 10 years, college coaches, scouts and baseball people of all kinds have taken notice of Prospect Wire as being one of the most dependable, accurate and trustworthy sources of high school baseball prospects. Matt is the founder of Prospect Wire, serves as it's director of day-to-day operations, and assists in scouting major events.
Total views (5240)
Comments (9)
Brian Werner
Apr 26, 2011 (10:49am)

I have to tell you as someone that actually has worked a draft room on 5 different occasions for an MLB team, it's even worse for the teams involved. Unlike a football draft where a bunch of guys are in a war room and there are reps sitting in NY waiting to hand in a pic, you have all your Player Development Staff in a room with your high ranking scouts, and usually 3 or 4 younger scouts that are invited to come see how things work, and help run the room. You have grease boards wall to wall with all the Top 200 players...then each team so you can keep track of who was taken...then you have other boards that list your farm system so you can see what you are filling in. All of this is done with one guy sitting in front of a speaker phone, waiting for someone in the Commissioner's Office to say your team name, so you can go, "So and So Selects #31547 Tommy Jones." All so someone can repeat what you said and tell everyone else again: "So & So selects #31547 Tommy Jones, SS out of Podunk HS in Bakersfield, CA..." and then it moves on to the next team. A pic actually takes about a total of 15 seconds start to finish before the next team is picking. Sometimes it's slower early on because they used to do live stream online...now it's live on TV.

All in all, it's even worse to actually be a part of...you're on your feet for 10 hours and it usually takes 2 or 3 days!

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stefan goldman
Apr 26, 2011 (12:02pm)

As a travel team coach for the last 11 years, and a financial representative working with several agents, for players that are not on my travel teams or in high school, I am involved in the process when they are drafted and the subsequent harm or benefit that comes from this. We advise all of our players to go to college, there needs to be a backup plan, but there are just a few that are not college material. So with over 250 players (all with college scholarships) having gone thru us, there are 3 players that are currently trying to make the jump from hs to the pro ranks. The contracts that players sign promise to pay for college if they dont make it. But the details as always is in the fine print. The higher they go in the system, the less percentage the team pays for college. So an 18 yr old that puts 6 years in, and is 25 before he figures out he cant play in the major leagues, and has reached double or triple A level, spent whatever bonus he has received, is now out on the streets with a small percentage of college paid for, with no back up. Thats the other cruel part of the equation as the previous commenter alluded to and not generally well understood especially from high school players and parents that have stars and dollar signs in their dreams.

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Matt Bomeisl
Apr 26, 2011 (12:13pm)

Stefan,

Thanks for the comments.

You made some outstanding points and hopefully your point at the end about the percentage decrease in college paid for is seen and remembered by parents with son's who are prospects.

I did want to address one point on the top of your post, there was a part that said: "there are just a few that are not college material."

I would imagine in all sports there is a percentage that fall into this type of category. Again, I will use NFL football as an example, who drafts exclusively from college ranks. I would imagine football has it's share of players who aren't "college material". But their sport is flourishing with a practically required college system in place.

But the players in that sport understand that in order to go to the NFL, college typically isn't an option. Why are baseball players held to a lower standard? Why does it seem there are far more baseball players who aren't college material than football players? How do football players manage to qualify at a high rate to get into D1s and stay there? Sure, they may be taking Basket Weaving 101, but why can't baseball players qualify in that same manner?

In football, college really isn't an option. So those players are more likely to devote themselves to get the required grades in the classroom - otherwise go to Junior College or be weeded out of the sport altogether.

Baseball players know that they can abandon their education and still get drafted. Again, the MLB Rule in place regarding high school players is to blame.

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Anthony Pla
Apr 26, 2011 (12:14pm)

I have to say that after being a collegiate coach for the last 9 years, I agree to some extent about what your saying. But I also think that one of the biggest reasons why no one watches the draft is because we don't get to watch college baseball like we see football and basketball. Every Saturday in the fall, the entire country gets to watch their favorite NCAA football teams play from noon until midgnight and then hear all about it the entire week after. Then througout basketball season, there is a big to do every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday about each of the big time basketball schools like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and so on. And this all goes on until March Madness which is bigger every year.
Now when baseball season comes, I get to watch maybe one or two games all season long until it gets to tournament time. There are so many schools out there and players that never get their names out there because we don't see anything until the College World Series in Omaha. And people wonder why kids now would much rather play football and basketball. Or even playstation and x box. It's sad to see that little kids don't want to go outside with a bunch of buddies and play some baseball like they used to do.
So as much as I agree with you, I think the media has a big part in this as well. I would much rather watch Vanderbilt play LSU on those gorgeous fields than the local kids play really bad basketball.
Thanks for the article and I hope to see more comments about this!

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Matt Bomeisl
Apr 26, 2011 (12:23pm)

Anthony,

Thanks for the comments. I touched on this concept briefly in the article.

I think it comes back to the fact that the college game is watered down. So the media doesn't want to show games between Vanderbilt and LSU, in which only a handful of players are getting drafted, because the demand for it may be weak. If these lineups were filled with their original recruiting classes before the draft tore them apart, we would see LSU play Vanderbilt with two lineups loaded with pro prospects from 1-9. The thought that the majority of the players from that game would be drafted, would make the game much more appealing to fans.

By having the college game in place and using it as a well-publicized farm system, you could essentially eliminate rookie ball, low A and high A. You could have a minor league system of Double A and Triple A. That would make the farm system much easier to follow for the average fan, and it would be filled with players that they followed back in their college days.

It would probably also create a small TV market for the minor league system.

I think the media would jump on this, and it would increase the popularity of the sport.

But the MLB is it's own worst enemy right now.

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Zac Favre
Apr 26, 2011 (3:05pm)

Thanks for the article...My son is being scouted by the majors right now and he is just a junior in high school. We have filled out paper work for a few teams. A couple of mom's of MLB players have told me to let Zac go to Ciollege and have fun and grow up. Sounds like good advice to me...Thanks so much for the information
Chris Favre

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Brian Werner
Apr 27, 2011 (9:31am)

But honestly...with that many rounds, there is no way you can televise it. The only way to make that something people would watch, is like Matt said, start getting more kids to go to college, or televise more HS baseball games nationally. Let the public get to know these big name kids. Market them. And then cut the draft from 50 to 25 rounds!

Hell, working the draft was brutal. The thing that bothers me about HS kids making the jump, is for some, you are talking about going from a roughly 30-35 game schedule their senior season, to an additional short season schedule of 45-50 games (depending on when they sign). That's a TON of games. To go from 30 games in one season, to playing in 60 to possibly 120 depending on how quickly they are moved, is a huge jump. There is a reason they stretch pitchers arms out when they are drafted...why they go slowly with most prospects. How can a HS pitcher throwing 15 of his 30 HS games for roughly 75 innings get the jump in one season and be expected to make 22-25 starts if he is above the short season level? I've never been a fan of HS players making the jump, regardless of skills. Too many never make it and they have nothing to fall back on. Not to mention, college is a time to learn to be an adult...even if just for 2 years, you learn to live on your own and take care of yourself.

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Eugenio Vazquez
Apr 30, 2011 (1:08pm)

I agree with the majority of comments and the article it’s self but to me that’s not the biggest problem in the draft. I know this might draw more comments then the article itself but it’s a growing problem and nobody seems to care about it. Right now there’s almost 30 % latin Americans playing in the MLB. They are not governed by the same rules that our kids are. They are allowed to sign with any MLB team as long as they’re 16 years old. Maybe that’s why almost all the MLB teams have farms in these countries training, coaching, conditioning and filtering the best prospects to sign them as soon as they turn 16. So we can sent our kids to college and maybe you’re now some in the draft but you will still have trouble knowing why there’s a 19 year old Latin American playing shortstop for the majority of MLB teams. Until they don’t include or at least raise the minimum age for these kids to sign, our kids are in a disadvantage.

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Matt Bomeisl
May 01, 2011 (11:14am)

Great point that wasn't addressed!

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