Thrill of Victory

Why MLB should move back its draft date

The call came in to Mike Yastrzemski’s mom while her son was getting ready to play one of the biggest games of his career. It was the one her son had probably dreamed about his entire life, the one in which the Boston Red Sox, for whom Mike’s grandfather, Carl, had a Hall of Fame career, would call and tell him they’d drafted him to be a member of their organization. For a moment, I’m sure time stood still as the Yastrzemskis pondered seeing everything they’d hoped for come true.

But there was one catch. It was Round 14, and Boston wouldn’t pick again until the next round. Yastrzemski had to stay on the board for a few more picks, and sure enough, Baltimore selected Vanderbilt’s right fielder 14 picks before Boston’s turn.

Meanwhile, this took place about an hour before Yastrzemski was about to play a Super Regional game against Louisville in game 1 of a best two-of-three series. The winner would advance to the College World Series, while the loser’s season was over.

I don’t know exactly what was going through Yastrzemski’s mind when this happened, and when a reporter after that day’s game asked Yastrzemski about being an Oriole, a Vanderbilt official swiftly and firmly nixed the question before he was allowed to answer.

Someone on the field who had watched the whole scene unfold told me later that it seemed to visibly affect Yastrzemski. The senior is one of the more mature and focused ballplayers I’ve ever covered, but nobody could blame him if this were true. Seeing a lifetime dream vanish in a flash is tough enough for any 22-year-old kid; trying to deal with it and play ball an hour later is a whole other ordeal.

What happened next made a bad day worse: Yastrzemski’s Vanderbilt team lost 5-3 to Louisville in a game during which he went 0-for-3, though he did walk twice. The next day, Yastrzemski ended his college career by going 0-for-5, including a strikeout with two men on and two outs in the ninth with Vandy trailing by a run that ended both his career and Vandy’s season.

Before you make assumptions, this isn’t a “had the draft occurred on a different weekend, maybe Vanderbilt advances to Omaha” story. Both VU and Louisville had plenty of players drafted during the days of and just before their best two-of-three series, with the winning Cardinals advancing to the College World Series. The point is that the draft has the potential to be an enormous distraction no matter when it’s played — so, why have it during some of the most important action of the college season?

On that note, though the draft is now over, the distraction is just beginning for some players. A whole host of players in Omaha this week were picked not long ago. A number of drafted seniors there will be thinking about whether to take the money offered them or hold out for a little more, knowing that as they do so, draft budgets shrink as other players sign. Juniors will have that same choice, plus weigh that risk against coming back for another year, where they could improve their draft position, or have a worse season and see it fall.

Playing in Omaha alone is a lot of pressure without having to think about the start of your professional future, too.

And here’s the thing: the draft takes place on June 6, and ends (at the latest) on June 26. What does MLB really lose by kicking the date back three weeks out of respect for the collegiate game?

I spent a bit of time searching around for answers on why the MLB Draft takes place when it does, and found no answers. So if you know of a good reason why, I’d love to know. Knowing baseball, which is tradition-driven as any sport, it’s probably “because we’ve always done it this way.” But if MLB has the best interest of its future players in mind, pushing the draft back makes a whole lot of sense.