The Rule 4 amateur draft is held each year in June. It is 50 rounds long, and also includes the compensatory picks related to free agency. The draft order is set based on the previous season’s win-loss record, with ties being broken by the team’s win-loss record for the season prior to that.
Any players who have not signed a contract who fit the following criteria:
- Resident of the U.S., Canada, or any U.S. territory
- They must have graduated from high school, but not attended college
- They must have attended a 4 year college and be either 21, or in their junior or senior year.
- They must have attended a community or junior college.
Once a player is drafted, they have a certain window to sign a contract with a team. For most players, that window ends on August 15th. College seniors who have graduated (or run out of eligibility), have a longer window, due to their not being able to return to school any longer. If a team fails to sign their pick, they may potentially receive a compensation pick in the following year’s draft, depending on what round the player was drafted in.
If a player does not sign by the end of their window, their age will determine when they will be eligible to be drafted again. For players drafted out of high school, they will not be eligible until they meet the requirements for college players. For college players, they will be eligible in the following year’s draft. Notable examples in previous years include Aaron Crow, and Tanner Scheppers.
Each year, the office of the Commissioner gives out guidelines for what the signing bonus of each pick in the draft should be. The logic is that the best player available should be the top selection, and receive the highest signing bonus. This is also known as the slotting system. However, many teams do not adhere to it, as it is not a requirement to do so.
Since players drafted generally take between 2 to 4 years to make an impact at the major league level, organizations try to minimize their risk at the draft. This can include drafting players based on signability rather than talent, drafting lower ceiling players with a higher potential to reach their ceiling, and avoiding talented players with makeup concerns. This can lead to some unusual choices from time to time.
The slotting system does not help teams to land the top players available all the time, since it is only a suggestion and not a requirement. A great example was Rick Porcello. When Porcello was eligible to be drafted, he was widely viewed as a top-5 draft pick. However, knowledge of his contract demands became public, and many teams shied away from him due to concerns about signability. Since he was a high school student, if he didn’t sign, he could simply go to college, and wait 2 years to be drafted again. As a result, he fell to the end of the first round, when he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, and received a contract well over the slot suggested by the commissioner’s office. The Tigers were willing to pay him what it took to get him signed. The reason that this has become a bigger problem is that it works, as evidenced by the season that Porcello had in 2009. If he had not signed with the Tigers, he would have been eligible to be drafted this coming season in 2010. The Tigers’ willingness to pay Porcello what he believed he was worth impacted this season, as well as future ones as well.
Also, the fact that international players are not subject to the draft has become a point of contention. All international players who have not signed contracts are considered to be free agents, and a player can be signed after June 2nd of the year that they turned 16. As a result, teams that can offer better development opportunities and better money will generally get these players, leaving the other teams out of the process.
The Rule 4 draft is going to be a hot topic of discussion when the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations begin, and could very well see some large-scale changes with wide-ranging impacts on the market for players.