Minor Scheduling and Structural Changes to MLB First Year Player Draft Could Help Avoid Astros, Aiken Style Fiasco

At the time of this post, we are down to just under 46 hours for the Houston Astros and Brady Aiken to decide on a professional contract. Reports first published by CBS Sports Line on July 7 indicated that the two sides had broken off contract talks after Houston supposedly found a medical concern with the top pick’s elbow.

While I could dedicate a lot of space to what the Astros should do, noting the success rate of TJ procedures while also noting the high number of top picks that were pitchers that did not pan out when fully healthy, that is not my focus tonight. Rather, the topic here is all about how some minor changes to how the MLB draft is scheduled and organized and how medical information is communicated to the ball clubs would bring an end to toxic situations like the one in place between the Houston franchise and the San Diego native Aiken.

In no other major United States sports league is a draft held during the season as the NFL draft is nearly three months after the Super Bowl, while the NHL and NBA hold drafts a week or two following their final championship clinching playoff games. While amateur levels of college football, college basketball, and college and high school hockey run concurrent to the professional regular season, in baseball the high school leagues in warmer states play games that count before spring training has kicked off exhibition games in Florida and Arizona. Division I college teams traditionally open between February 14-20 and smaller colleges in some parts of the nation play games that count as early as February 1 before the Super Bowl has even been decided. Baseball has its draft while state championships are still being decided at the high school levels and the College World Series doesn’t start for another week or two following baseball’s draft.

Thus, while the NFL and NBA have pre-scouting camps and the combine, no such program exist in baseball. NO opportunity exists to get a medical report on players that teams are being asked to offer 10 thousand to 7 million dollars in bonus payments as amateur draft picks, I won’t even go into the risk taken in the same vein internationally. It thus brings about situations where medical issues are found after the player has already been drafted and even after the player has signed a contract in a few cases.

The solution is seemingly simple if baseball wants to do something it finds difficult, buck tradition. First, move the draft from the first week of June to the first week of July and schedule it for 10 days following the final date of the College World Series. Schedule the short season minor leagues that are home to recent draftees to run from around July 20 to October 5, rather than the current June 15 to September 1 model you see in leagues like the Pioneer, Northwest, New York-Penn, Etc.

Schedule a combine for all listed draftees from four-year colleges for 3-7 days after the College World Series where all players get among other things, a total medical evaluation. For those players who are in the MLB Scouting Bureau’s database who are from high schools and junior colleges, schedule regional locations around the nation where combines are done for the same purpose between June 15 and July 1. The ball clubs could send medical and scouting personnel to staff these various events and it would allow for teams to get final medical clearance on all players following their final amateur competition. This would then catch any red flags from elbow and shoulder troubles, to more serious issues like those we hear about that are found with football and basketball players concerning the heart and other high risk organs.

Would it require more work, the use of more resources, cost more money? Would it require a change in the calendar for the scouting community? Yes is the answer to all of these questions, but this also becomes an affirmative way to avoid problems like those currently embroiling the Houston organization and its highly prised Californian hurler.

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