Pandemic spurs radical changes to baseball’s draft

Jaylon McLaughlin was drafted by the Chicago Cubs before he returned to Nevada.
Tim Nwchukwu/ NCAA

The 2020 and 2021 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft is up in the air.

The MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed to a deal on March 27 with major implications on the draft over the next two years, and it affects the future of hundreds of prospects.

Under the terms of the deal, the 2020 draft is expected consist of just five rounds. It also will delay the start of the international signing period to as late as 2021. 

A reduction to five rounds is a significant change. The MLB Draft has lasted up to 40 rounds plus compensatory picks since 2012. The draft was cut to 50 rounds in 1998. For perspective, the 2019 MLB Draft had 167 players taken in the first five rounds and 1,217 selected overall.

Along with draft round restrictions, MLB teams are limited to spending no more than $20,000 to sign an undrafted player. More than 960 players signed as undrafted free agents last season. 

Several members of the Reno Aces sped through the minors as undrafted free agents.

Ben DeLuzio signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He competed for a starting spot on the Dbacks in Spring Training.

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Ildemaro Vargas and fellow Venezuelan Juniel Querecuto were both undrafted free agents.
Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

Ildemaro Vargas, the Aces’ all-time hits leader, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008 out of Venezuela. He appeared in 92 games with Arizona last season and is expected to make the 26-man roster.

The contract limitations can have a serious financial impact on future prospects. MLB teams were allowed to spend as much as $125,000 on any late-round pick or undrafted free agent without reaching into their bonus pool money. Now, undrafted players are limited to a $20,000 bonus if they aren’t picked in the first five rounds.

Jim Callis of gave a draft pool and bonus value of each team during the 2019 MLB Draft. By the 10th round, all 30 MLB teams had a bonus pool value of at least $142,000.

With a restriction to five rounds, hundreds of MLB prospects will be missing out on significant financial compensation. It may force draft-eligible high school prospects to play college baseball rather than entering the draft. Some prospects may enter junior college and re-enter next year’s draft. It also may force draft-eligible college players to remain in school.

COVID-19 forced the NCAA to end the 2020 college baseball season on March 12. The NCAA announced on Monday that Division-1 spring athletes will be granted an extra year of eligibility.

The MLB Draft restrictions and suspension of baseball has a trickle effect all the way to the high school level.

Trevor Wilson, a standout at California’s Orland High School, said he wants to play college baseball and has been in contact with a few junior colleges. At least one coach told him “Sorry, but all of our sophomores are coming back now.”

As a senior, Wilson led Orland with a .444 batting average in six games. As a pitcher, he sported a 2.10 ERA.

The March 27 agreement between MLB and the MLBPA states that the 2021 MLB Draft will be a minimum of 20 rounds. If the 2020 season has less than 81 games, draft order will be determined by the commissioner’s office and the MLBPA.

Although the draft rounds increased significantly from 2020 to 2021, hundreds of prospects will still have to make a tough decision on their future. It also restricts owners and general managers to spend extra bonus pool money on late-round prospects.

There is no timetable to determine whether a season will be played. Regardless, the agreement has affected draft prospects for the next two years.

— Isaiah Burrows

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Kevin Cron has been optioned to Reno. Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Cron, Clarke optioned to Triple-A Reno

The Arizona Diamondbacks optioned first baseman Kevin Cron and pitcher Taylor Clarke to Triple-A Reno on March 26.

Cron hit .241 with three home runs and eight RBIs in 29 Spring Training plate appearances. The 27-year-old appeared in 39 games with the Dbacks last season, batting .211 with six home runs.

Cron’s monstrous 2019 campaign with the Aces earned some Pacific Coast League MVP award consideration. His 38 homers led all of Minor League Baseball and his 105 RBIs ranked second in Triple-A.

Clarke, 26, had a 5-5 record and 5.31 ERA in 23 games with Arizona last season. The right-hander had eight starts in Reno and spent most of the year as a starter or mid-inning reliever with the Dbacks.

Clarke is fourth in Aces franchise history with 19 wins and sixth in strikeouts with 184.

The Aces’ roster is coming into shape with Arizona’s recent transactions. Right-handed pitcher Jon Duplantier was optioned to Triple-A Reno on March 20.

Duplantier, 25, sported a 5.21 ERA in 13 outings with the Dbacks last season. He is MLB Pipeline’s No. 13 ranked prospect in Arizona’s farm system.

Infielders Andy Young and Wyatt Mathisen and pitchers Taylor Widener and Riley Smith were optioned to Triple-A Reno on March 9. All four players were added to the Dbacks’ 40-man roster this offseason.

Young is a former 37th round pick out of West Fargo, North Dakota. He split the season with Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Reno. The 25-year-old had 21 home runs in 65 games with Reno and is MLB Pipeline’s No. 21 prospect in the system.

Mathisen, 26, enjoyed a breakout season with the Aces. The Corpus Christi, Texas native hit .283 with 23 home runs in 87 games. He batted .348 with 11 home runs in June.

Wyatt Mathisen

Mathisen hit .429 with one homer and five RBIs in nine Spring Training games with Arizona.

Widener, 25, was a 12th round selection by the New York Yankees in 2016. He was dealt to Arizona in 2018 and has been on a steady rise in the minors.

In his first season with the Aces, Widener had an 8.10 ERA in 100 innings pitched. He led Reno with six wins and 109 strikeouts. 

Smith, 24, had impressive stints in Double-A and Triple-A last season. He sported a 2.27 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 13 starts with the Jackson Generals. Smith earned the promotion to Reno by mid-season. He pitched his way to a 6.89 ERA in 12 starts with the Aces. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Reno was scheduled to open the 2020 season against the Sacramento River Cats on April 9 at Greater Nevada Field.

ABOUT Isaiah Burrows

Isaiah Burrows
Tahoe Onstage sportswriter Isaiah Burrows also is a general assignment reporter for, an online news source in Carson City. He is a journalism major at the University of Nevada, Reno, where is the sports editor of the Sagebrush student newspaper. He is the Reno Aces beat writer for Tahoe Onstage.


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