2021 marks the first ever MLB Draft Combine which kicked off this week in Cary, North Carolina. Like the NFL Draft Combine, draft-eligible players from all over the country will get to showcase their skills and personalities for MLB scouts and front offices in an attempt to raise their draft stock going into the 2021 MLB Draft. On top of the assessments the players will take part in, they'll also participate in various educational courses to prepare them for a life in professional baseball. Over 150 draft-eligible high school and college draft hopefuls will participate.
The MLB Draft Combine is part of MLB's directive to streamline player development. We saw the reconstruction of MiLB that reduced the amount of affiliated clubs from 163 to 120 (four clubs per team), the creation of PDP and Collegiate Woodbat Leagues in association with USA Baseball, and now the Draft Combine. This will give both front office staff and fans a special look into the guys being drafted next month and give potential draftees the chance to showcase skills that, especially in the aftermath of a global pandemic, are difficult to scout and track and high school players will get an opportunity to play in a tournament with other top high school prospects during combine week. Some of the physical assessments players will participate in include a 30 yard dash, CMJ height, max batted ball distance, batted ball exit velocity, max fastball spin, and max fastball velocity. What's more, you can track progress on MLB's website at https://www.mlb.com/prospect-development-pipeline/events/statistics-data. Here you can review the biggest names in the 2021 draft as well as look for potential diamonds in the rough.
The prospect development overhaul by MLB has been met with a lot of harsh criticism, anger, and confusion. Much of this is warranted by the lack of communication around the plans for prospect development especially for teams who lost affiliation (some teams did not find out that they would lose affiliation until social media announcements by parent clubs. The Columbia Fireflies, for example, learned via Twitter that they would no longer be a New York Mets affiliate (though they would sign on with Kansas City to become their Low-A affiliate).
Despite these communication failures and bad publicity on the reduction of MiLB affiliates, most teams have found homes in independent and collegiate Woodbat leagues maintaining the community feel while also streamlining the development pipeline. Overall this is a success for Major League Baseball and the combine expands that success even further. Communication, again, is key and there has not been great marketing around an event that could really bolster the interest of player development as well as MiLB as fans will able to follow prospects from combine to the big leagues and share in the journey like never before. Yet again the communication has fallen short. One MiLB fan I spoke to (who will remain nameless) said "I forgot it existed". Unfortunately, for fans, if you're not paying close attention, you may miss out entirely. For players, they'll be able to showcase skills that otherwise would go unmeasured giving teams the chance to strategically build their draft boards while pushing plays up their lists so there are some solid positives going into this first combine.
"Over-all this is a success for Major League Baseball and the combine expands that success even further"
For those interested, you can catch full coverage of the MLB Combine on MLB Network with coverage starting at 1:00 PM EDT on Friday June 25th including interviews with prospects and showcases of their workouts. The MLB Draft will held on July 11th-13th and will feature 20 rounds. Go check out what these prospects have to offer and follow their careers throughout MiLB. Players and teams need our support!