Just a few weeks ago, the spectacle known as the NFL Draft concluded another offseason filled with prospect evaluations via the senior bowl, the Combine, Pro Days and team visits. The period, as always, was filled with speculation and countless mock drafts as fans and pundits alike pondered whether the young men entering the draft had too many "red flags", hips that were "fluid" enough, or the right amount of "sand in their pants".
The period of evaluations, and ultimately the Draft were viewed by millions of football fans. On average, the NFL Draft is watched by over 10 million viewers over the course of the three day event. I bring this up because another major sports league has their draft coming up in a few weeks. The MLB Draft begins on June 9th. But unlike the tens of millions who tune in to watch the NFL Draft, Major League Baseball’s Draft only draws about a 250,000 viewers – less than 10,000 fans per team.
The NFL surpassed MLB as the most popular sport in the United States, but it’s not 12,500% more popular, which is the approximate viewership difference between their respective drafts. So why is the NFL Draft so popular, while MLB’s draft is still a distant afterthought?
Nobody knows the prospects
College football is very popular. Many NFL fans also follow the college sport. As a result, they often know the names of many of the first round prospects – especially the players at the skill positions.
Very few sports fans follow college baseball, and even fewer follow high school baseball. As a result, the prospects being drafted in the MLB are pretty much unknown by just about every baseball fan.
Draft timing is inconvenient
The NFL holds their draft a few months after the Super Bowl, about halfway between the end of the previous season, and the start of the next season. It gives fans a taste of football in the stretch between seasons. It also takes place after many of the big-name free agents have been signed, so teams know what their needs are heading into the draft.
Baseball holds their draft in the middle of their season, with their draft competing with games for coverage. The draft also takes place during the college baseball playoffs, meaning there's no green room filled with prospects waiting for their names to be called. Sometimes the players are even drafted while they are playing a game. If the draft could be moved after the College World Series, or even to the All-Star Break, that would probably be an improvement.
No immediate impact
In the NFL, most draftees, especially those selected in the first few rounds, are expected to make an immediate impact. Nobody expects Jared Goff or Ezekiel Elliott to spend a few years before taking the field for the Rams or Cowboys.
But in baseball, it’s very rare that a prospect drafted in the MLB draft ends up playing for a major league team that season, or even the next season. Most prospects spend at least three years working their way up the minor league ladder, while the high school prospects spend even longer. It’s difficult to get excited to watch your team draft a kid who may not play for them for half a decade.
Lack of draft day excitement
Outside of compensatory draft picks (although that is changing in 2017), all of the NFL Draft picks are tradable. And one of the exciting parts of the draft is the big trades that take place before and during the draft. Another aspect that some fans like is when the draftees are on-site when the draft occurs, or sitting in their living room with cheering friends and family, when they are selected. Nothing of the sort happens in baseball.
In the MLB draft, the picks are not traded. There are no big trades to move up and down the draft order. And because the draft takes place during the college playoffs, there are no kids sitting on a couch answering the phone, or taking a walk from the green room. It’s more like a fantasy football draft – just a bunch of guys sitting around reading off names.
This year, there are definitely interesting stories in the MLB draft, without a clear-cut top pick. Does your team take the high school stud pitcher (Jason Groome) with the effortless fastball? Or do they take the other high school stud pitcher (Riley Pint) who is more pro-ready than Groome, but with a delivery that screams future injury? Do they take the college hitter (Kyle Lewis) who is smashing the ball all over the place, but against low-level competition? Do they select the most pro-ready college hitter (Nick Senzel) with minimal power, or the great hitting, great running prospect (Corey Ray) who is a liability on defense? Maybe they draft the dominant, flame throwing college pitcher (A.J. Puk) who has huge upside, but lacks the consistency to even be the top pitcher on his college team?
Baseball could have an interesting draft, like the NFL, but as it stands, it will pass with hardly anybody taking notice. So what do you think? Did you even know the MLB Draft was coming up? How would you tweak it to make it more viewable, like the NFL Draft?