Sometimes experiments work, and sometimes they go awry. When Major League Baseball decided to start the Draft League in 2021, no one was entirely sure how it would go. While there can always be tweaks and improvements made, it’s pretty clear that this experiment was a success.
“We could not have been more pleased with the inaugural season of the MLB Draft League,” said John D’Angelo, Major League Baseball’s vice president of amateur and medical baseball operations. “The Draft League provided a great opportunity for players to gain exposure and showcase their abilities, and fans in Draft League communities really embraced this new format. We are excited to see the league continue to improve and grow in 2022.”
The data more than backs it up. A grand total of 39 players were taken from the inaugural rosters of the Draft League in the 2021 Draft, with 37 signing and beginning their pro careers. More than 90 were drafted or signed professional contracts (including non-drafted free agents and independent league signings). If it sounds like a lot, try this on for size:
- The 39 players selected represents 6.4 percent of all players drafted and 29 percent of all players taken from a summer league. That’s more than the number of players taken from the elite college Cape Cod League (34 players selected).
- The league was particularly helpful for junior college players, with more than 20 percent of all JUCO players taken in the 2021 Draft coming via the Draft League. A total of 10 of the 47 junior college players taken in the Draft came through the league first.
- The Draft League showcased high school players as well, with 36.8 percent of high schoolers who were in the league getting taken in the Draft and 31.6 percent now at Division I college programs.
The first high schooler taken was Alex Ulloa, who also was the first Draft League player to be taken, in the fourth round by the Astros. He didn’t sign but could be back in the league again after his first year at Yavapai Junior College. The second player taken was another prepster, Mitch Bratt, a left-hander who signed with the Rangers in the fifth round.
“I definitely saw my stock rise,” Bratt said on a recent appearance on MLB Network’s Hot Stove. “I came out of the Georgia Premier Academy in Georgia, where I went to play because everything was shut down back home (in Canada). I really wasn’t too sure what to expect going in, but I definitely saw my stock rise as the season went on. I continued to pitch well, stuff looked better, velocity started to uptick after every outing.”
Bratt posted a 2.57 ERA and struck out 44 in 28 innings while pitching for West Virginia, managed by former big leaguer Jedd Gyorko. Bratt gives Gyorko and pitching coach Jake Hale a lot of credit for the progress he made during his time with the Black Bears, and praises the league for helping make sure evaluators saw his development in real time.
“It was great to break down everything, even from a technology standpoint. They featured all the information that was provided, more than I’ve ever been [exposed] to,” said Bratt, who struck out 13 in six innings during his pro debut with the Rangers last summer. “From the scouting side, there were 20-plus scouts pretty much at every game.”
Two-thirds of the 39 Draft league players selected -- 26 total including Bratt -- were pitchers. That doesn’t surprise Bratt after he watched all the hurlers on hand. And he feels with the league expanding from 68 to 80 games in 2022, even more arms will have the chance to show what they can do.
“I think the talent overall was great, but the pitching was unmatched,” Bratt said. “You had a bunch of guys coming from all over, and it was pretty electric to see, especially me coming out of high school and most of the guys being junior college guys. You don’t realize the talent pool that is across the States. Definitely with the expanded schedule, you’re going to see a lot more pitchers go next year.”
In addition to the longer schedule, Major League Baseball is adding some new wrinkles to the 2022 Draft League, which will start on June 2. There will be two halves, with the first half concluding on July 16 and featuring amateur, Draft-eligible players. After a break that matches up with the big league All-Star break, the second half will start on July 22 and run through Sept. 6, with the addition of a Championship Game. The second half will feature professional players who no longer have amateur eligibility or want to start their pro careers.
Any of the amateurs in the first half will be afforded the opportunity to participate in pre-Draft pro days for scouts on June 26-27, with on- and off-the-field assessments using state-of-the-art technology. It will be open to fans, with more details to come.