On Monday night, MLB held the opening rounds of its annual Rule IV Amateur Draft. College and high school players across the country had their professional baseball dreams validated by teams selecting them into their franchises. The Cleveland Indians took four players within the Top 41 picks with the hope they can help keep the current contention window propped open when these prospects are ready in the years ahead. Tuesday saw the Tribe take another eight players followed by the final 28 on Wednesday.
Indians comparisons for the Top 4 selections they made in the 2018 Rule IV Amateur Draft
Make sure to read WFNY’s own Gage Will’s scouting report on Noah Naylor.
MLB has a problem though. The draft has not caught on with the mainstream sports consciousness as the NBA and NFL drafts have. While it might be impossible to achieve those heights, many baseball fans did not even realize when the Rule IV draft was going to happen or are confused between it, the Rule V, and the international signing period. Few others knew the picks the Tribe had on the initial day or had gone through mock draft exercises to evaluate who might be available at those picks. Despite these issues, MLB doesn’t seem concerned with marketing the event or holding it on a day better suited to garner more attention.
Here are some of the current issues and potential solutions.
Issue No. 1: Most players drafted casual fans do not know and won’t see for several seasons.1
With high school players eligible and MLB teams quite willing to take the gamble on 17 to 18 year old players with high ceilings, there is a vast array of those selected with whom even many in the baseball industry are unfamiliar with before the draft. There are simply too many quality high school players around the country to keep tabs on all of them.
Even college players are difficult to monitor as the individualistic nature of the sport allows small programs to develop some of the best talent in the entire country. The Power Five programs might dominate the eight teams who make the College World Series, but schools such as Wichita State, South Alabama, and Stetson continue to develop high first-round picks.The Indians picked someone from Hillsborough Community College in Round 15.2
Potential solution No. 2: If only MLB had its own network it could dedicate a primetime show in the months leading up to the draft to highlight the best prospects in high school and college. Perhaps, if such a show existed, MLB could double-down on these efforts by sharing some of this content with daily posts on social media handles that have well over a million followers?
Issue No. 2: Event Date
Early June is one of the most jam-packed portions of the entire year’s sporting calendar. Here is a list of the conflicting sporting events:
Potential solution No. 2: Instead of competing with one of the busier sporting events of the year, why not start the MLB Draft on June 28 when they have the sporting world’s attention all to themselves and can use the College World Series to help market the event?3
Another advantage? The MLB Draft can stretch the draft into the start of International Signing Day, which then leads into the All Star Game week. Non-stop MLB storylines if marketed correctly. There are no other major American sports on the radar4 especially if the USMNT keep missing the World Cup (thanks guys!).
Issue No. 3: Marketing
There is precious little time and effort put into pushing the draft as a whole. Only a few random internet ads and some offshoot commercials, mostly on MLB-Network programming were seen in the build up to the event.
MLB also buries the draft content. On mlb.com, try finding where to go for specific draft news, a draft tracker, or a schedule of when the MLB Draft is on their own network? There is a subcategory for the MLB Draft buried among 19 others on their ‘News’ drop down menu. But, once you find it, the filter controls are easy to manipulate for what you want to see and the draft lists have instant connections to their scouting reports, videos, and other content.
Potential solution No. 3: From the meat of the draft being on a Monday night to not utilizing the vast array of local cable television programming to push the draft into the consciousness of fans across the country, there are easy fixes here. Advertise! Live stream the event from their main page with multiple views of the green room (players) and team tables. Give more time to jumping dads and crying moms. Have highlight packages at the ready and allow fans to share them. Have a main link in the title bar for the draft on the home page.5
The MLB Rule IV draft could be a boon to both the interest of the draft and baseball, in general, if MLB would just get out of its own way.