In 2012, Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association signed a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Among other changes, the new agreement moved the signing deadline up a month, from mid-August to mid-July. It’s just a month, but it has had a noticeable effect on player development.
There have been rumblings concerning level where this year’s college draftees debuted and whether that would affect their development. Player development has two prongs: (1) produce major league talent and (2) do it efficiently. The former, of course, is the priority but latter shouldn’t be discounted (and it’s easier to study). For reasons’s we’ve discussed previously, it’s difficult to study the minor leagues without running into survival bias.
To evaluate the effects of the new CBA I reviewed the two years prior to the CBA and the two years after it. Using Baseball-Reference’s Draft Tool I pulled together the debut locations of the first round college hitters since 2010.
When discussing the CBA’s affect on draftees, it’s unwise to throw the word “success” around without caution. However, the parties’ decision to change the signing deadline has undoubtedly allowed draftees to begin their careers sooner.
Prior to the 2012 CBA, the majority of draftees in the sample would briefly taste professional experience in their draft year. Often, but with exception, these players would just a handful of games to get their feet wet before making their debut the following year in a full-season league. In the years following the new CBA that’s changed drastically.
Cubs draftee Kyle Schwarber was one of the first players to sign. He’s already played in 48 games across three levels. The Mets’ Michael Conforto was one of the last players to sign, he’s played in 17 games with Short-Season Brooklyn and should end the season with close to 40 games under his belt. In past seasons, early signing draftees would match these numbers — Joe Panik played 69 games in the Northwest League in his draft season — but most would not come close.
This new found development time should be used to acclimate draftees to life as a professional baseball player, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and to create an individually tailored development plan. Of course, players should also be challenged by their assignments.
One clear trend following the new CBA is that draftees have been assigned to lower leagues to begin their careers. Prior to 2012, just 3 of 14 first round college hitters were assigned to rookie ball or short season ball. . Since then, 16 of 22 were assigned to those levels.
The more aggressive placements prior to 2012 can be explained, in part, by the later deadline. 7 of the 14 players did not begin their career until the year after they were drafted. In other words, their debuts and their first full season were the same year. For the players drafted in 2012 and 2013, they all debuted after signing and were more aggressively challenged and, as a group, advanced further in their first full season than those drafted prior to 2012. 
By the end of their first full season, players drafted after the new CBA have played more baseball against better competition. We are just two drafts removed from the new agreement and, so far, the new signing deadline has improved player development as intended. As organizations continue to adjust, it will be worth watching whether they challenge their most advanced hitters with more aggressive assignments within their debut seasons.
 Debut level was defined as playing more than 10 games at a level. A short feeling out period didn’t count.
Note: High school hitters should have been included in this SSS study, but this data was collected for a different purpose for which they were excluded.
Print This Post