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‘Nobody wants to see careers ruined by it’: Emily Waldon on uncertain futures that depend on MLB draft

Whether the draft is five or ten rounds, thousands of players will be affected.

There are obviously more serious factors at stake than baseball during this time of a global crisis, but is impossible to ignore the ramifications that the COVID-19 pandemic could have on baseball as we know it.

The MLBPA and the MLB reached an agreement in early April that gives the players service time, regardless of whether or not a season is played. But part of the agreement also gives the MLB the power to shrink the draft, as well as proposing a plan to cut down the amount of minor league organizations, potentially eliminating over 40 affiliates.

“I think seeing the way that it played out it does show again the importance of how much minor leaguers need a union,” said Emily Waldon, the National Prospect writer for The Athletic.

The uncertainty surrounding the draft is apparent, especially when you take a look at the amount of players who may potentially be affected by it.

“Obviously seeing the draft cut down, it’s going to impact a lot of players,” Waldon said. “You're going to see guys coming out of either high school or college who may detour because they don’t get that chance.

“We could see a lot of guys might end up not pursuing a career in baseball because of the change. So it’s going to affect a lot of lives, it’s going to really take an impact on the game and we just have to hope that it plays out for the best.”

For Waldon, who sees the grind on an everyday basis that often underpaid minor leaguers do on a regular basis, this decision from the MLB is especially rattling.

“It’s hard to watch just knowing how hard these guys work. You have to hope it works out for the benefit of some, because no matter how you paint it, it’s going to negatively impact quite a few people involved.”

This all on top of the NCAA’s decision of granting eligibility to all spring sport athletes in wake of the cancelations of seasons due to the coronavirus. Thus, there is now an extremely crowded group of college athletes with an even smaller chance for them to continue their careers on a professional level due to the shortening of the draft.

“It’s going to be a blow for a lot of these guys, especially for the ones who were maybe gonna get taken in later rounds,” Waldon said. “They might miss the opportunity altogether this year.”

No Illini player was likely to be a high prospect, so players like Ty Weber and Garrett Acton are in that impacted group.

If the draft does indeed get cut down from 40 rounds to five or 10, that will leave about 1,000 amateur players without a chance to go pro, either from college or high school. That’s thousands of athletes returning to the college program, where only 10.5% of athletes have a chance to play in a professional league.

But instead of 10.5%, that number shrinks to around 3% of athletes with a chance to go pro, and that is if the draft gets cut to ten rounds — even smaller if the draft is cut to five. And with that number being only around 3%, these college players will get less of a chance to prove themselves because of how many players will be crowding college programs for the next five years.

Take if from Illini head coach Dan Hartleb: “Roster management over the next five years is gonna be cloudy.”

But from Waldon, her message was both brief and clear:

“Nobody wants to see careers ruined by it.”