(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thanks to Keith Allison)
The Major League Baseball Amateur Draft (Rule 4) is filled with intricacies that many baseball fans don’t notice with the naked eye. You really have to study the draft to understand how it works and the different options available to teams.
There have been some changes to the amateur draft over the years, including a reduction in rounds from 50 to 40 beginning with the 2012 draft. Another big change made in recent years was the elimination of the draft-and-follow rule. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to examine the old draft-and-follow rule in baseball.
What is the Draft-and-Follow Concept?
The draft-and-follow concept was initially a smart one for teams and prospects. This rule allowed teams to select a player from the junior college ranks or a college player with one year of eligibility remaining.
The team would not be required to make a contract offer immediately, having one year to follow the player’s progress as they competed in summer leagues and in their final collegiate season. If a contract was not offered to the player after the one-year timeframe, the player was allowed to re-enter the draft. The prospect needed to be offered a contract no later than one week before the following year’s draft.
The Start of Draft-and-Follow
The draft-and-follow rule came into place between the 1986 and 1987 drafts. This is when Major League Baseball decided to eliminate the January draft and the June draft secondary phase. These drafts were typically dominated by players from the junior college ranks.
So why were those drafts eliminated from the rule book? Teams wanted to reduce their costs for drafting multiple first-round picks across four different drafts. They also wanted to get a better hold on understanding the eligibility rules of the players they could and could not draft.
Reggie Waller, a former scout for the Houston Astros, has widely been recognized as the person who coined the term draft-and-follow. This makes quite a bit of sense since the Astros were the first team to really benefit from the new draft rule.
The Astros first-ever draft-and-follow pick was used on the late Darryl Kile in the 1987 draft. Kile was chosen in the 30th round out of Chaffey Junior College in California. He returned to school for his sophomore year, improved his game, and the Astros signed him before the 1988 draft. If the Astros had not signed him, Kile likely would’ve been a first-round pick in 1988.
Draft-and-follow mania really took hold in the middle of the 1990s. The Astros drafted a record 94 players in 1994. Then, in 1996, the New York Yankees selected 100 players in that year’s June draft using the draft-and-follow rule.
The mania came to an end when the league made changes to the draft prior to the 1998 season. The 1998 draft saw a limitation of 50 rounds of selections, tamping down the way teams could select draft-and-follow players. With just 50 selections available, teams would have to make more prudent choices as to which players they would like to follow for the next 51 weeks.
Notable Draft-and-Follow Picks
Aside from Kile, who had a lengthy, successful Major League career, there have been a few other notable draft-and-follow picks through the years. Not surprisingly, most of them are pitchers, as was Kile.
The Astros used a draft-and-follow pick on Scott Erickson in the 1987 draft. It was the second time he was drafted. He did not sign with Houston. In fact, Erickson was drafted two more times before eventually signing with the Minnesota Twins in the 1989 draft.
The Chicago Cubs used draft-and-follow picks on future big leaguers Kyle Farnsworth in the 47th round of the 1994 draft and Kyle Lohse in the 29th round of the 1996 draft. Farnsworth did not sign with the Cubs until May of 1995 and Lohse did not sign until May of 1997.
The End of the Draft-and-Follow Rule
The draft-and-follow rule was used for the final time during the 2006 draft. There was a significant change made prior to the 2007 draft that effectively eliminated this rule, even though it really wasn’t written out of the rule book per se.
Beginning with the 2007 draft teams were required to sign their draft picks by August 15 of that draft year. With the rule change, teams went from having 51 weeks to make a decision on a draft pick to having a little over two months. Any player that does not sign by August 15 each year is returned to the draft pool for the following year’s draft.
Why was the Change Made?
The biggest reason was to improve the situation for players who weren’t sure if they were going to sign or return to school. Many players waited until the day classes started at their respective schools before deciding whether or not they would sign. The league viewed this issue as an unfair one for both the schools/baseball programs and the student-athletes.
Overall Impact of Draft-and-Follow
The overall impact of the draft-and-follow rule was insignificant when looking at how many talented Major Leaguers it produced. There were too few impact players chosen and signed with these picks that losing this rule had no major impact on the draft when it was eliminated. The rule didn’t even have a major positive impact when in effect. It was simply a rule that was created as a way to help replace the January and June Secondary drafts until further changes were made to the amateur draft.